For the first time in recent memory, Japan has a minister of education, science, sports, and culture with hands-on experience as a researcher and educator. On Thursday, physicist Akito Arima, former president of the University of Tokyo, took the education post in the Cabinet formed by the new prime minister, Keizo Obuchi.
Arima, 67, had been president of the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), outside Tokyo, since retiring from the University of Tokyo in 1993. He resigned from RIKEN earlier this year and on 12 July was elected to the upper house of Japan's Diet.
The science community is elated to have a friend in such a high place. "When he was president of the University of Tokyo, he put extraordinary effort into improving the research environment," says Yoji Totsuka, director of the university's Institute for Cosmic Ray Research. "We're hoping he can do even more in a higher position."
Arima, however, will have more on his mind than university research. The $60 billion ministry has responsibilities ranging from developing kindergarten curricula to training Olympic athletes to preserving Buddhist statues. It is also set to be merged with the Science and Technology Agency as a part of a governmentwide effort to rein in the country's powerful bureaucracy.
Arima says he recognizes the importance of all aspects of the ministry's agenda. But he puts education at the top of his list, beginning with reforms to primary and secondary school that were outlined earlier this year by a committee he chaired. "This is an extremely important issue," he said at a press conference.