Press Release

Dr Sawako Shirahase Appointed as Senior Vice-Rector of the United Nations University

Dr Sawako Shirahase will join the United Nations University as its next UNU Senior Vice-Rector, effective 1 October 2021.

The United Nations University (UNU) is pleased to announce that Dr Sawako Shirahase has been appointed as the next UNU Senior Vice-Rector, effective 1 October 2021. In this post, Dr Shirahase will hold the rank of Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations.

As UNU Senior Vice-Rector, Dr Shirahase will support management initiatives across the global UNU system, ensure overall integration and coherence of the University’s academic activities, and facilitate UNU’s relationships with the Japanese academic community and Japanese government ministries.

Dr Shirahase is a Japanese sociologist whose research interests include social stratification and inequality, social demography, and generation and gender studies. She currently is a Professor of Sociology (since 2010) in the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology at the University of Tokyo, and also served as the University of Tokyo’s Executive Vice President for International Affairs.

Dr Shirahase also served as the University of Tokyo’s Vice President for International Affairs (2017‒2018) and Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology (2015‒2016). Her previous academic positions included Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Tokyo (2006‒2010); Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Tsukuba (2003‒2006); Senior Research Fellow with the Japan-based International Institute of Population and Social Security Research (1997‒2003); and Junior Research Fellow, Columbia University (1989‒1995).

“Dr Shirahase will be the first woman to fill this important leadership role at UNU”, said Rector David Malone. “Dr Shirahase’s research on social inequality, generation studies, and gender is a timely addition to UNU’s work on global economic and social development.”

Dr Shirahase has served on various Japanese government councils and policy advisory boards, including the Statistical Commission of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and the Social Security Council of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. She is a member of, inter alia, the Science Council of Japan, the International Science Council, and the International Sociological Association.

She has published extensively in both Japanese and English. Recent significant publications include the books Todai Juku: Demography and Society: Looking for the Future in Japan (University of Tokyo Press, 2019) and Social Inequality in Japan (Routledge, 2014), and the journal article “Income Inequality Among Older People in Rapidly Aging Japan” (Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 2015).

Dr Shirahase holds a D.Phil in Sociology from Oxford University.

“I am excited and honoured to join UNU”, said Dr Shirahase. “With my research and networks, I hope to strengthen UNU’s collaboration with academic and policymaking circles in Japan and globally; improve our understanding of changing societies; and support meaningful social development.”

Dr Shirahase succeeds Prof. Taikan Oki, who served as UNU Senior Vice-Rector from 1 October 2016. “I am grateful to Taikan for his excellent support as Senior Vice-Rector”, said UNU Rector Malone. “His contributions to UNU’s work on water issues were highly valuable, and I am pleased that he will remain involved in the SDG Corporate Strategy Forum, which he initiated to engage Japanese companies in a dialogue on sustainability."

Journalists who would like more information, or who wish to request an interview with incoming UNU Senior Vice-Rector Sawako Shirahase, may contact UNU Japan Communications Specialist Masami Ito (

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About the United Nations University (UNU) 

UNU, headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, is a go-to think tank for impartial research on the pressing problems of human survival, development, and welfare. With more than 400 researchers worldwide, UNU’s core mission is to generate research that makes a difference on the big issues and encourages the rethinking of existing policies and perspectives.

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