Koji Omi

Koji Omi

Koji Omi giving speech

Mr. Koji Omi

In 2001, when Mr. Omi joined the Cabinet as Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs and Science and Technology Policy, he applied his experience as a politician with the idea of rebuilding Japan with science and technology while also promoting the development of Okinawa.

He believed in meaningful change over the long term: “In order to improve the Okinawan people’s living standard in the future, I strongly felt the necessity to establish modern industries in Okinawa through science and technology, not just through construction of roads and airports. That was how I came up with the idea of establishing a science and technology graduate university in Okinawa.”

He visited top universities around the world to learn from their success, and he met with renowned scientists to hear about their experiences. His vision for a “best in [the] world university” emerged.

A world-class university should be created from scratch, it should be an international institution with English as the lingua franca, and it should conduct cross-disciplinary research that transcends the boundaries of specialized fields.
With great passion and even greater persistence, he amassed a powerful group to join his mission. The official announcement of an international graduate university in Okinawa took place in June 2001, leading to the creation in 2005 of the OIST “Promotion Corporation” — the predecessor to today’s accredited university.

After OIST was established as a graduate university in 2011, Mr. Omi supported the growth of OIST as a board member from 2014 to 2021. In honor of his efforts and achievements, OIST awarded him its first honorary doctorate degree at the first graduation ceremony in 2018.

Mr. Omi guided and supported the establishment of OIST through his foresight, energy, and leadership. He projected, “I am convinced that the existence of OIST will surely make a significant contribution to Okinawa, not in the span of five or ten years, but in a hundred or two hundred years, and will be the driving force that will lead the region to new heights of development."

"It is a tribute to Koji Omi's vision and leadership that OIST, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, has grown to be on par with the world's leading academic institutions,” reflected OIST President Dr. Peter Gruss. “On this sad day, we offer our condolences to Mr. Omi’s family. His passing is a loss for his family and friends, as well as for OIST and for Japan. At OIST, we are united in our commitment to carry on Mr. Omi’s vision for the sustainable economic development of Okinawa.”

References: Koji Omi, "Tenpu Philosophy in Practice"

Mr. Omi passed away on April 14, at the age of 89.

Koji Omi portrait

Tributes to Mr. Koji Omi

From Torsten Wiesel, former chair of the BOG

I am Torsten Wiesel and former chair of the Board of Governors at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology and from San Francisco I wish to send my warm condolences to the Omi family and a few words of commemoration about the great Koji Omi-san.

I became chair of the BOG early in the OIST project which gave me great opportunities over many years to interact and work with Koji Omi, who was a member of the Board. Already from the very beginning of the OIST project, which started some 20 years ago, it became clear that Omi-san was a not only full of great ideas but also a fearless, practical and skillful operator. He was always fiercely ready to overcome any resistance towards his amazing idea to create “one of the best international research universities in the world” on the island of Okinawa.

The choice was questioned since the island did not have the necessary infrastructure and certainly was far away from the very competitive international research community. Nonetheless as a masterful negotiator Omi succeeded at the first meeting with a number of prominent international scientists to convince a number of the participants to become partners in the project. This group formed the intellectual and scientific base of OIST. And later became the members of the Board of Governors of the university.

The truly original concept of OIST was to create in Japan an international research university in a broad range of natural sciences. Once the university was formed the next steps must be to assure its growth, to recruit first rate international faculty and select top graduate students. The documented successful development of the university since its inception university will be celebrated at its 10th anniversary this spring.

We must realize that the amazing success of the project could not have happened without Koji Omi’s sustained struggle to generate political and financial support through his connections within the government. Many of us who have been part of the OIST adventure are gratified over its success of and immensely impressed by the critical role Koji Omi San played in making it all happen. In poetic terms he provided light and hope for the future.

In this context I must mention another major initiative of Koji Omi namely his creation of the STS Forum, which is another example of his originality and extraordinary energy. The hope is that even without his dynamic leadership the Forum will continue to bring together world leaders in government, education and science to consider critical issues such as climate, health, science and education in a global perspective. Koji Omi-san was a truly unique individual with his great passions for the world of education, science and government. He showed us the path and each of us should now consider our own role in the creation of an improved and sustainable world.

Finally, I wish to propose to the Board of Governors that Koji Omi-san should be honored as one of the Founders of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology.

 

Torsten Wiesel and Koji Omi in 2008

OIST 6th Board of Governors (BOG) Meeting, July 2008

From Jerome Friedman, former BOG member

I first met Koji Omi under very unusual circumstances. I was sitting in my office one afternoon and received a call from a former PhD student, GP Yeh. He told me that the Minister of Science and Technology of Japan was visiting various research universities in the US to learn how they operate, and he was coming to MIT the very next day. But he told me that through some miscommunication both the President and the Provost would be out of town and would not be there to meet him; and he asked me to do something about it. So I immediately called the Dean of Science who arranged to have a number of heads of science departments give short talks about how their departments operate. The next day the Dean of Science and I greeted Mr. Omi and we had a very satisfactory set of presentations by the department heads. I was very impressed by Mr. Omi’s incisive questions and the fact that he took his own notes even though he had a group of assistants. He seemed to be pleased with what he heard.

About two months later I received a letter from Mr. Omi asking whether I would join a group that was helping plan a new University in Japan. It was such an intriguing request that I quickly consented. So I joined a group of other Nobel laureates and prominent academics who would establish the policies and plan the new University. We had a series of meetings in the US and Japan to start this planning. There was much controversy about what kind of university it should be. Some thought it should concentrate on the life sciences; and others like myself were advocating a multi-discipline University that pursued both the physical and life sciences.

The major objective of Mr. Omi in proposing a new University was an institution that went beyond the traditional structures and policies of the current Japanese universities. He wanted a University that was the best in the world in both research and education and that would establish collaborations with research groups across the world. He also wanted a university that would encourage and nurture interdisciplinary research. Mr. Omi was a strong leader with an open mind. He listened to many points of view but ultimately made the final decisions. He readily agreed with the proposition that to carry out the highest level of interdisciplinary research, as well as do the highest level of research in individual disciplines, the new university would have to develop very strong disciplines with the best current instrumentation available. He also wanted an international university that would bring in fresh ideas from abroad and enhance worldwide collaborations.

Throughout the planning session there was considerable resistance from the Cabinet Office. What was being proposed was so contrary to the operation of traditional Japanese universities. While the Cabinet Office wanted to be helpful, they often said, “We don’t do things that way in Japan.” But Mr. Omi had a fierce determination to accomplish his goals. Nothing would stand in his way. Often when an obstacle was presented by the Cabinet Office, he would arrange to have some of us visit a minister and plead our case. On a couple of occasions he arranged visits with the prime minister. In order to make the new University a reality, he sponsored and managed to have special legislation passed by the Diet.

The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology that resulted from this planning exemplifies Mr. Omi’s goals. Though it is still growing, it’s research has attracted worldwide attention and it is now attracting some of the best students in the world. With appropriate support by the government, OIST has the potential to develop into one of the best universities in the world, fulfilling Mr. Omi’s original goal.

During the period when Mr. Omi was working hard to establish the new University, he had a brilliant idea. He realized that the world needed an international conference on science and technology in society. So he called upon a few of us to help him start the STS Forum. It developed into an international conference held annually in Kyoto to discuss the lights and shadows of science and technology in modern society with the aim of improving the human condition as well at helping protect the ecology of our planet. It brings together government leaders, the business community and academia to discuss various policy issues with the aim of providing the necessary information or making good policy. It has grown into a world movement. He worked tirelessly to secure funds to support the Forum and to secure speakers for the conference.

In addition to these two major accomplishments, Mr. Omi was an outstanding public servant. He served in the Diet for 26 years and served as a minister on three separate occasions. He served as Minister of Finance, Minister of Science and Technology, and the Minister of Okinawa and the Northern Territories, as well as holding a number of other positions for the government. Though he was trained in economics, he clearly understood the importance of science and technology; and he was instrumental in establishing the fundamental law of Japan for science and technology.

Mr. Omi was a rare human being. He was the most visionary individual I ever met. He was a man of passion and dedication. He was a great strategist with fierce determination to accomplish his goals. He saw obstacles as challenges to be overcome.

Mr. Omi not only made important contributions to Japan, but also to the entire world. OIST and the STS Forum will be everlasting tributes to his vision and accomplishments.

 

Jerome Friedman and Koji Omi in 2018

Feb 2018. The 1st OIST Graduation Ceremony (from left: Koji Omi, Jerome Friedman)

From Kiyoshi Kurokawa, former BOG member

I started working with Mr. Koji Omi in 2001 as a member of Cabinet Office’s Study Committee for establishing a new graduate university in Okinawa, or OIST, which he conceived as Minister of Science and Technology and of Okinawa and Northern Territories. My involvement with Okinawa further deepened when I created an Asian Youth Exchange Program, as science advisor to the first Cabinet of Prime Minister Abe and then to Prime Minister Fukuda. The program, which was a great success, invited around 50 students from up to 26 Asian countries for a few-week summer camp in Okinawa between 2008 and 2015. Through these experiences, I’ve come to fully understand why Mr. Omi was convinced that OIST had the potential to become the best in the world because of its location in Okinawa. When asked why not establishing the proposed new institution in Tokyo or Kyoto, Mr. Omi responded by saying that if it was located in a major city it would not become a top institution. He adamantly insisted that it should be in Okinawa. Indeed, within these ten years the OIST has grown to be the top research university in Japan, as ranked by Nature.

The vision of Mr. Omi has been made a reality by the many people who have been involved in OIST, including Founding President Sydney Brenner, the BOG chairs and members, and past and current Presidents. I would like to thank everyone at OIST for their diligent efforts over the course of the last ten plus years to ensure the success of the institution. It is a great shame that Mr. Omi passed away just before the 10th anniversary ceremony and commemorative events, but his daughter must have appreciated all the comments made to remember him.

Based on my fourteen years’ experience in the US, I find it most critical to promote science and technology in Japan. It is now important more than ever that we work harder to spread the message of OIST and Mr. Omi’s vision, as the importance of science and technology is becoming greater and greater in this global world.

Kiyoshi Kurokawa and Koji Omi in Tokyo

December 15, 2016 in Tokyo

From Jonathan Dorfan, President Emeritus

In the early 2000s, Mr. Omi came to Stanford, and he was like a wind that blew through our lives. Little did I know that at some point in the future I would be able to sail on that wind.

Mr. Omi was truly an amazing man. He was a visionary and he implemented his vision with remarkable energy. He saw a challenge as something to win: his ability to ‘move mountains’ was truly remarkable. Mr. Omi served Japan brilliantly, but he was also a person of the world and the STS Forum is just one example of that. He cared deeply about humanity and it was an honor to know him. Not enough can ever be said about OIST and its founding being due to the efforts of Mr. Omi, and I cannot thank him enough.

Jonathan Dorfan and Koji Omi at OIST

Jonathan Dorfan and koji Omi talking in center court at OIST May 8, 2013

Hiroyuki Hosoda and Koji Omi 2005

Celebration of Establishment of Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Promotion Corporation, October 13, 2005 - Hiroyuki Hosoda and Koji Omi

OIST founders in Tokyo 2013

OIST founders meet in Tokyo