Apr 8, 2021
Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) opened its doors 20 years ago in April 2000. It was built in Jumonjibaru, an area of grassy hills where no one had ever lived before, in the city of Beppu in Oita Prefecture. The university started from a blank slate, with no prior history. That April, the first class of spring enrollees, consisting of around 700 students from 35 countries and regions, was admitted to APU. The admission of that first cohort marks the start of APU’s history. Over the past 20 years, APU has grown into a global university that regularly attracts approximately 6,000 young people from 90 countries and regions around the world.
The Ritsumeikan Trust established APU in close cooperation with Oita Prefecture and Beppu City to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Ritsumeikan Academy. APU was Japan’s first truly international university. Aiming to make international contributions suitable for the coming era while breaking new ground in the internationalization of Japanese universities, it was founded on the basic concept that half of its student body, or 400 students per academic year (now 660 per year), would be students from overseas (called “international students” at APU).
At APU, every aspect of the university, including educational programs, language of instruction, the faculty makeup, and campus infrastructure, was designed based on this premise that half of the student body would always be international students.
In the late 1990s when the idea for this new university was presented to both internal and external stakeholders, some evaluated the aspirations of the plan positively, but others said it might be difficult to realize such a concept in one fell swoop, or more frankly, they felt the plan was reckless.
Detailed preparations for the opening of APU began in 1995, but the atmosphere both inside and outside the Academy was a challenging mix of aspirations with difficulties and concerns. In late 1997, the financial crisis that struck Asia, which accounted for the majority of Japan’s international students, plunged the future of the APU project into even more uncertainty.
Amid this backdrop, when APU first opened, some of the students who chose to come here faced opposition from their high school teachers, who told them they had no chance of finding a job after graduation, as well as their parents. It was a trying time for them. However, rooted in the “We Can Do It!” slogan of that first cohort, the university has stood the test of time and overcome many obstacles to become what it is today. This would not have been possible without those students who had the courage and self-confidence to choose APU because they believed in the coming era of the Asia Pacific.
Management scholar Peter Drucker once said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it,” and this is what I told the incoming students at the first entrance ceremony in April 2000.
When I think about all the hard work that the students have invested in helping APU grow, the kind faces of the local residents of Beppu who watched these students grow and supported them always come to mind. As the head of APU when it first opened, I was worried about whether the local residents and students from all over the world could get along well, but that fear was unwarranted. Now I see APU students who, having acclimated to life in Beppu in Oita Prefecture, display a strong interest in community development and are trying to make their community a better place. No matter where these students end up in the world, they keep a special place in their hearts for Beppu and APU.
The local community helps cultivate students, who in turn invigorate the community. In doing this, students gain the ability to change the world. What we see here is an ideal, forward-looking picture of how a university and its students can coexist with the local community. For me, this is both reassuring and a source of pride.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a dark cloud over the entire world. Soon, however, this dark cloud will be swept away by the ingenuity and efforts of humankind, and people will start to create a new post-coronavirus society. With an eye on this new era, now is the time for all APU students and all APU alumni to hone and develop their skills. I sincerely wish you all the best of luck.
Founding President, January 2000–March 2004
Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University