ERATO was created by the Japanese government "for the purpose of fostering the creation of advanced technologies while stimulating future interdisciplinary scientific activities and searching for better systems to carry out basic research" (JRDC 1995). This objective, first written in 1981, still applies today. Within this stated objective, however, there are many other goals, some of which are unique to Japan, although others could be applied to the United States as well. Before ERATO, real interdisciplinary teams, particularly those cutting across age, company, government, organization, and disciplinary barriers, were nearly impossible to form within Japanese society.
ERATO was created in part to help remove such barriers, to show the rest of the country that there is value to working together and that creative young people, in particular, work best when given the freedom to pursue their own interests. ERATO was also designed to help recruit foreign researchers to come to Japan and work on projects. While today almost everyone in Japan believes that ERATO has been a great success, in 1981 it was a bold gamble to "sell" this idea to a very conservative government and technical community.
PRESTO, a relatively new program, was begun in 1991. It funds three-year research projects, somewhat similar to the U.S. program for funding individual investigators. Unlike ERATO, which does not have a formal open competition, PRESTO is a formally competitive program where researchers submit peer-reviewed research proposals. Less than 8% of the applicants receive funding (see Table 7.1). Sometimes PRESTO funds have been used to extend certain aspects of research developed under ERATO, but they have more often been used to fund preliminary research that later could lead to an ERATO project.