PROFESSORS of science are typically viewed as a little eccentric. Nobuo Suzuki is no exception. He smiles from ear to ear whilst giggling during our interview. He is open and honest with his answers and is ardent about the debatable subjects of which he speaks. The way his face lights up when he talks about his five children, his family’s trips to the Alaskan wilderness and the elegance of a wolf are sure signs of a man who has found his calling: the study of animals and in particular the Alaskan wolf.
Taking his wife and five children into the Alaskan wilderness is one of Suzuki-san’s fondest memories. “When I brought the whole family to Alaska it was 1987. We spent three months there – my youngest child was 6 and my oldest was 18. We could enjoy so much in Alaska; no people, just a wolf den 100 metres from my family’s base camp. There were many bears, caribou and moose around our camp as well.”
Living 100 metres from a wolf den seemingly didn’t faze his young children as they had been raised alongside animals in their family house in Sapporo. “In my house, there were a lot of different animals from insects to monkeys. Each child of mine had a favourite kind of animal. We had many domestic birds – ducks, geese, chicks – some animals even made nests in my lounge chairs. But each animal was free because I wanted to observe their behaviours.”
This passion and devotion to the study of animals is something that Suzuki-san wants every young Japanese person to uncover, whether it be growing the juiciest and most flavoursome tomatoes or running a big company. This idea of inspiring young people to find their purpose encouraged him to return to Niseko last year to give a proposal to the Mayor of Niseko, a position that his father once held. This proposal consists of an International Elementary School and an International Hotel and Resort Business College in the Niseko area. His role in both projects is in promoting and setting up the schools. “I will try to gather good teachers and good supporters.”
As a university professor of many years, Suzuki-san is adamant about education. When asked why these proposals are important to him, he answers, “I want to train young Japanese people so they can contribute to the higher level of business in our resort country.
I want them to be not just salarymen, but businessmen.” Niseko continues to receive a lot of world attention and as foreign interest will continue to be vested in the area, Suzuki-san wants to make sure that young Japanese people can be a part of this.
In recent years, Japan has seemingly slipped off the radar in the world’s economic scene. As an industrialised nation, Japan needs to respond to increasing competition from China, South Korea and Taiwan. Along with this, the academic standard’s of Japan’s young people has slowed: English proficiency has lowered; and not as many students from Japan want to study abroad when compared to Chinese and South Korean students. Suzuki-san alludes to this occurrence, “There are almost no Japanese students at Harvard University. 30 years ago there were many Japanese students at not only Harvard, but in London, Oxford and Cambridge.”
Whilst measuring success differs with each individual, having high aspirations and a craving to see the world is what Suzuki-san believes is good for a nation’s morale. With increasing global attention, Niseko provides the perfect place for young Japanese to come and experience a multi-cultural community. Having education facilities in Niseko that teach in various languages will inspire young Japanese people to aim high. Something Suzuki-san did when he was young and still does after retiring as a Professor of Science at Hokkaido University.
“When I was young I did my best everyday and did challenges so great, such as researching Alaskan wolves and the Far-East Russian mammals (sea otters and whales). This was such hard work, but it was so rewarding.”
Today, Suzuki-san’s life seems less chaotic. He lives in Niseko Town with his beautiful dog – a native Hokkaido dog that’s been domestically trained by Suzuki-san; it’s what he describes as “his Niseko life”. This life in Niseko is limited to the next five years then, after his work is done here, he will return to the home of his beloved wolves – Alaska.
Before this, Suzuki-san has a hard road ahead to fulfill his commitment to educating and inspiring young Japanese people. “I want them to do their best. Now there are a lot of young Japanese that can’t find good jobs. I want to find good jobs for graduate students throughout the world.” And to do this, Suzuki-san touches on something much more deeper than an education. “I want to repair the mind, body and heart
of young Japanese, as well as their knowledge and language. This is my life’s dream.”
Words by Lizzy Hoo
Photography by Ross Cole-Hunter