Supporting truant students using the Metaverse: Creating a place where they can think about life
Yuzu Minase, 2nd year, Graduate School of Technology Management Master's Program
The metaverse is a three-dimensional virtual space on the internet. As "another world" free from the constraints of space and time, it has recently been attracting a great deal of attention in the fields of entertainment and business. Yuzu Minase is taking advantage of this latest technology, which is expected to develop eve more in the future, and he is pursuing initiatives that are not bound by conventional norms. In particular, his Metaverse Support Program for Truant Students has been covered by various media outlets and has generated a great deal of buzz. Minase is involved in of all kinds of activities that go beyond the boundaries of the campus. We asked him about the driving force behind these activities and his thoughts on practical applications for the metaverse.
Fascinated by the world inside the VR headset
Minase first encountered the metaverse in early 2022. He had just entered the Graduate School of Technology Management and was thinking about what research topic to pursue. He was keeping an eye on a variety of cutting-edge technologies, but he found himself most intrigued by the metaverse, which was showing signs of a global boom. He has always been a gadget enthusiast and already owned a VR headset. “I didn’t think too much about it when I started. I just thought I would give it a try,” he recalls.
Minase donned his VR headset and started to go deeper and deeper into virtual spaces. He said he was immediately captivated by the world he experienced there. "I would run around with other users and look at beautiful scenery. I was both surprised and impressed by the ability to share experiences as if you were really there,” he explains. Minase became so enamored with the metaverse that sometimes he would even spend 12 hours a day in the virtual world. The metaverse is a place where numerous people participate in activities using anonymous avatars. He became friends and interacted with people from many different backgrounds, including fellow students, of course, but also business owners, company employees, and people with disabilities. “I found I could get to know people—people I would not normally have contact with in the real world—without any preconceived notions. It was extremely refreshing and enjoyable,” says Minase.
The metaverse has the power to change people’s lives
Minase came to realize the appeal and potential of the metaverse so keenly that a desire to "try something on his own" welled up inside of him. The first thing he did was become the administrator for a community called Yuzu Club— a place where the people who gather can test a wide range of projects and events in the metaverse. “We got bored of just playing around, so we started doing many other activities like radio broadcasts and school trips in the metaverse. The advantage of the metaverse is that it costs very little to do something as long as we do it by ourselves, so we adopted the mentality of ‘let’s just do it and see what happens,’ and we tried our hand at tackling many different interesting challenges,” he explains.
As the community continued to grow steadily, Minase began to think that the members should not only do events but also work on projects that only they could do because of who they were. This led to the establishment of the Metaverse Support Program for Truant Students, an idea that came to him after an encounter with a girl in the metaverse. “There was a girl in the metaverse who I happened to become friends with, and when I talked to her, she told me she was not going to school. She told me that she ended up in the metaverse because she didn’t want to go to school but she still wanted someone to talk to,” explains Minase. Later on, as the girl began to interact with Minase and his friends in the metaverse, a major change occurred. “Several months after I met her, she told me that she was going back to school. She told me that she felt like going back to school because she had a found a place where she could be herself in the metaverse and because of the emotional support it provided her. And she actually ended up going back.” This experience reaffirmed Minase’s belief in the potential of the metaverse, and he immediately took steps to implement the support program. First, he approached the Social Welfare Council in Hiroshima City, where he is from, and after making persistent efforts to persuade them, he was able to obtain sponsorship and subsidies. To ensure the quality of the program, Professor Tatsuya Sato of the College of Comprehensive Psychology at Ritsumeikan University joined the program as an expert advisor. Other members included a clinical psychologist, a licensed psychologist, a school counselor, a school teacher, and a lawyer who were among the people friends he had made in the metaverse, and together, they formed a solid framework to provide support to truant students. “If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right,” says Minase emphatically.
The program was launched in late September 2022, and three high school students living in Hiroshima City joined. Under the supervision of experts, a wide variety of programs were held over an eight-day period, and well-known metaverse users were invited to give lectures. The girl who inspired the project, a former truant herself, also participated as a lecturer. A key point about this project is that participants were lent VR headsets free of charge. On the last day of the program, all participants commented on how happy they were to have participated in the program, saying such things as “I would like to come back”, “I had a lot of fun” , and “I didn’t want the program to end.” Minase adds: “I have heard that two of the three participants have already returned to school.” Reflecting on the positive outcomes of this program, he continues: “We don’t think that getting children to go back to school is the only right answer. In the end, it is up to the individual to decide how they want to live their lives. I believe it is our mission to create a place where these students can think about their lives.” This program to create a new place that is neither school nor home where people can be accepted for who they are took full advantage of the strengths of metaverse, where people of all walks of life can come and share their experiences.
Having fun while tackling the challenge of setting up a business that will have social impact
Minase told us he wants to involve more of the people around him to achieve what he wants to do. The skills he possesses are largely due to his undergraduate experience at Ritsumeikan University. He reflects: “As a first-year student, I participated in the Sustainable Week Organizing Committee, which organized a hands-on SDGs-themed event. The upperclassmen I met there were expanding their activities by getting a wide range of others involved, including people from the university and local governments. I was very impressed by how they could do all this despite being so young in the eyes of the world.” What lines of communication should be followed to gain the cooperation of others and how should you communicate with them? Minase fully absorbed the know-how of the older students he was working under, and this has become his driving force today. He also found participation in the EDGE+R program, a practical program that aims to produce human resources for innovation, to be highly rewarding. “By studying design thinking and entrepreneurship, I was able to learn about the fundamental approaches that you need to create something new,” he explains.
Minase told us he wants to “make an impact on society.” His Metaverse Support Program for Truant Students has already had a major impact with its unprecedented combination of the metaverse and support for students who have stopped going to school. To take his activities to the next level, he has established an incorporated foundation called PrePla. In 2023, he plans to further strengthen this program by cooperating with more communities while obtaining new sponsorships from major corporations. Concurrent with this, he also launched a company called Yuzu Plus that aims to develop practical applications for the metaverse in the field of education. “I would like to do something to help people by connecting the metaverse with social issues. My goal for the future is to create a whole city in the metaverse,” says a smiling Minase. Minase told us he is willing to spend his life working on this because it is something he loves. How will his passion for the metaverse change the virtual and the real worlds? We plan to keep an eye on Minase as he goes on to tackle new challenges.
Yuzu Minase (Real name: Kenichi Okamura)
Minase graduated from Hiroshima Johoku Senior High School. He entered the College of Life Sciences at Ritsumeikan University before advancing to the Graduate School of Technology Management.
Thus far, he has spent more than 3,000 hours in the metaverse. He is also involved in the establishment and administration of Metacul Frontier, a media outlet post stories on the current state and future potential of the social metaverse. For his innovative work with the metaverse, he was selected to serve as the Vice Chair of the Metaverse Subcommittee of the Cabinet Office’s Public-Private Partnership Platform for Regional Development SDGs and as a member of the Davos-based World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community. He has appeared on television numerous times.
For more information on Yuzu Minase’s activities, visit the following website.