At least two project directors specifically noted the need to incorporate Western research philosophy and thought into the Japanese scientific community. This would expose Japanese scientists to individuals who more routinely ask fundamental questions in their research. As noted previously, ERATO provides complete flexibility in research direction, yet the research questions being asked in many labs were not basic but targeted questions. By increasing the interaction with Western labs, an exchange of research philosophy could be enhanced. Thus, perhaps ERATO projects could involve more partnerships with U.S. laboratories.
The JTEC panelists found Japanese officials and researchers connected with ERATO projects very open and genuinely interested in cooperating with foreign researchers, especially from the United States. This should not surprise anyone, as it benefits Japanese science. But such cooperation works both ways, benefiting all nationals who participate, and U.S. scientists should be encouraged to participate. The flow of scientists in and out of Japan is fairly well balanced overall, but unbalanced in detail; i.e., overall about as many Japanese scientists go abroad to do research as foreign scientists come to Japan, but the exchange by country is unbalanced. More Japanese come to the United States than the other way around, whereas more scientists from China and other "learning" countries go to Japan than Japanese go to those countries.
The United States is still the leading country in scientific research overall. However, where Japan makes a determined effort to excel, it is capable of doing so. Areas of emphasis will shift from time to time, sometimes through government policy, sometimes through company strategy, and sometimes through the appearance of a strong individual with special interests. U.S. scientists and engineers need to pay special attention to those shifting areas.
Cooperation with Japan must take local conditions into account. Until now, Japanese universities have been hampered in several ways. They lack adequate funding, they lack facilities, and they lack equipment as compared with Japanese industrial labs. They also lack flexibility because of an antiquated system concentrating power in the hands of the senior professor and because job security and funding are disconnected from performance. These limitations which separate academic and industrial research do not encourage creativity. Yet professorial chairs at Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Tohoku, Kyushu, and other prestigious universities are occupied by outstanding individuals with the freedom and connections to influence research directions. No country has a monopoly on brain power, and it is important for the United States to remain "plugged in" wherever frontier research is carried on.
Japanese industrial labs have more money and better equipment than do universities, but may be less accessible to foreigners. Language is a major problem, although the JTEC panel was told that if three or four foreigners join an ERATO project, all members switch to English as their common language. Nevertheless it is difficult to see how or why a preponderance of Japanese researchers should force themselves to speak English (which is likely to be a foreign tongue even to most foreigners in their midst). ERATO provides a three-month course in the Japanese language to all foreigners at the beginning of their research. Perhaps the piecemeal exchange of individuals could be augmented by limited cooperation among organizations, such as university-to-university, lab-to-lab, etc., wherever teams have common research objectives and perceive the exchange of selected team members as beneficial to their research objectives. JRDC's small International Joint Research Program serves such a purpose and might well be expanded by both Japan and the United States.
Specific ERATO research areas for more cooperation might include materials science, electron holography, nanomechanics, genetic engineering, bioprocessing, cell biology, and others. In Japan as in the United States, the JTEC panel detected a gradual trend for research to move more into the life sciences, even into the hard sciences or engineering disciplines - e.g., many life science projects in ERATO are performed by electrical engineers. Some of this trend is driven by environmental considerations, and is likely to result in new industrial products, such as biodegradable materials, with substantial world markets. Wherever science leads, Japanese industry is sure to follow.