The establishment of ERATO did not sit well with some government officials, who preferred the traditional way of doing things. Knowing that it would have to counter early and strong criticism and present some early successes, JRDC initially selected ERATO topics that were applied/materials-oriented and project directors who were well established and had close ties to industry. The first five projects are examples of this strategy.
Table 3.3: Basic Research Programs Established Since ERATO's Founding
After seven or eight years, however, the program achieved a certain level of acceptance by senior government and industry officials. JRDC began expanding the number of projects initiated each year, and these new projects were more oriented toward fundamental science and the discovery of basic knowledge. Many of the new projects were focused on the biosciences, as Japan sought to strengthen its position in this area. Also, JRDC sought to recruit younger project directors who could establish more contemporary relationships with young researchers.
More recently, as Japan has sought more influence in international science and technology, and workforce mobility has become more accepted within Japanese society, JRDC has sought more international connections -- within ERATO, with its offshore groups, and by expanding the number of overseas IJRP groups. This trend is likely to continue.
During this panel's visit to Japan, some panel members had the opportunity to meet with very high-level officials within the STA, including one who was on loan from MITI. Without exception, these officials viewed ERATO as a very valuable and successful program that is helping to change the Japanese R&D culture. They also expressed the view that, after more than a decade of experience, perhaps ERATO needed to be reinvented, and that something might be on the horizon that would be even bigger and better than ERATO.