Director and professor at the University of Tokyo Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology
After graduating from Koyaguchi Elementary School in Wakayama Prefecture, Ryohei Kanzaki studied at Chiben Gakuen Junior and Senior High School and then enrolled at the University of Tsukuba. After earning his doctorate at the Graduate School of Biosciences at the University of Tsukuba, he studied abroad as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Arizona. He subsequently became an adjunct professor at the University of Arizona, a professor of life sciences at the University of Tsukuba, and a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Information Science and Technology. In 2006, he became a professor at the University of Tokyo Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology. Then in 2016, he became the center’s director. He conducts research into reproducing the exceptional capabilities (intelligence) that living organisms have obtained through evolution by means of leading-edge technology and leveraging them to positive ends. He conducts unique brain research; one such project reproduced an insect brain using the K supercomputer to create a cyborg insect that moved in response to an insect’s brain. He’s also actively involved in hosting experimental science classes for children and giving talks. He received an honorary degree from the University of Milano-Bicocca. He’s a visiting professor at Tokyo University of Science. He’s a member of the Engineering Academy of Japan, and he’s served in positions such as chairman of the Japanese Society for Comparative Physiology and Biochemistry. In 2015, he received the Hashimoto City Culture Award.
I grew up at the foot of Koyasan and attended high school in Koyaguchi, and the spiritual worldview fostered by Koyasan has penetrated to the deepest recesses of my psyche. As I deal with leading-edge technology on a daily basis, I find myself starting to feel some slight doubt with regard to technology built by the West to find optimal solutions. In a world inhabited by a diverse array of people, optimal solutions certainly provide happiness for some people, but for everyone else, they make happiness an ever-more-distant prospect. In its Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, the United Nations put forth the principle of “No one left behind.” That principle perfectly captures the spirituality that imbues the DNA of Japanese people. I believe that the philosophical aversion to waste was born of that DNA and its commitment to valuing people, nature, and all beings. I feel that it is necessary for us to reconsider the fundamental nature of technology after returning to our spiritual roots. And I believe that the spirituality of Koyasan and Kumano, through which people survived in a sustainable way for 1,200 years, holds hints for that quest.