Taku Haruyoshi is the office manager for the Viet Nam Liaison Office of Tierra International Affairs, a multi-faceted company based in Kobe, Japan, whose core business is education. Van Dat spoke to Haruyoshi about his company's efforts to encourage environmental awareness and exchange between Japanese and Vietnamese students through an annual tree-planting activity in Can Gio Mangrove Forest.
Inner Sanctum: When did the afforestation project in Can Gio begin?
Tierra International Affairs began bringing the programme to Viet Nam in 1995, but at that time there were no exchange activities between Japanese and Vietnamese youth. However, after I arrived in Viet Nam in 1997, annual exchanges between them a most sought after began. We started planting trees in the forest at that time.
Tierra promotes grassroots international exchanges whereby Japanese children come to Viet Nam to help with mangrove reforestation. Every year, several groups of Japanese students come to Viet Nam to plant mangroves in the Can Gio forest. Since 1997, 13 trips for Japanese students to Viet Nam have been organised.
Inner Sanctum: You have been here 17 years. Can you describe your feelings when you return to Can Gio with Japanese and Vietnamese youngsters to plant more trees in the forest every year?
I feel extremely happy to see that the trees planted by the Vietnamese and Japanese young people over the years have become a new forest. The roots of the mangroves are so thick that we cannot walk there anymore. Now I can only see them from a helicopter.
Inner Sanctum: What is the main purpose of your mangrove afforestation programme in Can Gio? How did it begin?
The director of Tierra International Affairs based in Kobe, Japan, has a friend who conducts research about mangroves. His friend wanted to help restore the mangrove swamps destroyed during the war here, so they began to talk to each other a lot. This Japanese expert wanted to develop mangrove forests in Viet Nam, but at the time, there was no available manpower to accomplish this. The director of our company also wanted to educate his students about the environment. So the two had the idea to let Japanese students plant trees so they could help Viet Nam and learn about environmental protection as well.
Every year, we choose students at An Thoi Dong High School in Can Gio to work with Japanese students because the children who live in rural districts of HCM City do not have opportunities for exchange with friends from other countries. It is much easier for students who live in the urban districts.
We also want Japanese students to learn about and compare themselves with the situations of their Vietnamese peers. For Vietnamese students, we allow those who achieve merit at school to take part in the programme. We do that to encourage them to study at school.
Inner Sanctum: Can you say about your first days in Viet Nam?
I met Asano Tetsumi, a Japanese man who speaks Vietnamese well, when I first arrived in the country. We stayed in the same house. We did everything together; ate lunch and dinner together every day. He taught me Vietnamese; he was also an expert in mangroves.
I moved to Viet Nam when I was 44 years old, and three years later I met my wife and we got married. My Japanese friend introduced me to her. Now I am 61. We had one daughter and she is now 11 years old.
Inner Sanctum: Before you moved here, what was your impression of the country?
At that time, the only thing I knew about Viet Nam was that there were wars. At that time, the only Vietnamese person I knew about was President Ho Chi Minh. My company was planning to build a mangrove research centre in Can Gio. I thought the programme about the environment was interesting, so I got involved in it. The children and I have planted 10,000 trees so far.
Inner Sanctum: Can you tell me something about your job as a teacher of Japanese?
Before I came to Viet Nam, I was a teacher in Japan. Besides conducting the environmental programme, I teach Japanese to Vietnamese students and young people preparing to work in Japan.
Besides teaching Japanese to Vietnamese who want to go to Japan to study and work, I teach Japanese at the HCM City Youth Cultural House every Sunday morning. I also organise and conduct exchange activities between Japanese and Vietnamese students. — VNS