One late Tuesday evening in February 2020, infectious diseases expert Kentaro Iwata sat on his desk and did the unthinkable: he recorded two YouTube videos blatantly condemning the “completely chaotic” control measures in the Diamond Princess cruise ship. In the months following the viral circulation, another story, this time about a Japanese Olympic fencer working as an Uber Eats delivery cyclist, emerged and gained media attention. Away from the global eye, an indigo dyer in Tokushima Prefecture is fighting to preserve a dying craft. 

How did our negligence snowball into a multitude of near-irreversible damages? How did an athlete come out victorious from a slump? What remains of tradition today as we abandon them for pop culture? This July, all of these defining questions will be addressed at the TEDxWasedaU annual event. As with other 3,000 TEDx programs held annually across the globe, the program harbors the same grassroots initiative: to spread ideas that matter, provoke conversations and embrace continuous introspection. 

Entering their 10th Year in the Spirit of Ideas Worth Spreading

Officially formed in 2011 and steered by the students of Waseda University, the group has since then become the largest student-led TEDx in Japan. For the last ten years, TEDxWasedaU has hosted successful in-person conferences. In 2019, they welcomed 100 participants.  In 2020, despite moving their annual TEDxWasedaU conference to a fully virtual format, the event still attracted 1,500 viewers. “Our decade milestone brings new ambitions, new speakers, and a newfound understanding of our identity as an organization,” adds Norika Yagi, president of the TEDxWasedaU committee. 

Miss World Japan 2020 Runner-up Tamaki Hoshi is also Social Sciences major at Waseda University © TEDxWasedaU

Despite the difficult moment, TEDxWasedaU is fully committed to continuing the task of promoting educational and cultural experiences. This year, the team seizes the opportunity to unload a much-needed conversation on hope and empowerment — a dialogue on not just “ideas worth spreading,” but journeys worth recollecting. With the theme “Eclipse,” TEDxWasedaU invites renowned speakers to shed light on the true gravity of the social changes in this past year. 

The Speakers for TEDxWasedaU “Eclipse”

Olympic fencer Ryo Miyake, who launched into stardom last year, is one of the many confirmed speakers for the upcoming conference. Mirake was on his way to what would seem to be another Olympic win. Having snatched the silver medal in the men’s team foil in 2012, he already had sponsors lining up. With the many uncertainties around the 2020 Summer Olympics, he instead halted his contract and turned to Uber Eats as a way to keep up with his fitness and sustain himself financially. Since then, his story gained national and international media attention in Asian Boss, The Japan Times, CNN and Mainichi Shimbun.

Another figure to spark a worldwide conversation and make a presence for the event is physician, professor and infectious disease expert Kentaro Iwata. Boarding the vessel as a member of the health ministry, Iwata was the first to shed light on the lack of the Covid-19 preventive measures. He had trained and worked abroad before returning to Japan in 2004. Since 2008, he is working as the clinical department head professor of Kobe University. 

kenta watanabe tedxwasedau

Kenta Watanabe with his son at his indigo plantation in Tokushima Prefecture © TEDxWasedaU

A Panel as Diverse as its Audience

Joining them will be Kenta Watanabe, who left his corporate job to establish Watanabe’s, an indigo dyeing business that uses awa-ai method. The traditional dye-making is unique to Tokushima Prefecture and involves natural fermentation. Now, Watanabe hopes to share this traditional practice with a broader audience and preserve this dying craft. 

TEDxWasedaU further brings Tokyo-based Bill Reilly, a bilingual translator and business consultant by day and drag performer under the alias Goma Dango at night. In 2018, Reilly founded Haus of Gaishoku, described as an international performance group of “queens, kings, performers and artists.”

In a moment in which distance learning is more important, clinical director Billy Cleary, Singapore-born sustainable entrepreneur Dennis Chia and researcher Eri Itoh will contribute their fresh perspectives. Ito’s interdisciplinary studies across various science, mathematics and social fields led her to collaborate with NASA to develop a new simulation system for air traffic control. Now, she is prepared to share her narrative on her journey, discoveries and the weight of knowledge. Despite the broad topics covered, ranging from craftsmanship, science, mental health and sports, all of their stories, perseverance and revelations will inspire and empower — a sliver of hope as we share a brief moment together in these unprecedented times.

The Student Speaker Competition was held in January. In addition to these speakers, two finalists from the competition will be presenting at this year’s main event, too.

TEDxWasedaU’s main event will be held on July 18 via YouTube live stream from 1pm. Stay updated with the latest news and information on their official website

Also find information on the TW event listing.

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