My name is Takashi Watanabe. I began my tenure as a professor in the Faculty of Life Sciences (Pharmaceutical Sciences), Department of Medicinal Botany on April 1, 2015.
After graduating from the Teikyo University Faculty of Pharma Sciences in 1983, I served as a researcher at what is now the number one Selective Breeding Laboratory at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) Fruit Tree Experiment Station, where I received technical training and logistical support, before leaving that post to serve the Nepal Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation as a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer in 1984. After my four year period of service had ended, I was hired in 1988 as a full-time research assistant at the Kitasato University School of Pharmacy Medicinal Plant Garden, where in 1999 I received my doctorate (of pharmacy). After that, I joined the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) as a medicinal plant specialist, and went to the Federative Republic of Brazil where I conducted exploratory research and cultivation experiments on Amazonian medicinal plants. After returning to Japan, I felt it was important to encourage scientific studies and education in agromedicine centered around a university, and based on the recommendation from the Kitasato University Vice President (and soil scientist) Minami Katsuyuki, and with help from the New City Agricultural Promotion Agreement of Sagamihara City in Kanagawa Prefecture, I helped establish a satellite garden and farm site for the university, and became involved in working with city citizens in practical agriculture to establish a supply base for special agricultural products. All the while, I am certain that the experience I gained as a JICA specialist in the Federative Republic of Brazil, where I was stationed in the city of Belém, at the mouth of the Amazon River, and where I engaged in exploratory research of the medicinal plants of all regions of Brazil, particularly the Amazon Basin, has provided me with a great source of motivation towards all of my research efforts since.
In 2007, I left Kitasato University (Shirokane, Minato-ku, Tokyo/Sagamihara-city, Kanagawa), where I had worked so long, and became the director of the Kochi Prefectural Makino Botanical Garden and Plant Resources Research Center, where I advanced a body of research on plant classification, and simultaneously conducted regionally coordinated plant research as the head researcher of the Kochi University of Technology Research Organization for Regional Alliances (and as professor of the School of Environmental Science and Engineering).
The crowning achievement of my seven years at the Kochi Prefectural Makino Botanical Garden and Kochi University of Technology was compiling the Kochi Prefecture Useful Plant Guidebook (Published March 2015, Kochi University of Technology). It is my hope that I can continue this sort of project here in Kumamoto Prefecture, and catalogue its approximately 2100 indigenous species of plants.
These days, many university research projects are selected for Grants-in-Aid for scientific research and basic research, but I am acutely aware of the fact that, in order to continue pursuing research in its idealized form, it is important for researchers to obtain outside investments as well. We have been lucky to receive a lot of support from local firms, and have begun to do research and hold joint courses on functional food with them, all of which has led to greatly expanded research opportunities for the school. Furthermore, Kumayaku has begun new joint research programs with local government groups aimed at increasing regional plant-based industry. In the midst of all these exciting developments, I sincerely hope to provide the students of Kumayaku, particularly the foreign exchange students who chose this school for its strong foundation in research, with a rich environment where students can balance both education and research, and with research laboratories that enable its participants to freely imagine new ideas and draw upon new inspiration.
Up until now the university has had two locations within Kumamoto Prefecture. From this academic year, following a plan for new operations in the future which follows the ideas promoted in the MEXT Project to Promote Universities as the Center of Communities (COC), I would like to turn those two locations into the base points of the university, helping it provide its basic and specialist-training curriculum, while expanding the education and research structure of the university as a whole to include satellite locations throughout a much wider area.
Using Plant Power, let's made Kumamoto Prefecture more vibrant! This is the theme I will be adding to the list of my own research goals. When I think of the industrial structure of the Kumamoto Prefecture up until now, I see it in much the same light as Nepal, where I was stationed in my twenties (although it feels like it was yesterday!). Nepal was a typical stage zero industrial country, but now it seeks to transform into a fully-modernized stage six industrial country, using the power of plants. Now, when I speak of new plant-based industry, I mean using plants to open up new areas of economic activity, beyond the traditional industries of agriculture and forestry that have dominated in the past. In other words, developing new plants that possess high added value as materials in medicine and cosmetics, or which can be ingredients in food products with superior functionality for the promotion of proper diet and good health, and building up new industrial coalitions related to this development. While I cannot make any promises regarding the potential economic scale of these such ventures, I at least want to help people lead healthier lives by uncovering the under-realized potential of various plants and by developing industries geared towards them.
To this end, I have also had the honor of being appointed as the director of the Eco-Frontier Center of Medicinal Resources (formerly the Medicinal Plant Garden). The Kumamoto University School of Pharmacy is in Oe, a lush, green area located close to the center of Kumamoto City. The history of the Eco-Frontier center can be traced all the way back to the Banjien medicinal garden of the Higo Hosokawa Clan, and it was initially opened in 1927 as the Kumamoto Governmental College of Pharmacy, a predecessor to the present day School of Pharmacy. With such a long and prestigious history, this is truly valuable facility for the exhibition of educational materials. Today, the garden has expanded to approximately 7,000m2 and is host to a wide variety of growing medicinal plants and trees. While the trees and plants on campus sustained a lot of damage during the typhoon last August, currently a huge portion of the university staff, including our two dedicated technicians, are working tirelessly to restore the campus to its former green splendor. The idea of a medicinal herb park was originally conceived as a proud banner to show off the entirety of the School of Pharmacy, a place where both education and research could take place. I would like to make this year the starting mark for a project to make this lofty concept a reality. I pledge to do my utmost to help create a medicinal herb park that can stand up to even earthquakes and typhoons, with the goal of creating a street-corner oasis Medicinal Plant Garden and Herb Park through a revolution in plant and tree cultivation on campus.
The basic unifying theme of my research up until now has been the idea of researching plants as a strategic resource. From here on out as well, I would like to continue this research. Upon taking my post at Kumayaku, I would like to strengthen projects for cooperative efforts between agriculture, industry, and medicine (pharmacy) here at Kumamoto University to help compensate for its lack of an agriculture department, and to spur new innovations on campus.
Since I am returning to a School of Pharmacy after working for so long at a School of Systems Engineering (Kochi University of Technology), I humbly ask for the support and encouragement of my colleagues and the student body in helping me adjust to the differences between these two fields of education.
Takashi Watanabe, Department of Medicinal Botany