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Shinichiro MAKI (Director, Osaka Tennoji Zoo)

Looking at recruiting for the zoo, he thought “This is it.”

When I looked at recruiting for a position at the zoo, “I thought, ‘This is what I was meant to do, I may not have another chance,’ and went for it.”

In 2013, Osaka City announced it would be choosing a chief of the division in charge of zoo reform from among the public in order to improve Tennoji Zoo. When Mr. Maki heard about this recruitment, he knew it was fate. The bioengineering he studied at OU, his government experience as an official, and his fanatical love of animals since he was a child all came together to back up his application. He was selected for the position in July 2014, and began to work as director of Tennoji Zoo as well in April 2015.

Researching brain mechanisms of living things at OU

Ever since he was in high school, Director Maki had hoped to attend a university strong in scientific fields. “Learning about living things looked especially interesting. At first, I hoped to enter the Department of Biology at the School of Science, but after I learned about the Department of Bioengineering at the School of Engineering Science and took a look at its application guidelines, it really appealed to me, so I made it my first choice. I was able to study living things from a broad perspective of view, so I really do feel like I made the right decision,” he said.

At OU, Mr. Maki examined how the brain functions when living things perform voluntary movement. At the time, he was studying in Prof. Fujio MURAKAMI’s neurobiology study group while also performing experiments in Prof. Minoru KIMURA’s laboratory at the Faculty of Health & Sports Sciences.

A jack of all trades has nothing to fear

"The three of us, an assistant, me, and another student, had to take care of the animals for experiments, so we had very little time to rest. And since we didn’t have all the necessary equipment, I made electrodes and data collection programs, as well as new systems, everything necessary for our research, by myself. Engineering science students are jacks of all trades in a sense. I did all sorts of things, so nothing really scares me anymore,” said Director Maki with a laugh.

In addition to his studies, he also played trumpet in a big band in the Light Swing Club at the University, where they put on jazz performances. From his 4th year as an undergraduate until his 2nd year in graduate school at OU, he played trumpet at local events, making for a fulfilling university life.

Logistical support following the Great East Japan Earthquake

One day, while considering entering a doctoral program, Mr. Maki was looking at recruiting for government officials, and when he learned that biology was on the test, he decided to take it and passed with flying colors. He entered the Science and Technology Agency as a “career official,” and was in charge of science and technology policy. He was transferred frequently, gathering experience in various agencies, such as the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and the Intellectual Property Strategy Headquarters in the Cabinet Secretariat. “During the Great East Japan Earthquake, I entered Fukushima Prefecture as a member of MEXT’s nuclear support team 3 days after the earthquake, providing logistical support to the prefectural office. After that, I was in charge of creating criteria for restarting the nuclear reactors.”

“Zoo Fanatic”

On why he became a “zoo fanatic,” Mr. Maki explained, “Right after I got married, my wife was really into penguins. While visiting various zoos and aquariums, we eventually joined ‘Penguin Councils’ and the non-profit organization Network for Zoo Enrichment in which we discussed the role of zoos.

In addition, in 2006, Mr. Maki appeared on the TV program entitled, “TV Champion: National Zoo King Championship (TV Tokyo),” a game show in which zoo fanatics competed in various competitions, with Mr. Maki taking first place.

Zoo reform from a visitor’s point of view

After starting at Tennoji Zoo, Mr. Maki took serious efforts for zoo reform. “We took in a female polar bear, a very popular animal, and set up a place for visitors to interact with animals. Also, in recent years, we’ve seen an increase in foreign visitors, so we’ve increased the number of signs in English, Chinese, and Korean,” said Mr. Maki, he himself wearing a badge with the words “English a little.” In summer 2015, brand new lights were installed at the zoo, and the hours of operation were extended for the 100th anniversary event, “Night Zoo,” which saw 130,000 visitors in just 9 days.

Mr. Maki is also involved in mid- to long-term reform. “I’m considering taking in Japanese raccoon dogs (or tanuki), foxes, and moles. These are animals that city dwellers may not have seen before, and I feel that there is significance in displaying these animals from an educational standpoint as well."

All study is useful

In July 2015, in collaboration with Osaka University, the Tennoji Zoo held its “Shikake Contest*,” in which various gadgets were on display in order for visitors to experience and enjoy the zoo in new ways.

*Shikake Contest: Changing people’s behavior for the better by using gimmicks

“University is a place where you can have free thoughts and ideas. Through collaboration with the university, I think that all kinds of innovation and fun can be created. There are all kinds of subjects for study at the zoo, so I hope we can work together again with universities academically in the future.”

Mr. Maki’s motto is “all study is useful.” He gave some advice and encouragement to current students at OU, saying, “No matter what field you’re in, it’s important to build and renew knowledge that will support your efforts. I studied law, economics, finance, and civil code since I began working. I never touched on these subjects as a student, but everything I learned before is now useful.

 It’s a good idea to develop a mind to study while you’re at university.”

• Shinichiro MAKI

Shinichiro MAKI graduated from the Department of Bioengineering, School of Engineering Science, Osaka University in 1993 and the Department of Bioengineering, Graduate School of Engineering Science, Osaka University in 1995. After serving at positions in MEXT, the Ministry of the Environment, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Intellectual Property Strategy Promotion Office in the Cabinet Secretariat, he worked as chief of the Division of Zoo Reform in the Osaka City Construction Bureau and as the chief of the division to enhance the appeal of Tennoji in the Economic Strategies Office. He began at his current position as Director of Tennoji Zoo in April 2015.

• Osaka Tennoji Zoo
1-108 Chausuyama-cho, Tennoji-ku, Osaka
Opened in 1915 as the 3rd zoo in Japan, Osaka Tennoji Zoo was built on 11 hectares (about 27 acres) of land and contains some 1000 animals of about 200 different species. Visitors can enjoy viewing the animals in living spaces that simulate their natural habitats, as well as the animals’ feeding time. Last year, Tennoji Zoo saw some 1.73 million visitors.

Homepage: http://www.jazga.or.jp/tennoji/index.html

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