Isei Takehiro, PhD, is a world-renowned Japanese mining safety expert who has volunteered to work in Viet Nam in order to help decrease the probability of accidents in this risky occupation. He talks to To Phuong Thuy about the reason for his dedication to the Southeast Asian country.
Isei Takehiro, PhD, is the first senior volunteer in mining safety assigned to work in Viet Nam by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). According to JICA, Isei is one of the most experienced Japanese experts in mining safety, who has participated in many researches and lectured in over 20 countries about mining accidents.
Inner Sanctum: What has brought you to Viet Nam?
In 2001, the Japanese government suggested that I take over the position of chief consultant of the Viet Nam's Mining Safety Project in the northern province of Quang Ninh. My duty also involved supporting the building, installation, and operational activities related to the department of mining safety research. I worked there for five years, from 2001 to 2005, and also participated in the establishment of the centre since its very first days. After the project ended I returned to Japan in 2006, I still continued to offer consultation via phone and email to my friends and colleagues back in Viet Nam whenever any incident occurred.
During the years after that, I used my own money to travel back and forth between the two countries nearly twice or thrice every year to consult about mining safety and observe the development of the centre. Sometimes, my wife complains: "Do you love someone Vietnamese?" It's true that I've fallen in love, but with Viet Nam, not a particular Vietnamese woman!
After learning about the programme of senior volunteer of JICA in Viet Nam, I proposed my participation. Fortunately, at that time, the centre of mining safety in Quang Ninh also requested JICA to assign a volunteer to reinforce its capacity. So, JICA has become my bridge to return to Viet Nam once again.
Inner Sanctum: Your career has taken you to over 40 countries, why do you have a strong attachment to Viet Nam?
As I feel totally relaxed when I'm in Viet Nam. In fact, among the 45 countries that I've set foot on, there are three places that impressed and interested me the most. The first one is Canada, the first foreign territory I've visited. The second is Hungary, where I spent five years researching and lecturing on mining safety, and the third is Viet Nam, where I've lived for nearly ten years of my life.
It can be said that, before 2001, when the centre of mining safety had not been established, the coal output of Viet Nam only reached 10 million tonnes per year. This number has increased to 40 million tonnes and the number of mining accidents has considerably decreased. However, mining accidents still pose a huge challenge. In Australia, the coal output is five times higher than that of Viet Nam, but no accidents were reported in 2012. Meanwhile, 28 miners died due to accidents in Viet Nam. If we compare the number of miners with the number of mining deaths, we find that it's as serious as the high number of people dying due to traffic accidents in Viet Nam. This is one of the reasons why I want to stay in the country to help in enhancing mining safety.
Inner Sanctum: What are your main duties at the centre?
I constantly work with my colleagues at the centre, help installing and operating the laboratory for researching explosions. Besides this, I have participated in reinforcing the techniques of early discovery of natural explosion potential, or coal burning itself, in the Uong Bi Centre for Mining Safety. There are also many other important duties such as consulting about safety management methods to prevent natural explosions and other incidents within the mines.
Inner Sanctum: In your opinion, what is the most important element to control mining safety?
Managing the safety of the mines is of paramount importance, which will help in preventing accidents. According to our research, mining accidents often occur on Mondays because after the weekend or a long holiday some miners do not strictly follow the safety regulations, which easily lead to mistakes. The mining accident in Dong Vong in Quang Ninh took place after ten days of inactivity, and the accident in Mao Khe Mine happened on Monday morning.
It should be noted that each accident had its own clear reason. It's necessary to note down every trace and analyse the cause to prevent any recurrence of the accident in the future.
Inner Sanctum: Does your family complain about your deep attachment to Viet Nam?
My 94-year-old mother and wife still live in the Kyushu Island, while my children live in Tokyo. My family understands how much I love Viet Nam. Honestly, I could't wholeheartedly dedicate myself and my knowledge to Viet Nam without the support of my wife, who also loves Viet Nam and has visited the country on ten occasions. My mother has travelled to Viet Nam thrice, and both my son and daughter love Viet Nam too.
Inner Sanctum: What is it about Viet Nam that you love the most?
Viet Nam's society is rapidly developing, but many of its good traditions are still well preserved, especially the tradition of respecting elders. In Japan, the youth do not maintain that respect to the elders. If I board a bus in Viet Nam, there is always a younger person standing up and offering me his seat.
One thing that I'm not satisfied with is my incompetent Vietnamese, though I've been living in Viet Nam for nearly a decade. It might be because I've been too old to learn Vietnamese and find it too difficult to pronounce, so as of now, my vocabulary is just good enough to help me during shopping and bargaining.
I've been to many places and discovered many customs from north to south, even more than many Vietnamese do. — VNS