Sugi Ryotaro, Viet Nam-Japan special ambassador, has been recognised as an honorary citizen of Ha Noi for helping develop co-operative relations between the two countries in the past 20 years. He discusses his social and cultural work in Viet Nam with Thu Trang.
Inner Sanctum: When and why did you conduct your social and cultural projects in Viet Nam? What is the similarity between Viet Nam and Japan?
I came to Viet Nam for the first time in 1989 to organise a charity tour in Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. The tour took more than two years to prepare. By organising it, I hoped to do something for the countries which sustained war damage caused by my country, Japan.
At that time, I had conducted a lot of cultural and social activities in South Korea, China and the United States, as well as Malaysia and Brazil. Viet Nam is one of the countries hit hard by the war. I want to go to countries which are war victims of Japan to offer an apology and initiate and develop friendship. So Viet Nam became one of my destinations.
While building friendship with Viet Nam, I realised that the Vietnamese people do not like war but bear scars from a number of wars waged by various countries. I understand that the pain and sorrow of war have been prolonged until recent years. After the war, Japan is lucky to have stayed out of war and concentrated on developing the nation and its economy and later, moving forward.
When I visited Viet Nam for the first time, I felt the beauty of Japan's old culture in the country, so I found Viet Nam to be quite familiar. This is the main reason why I have a close relationship with Viet Nam until now.
Viet Nam has a great amount of natural resources and hardworking, methodical and truthful residents, so the country can and has produced many fine artists in various fields. I think that of all the Asian countries, Viet Nam is the most important one with which Japan can build a friendship.
Inner Sanctum: Can you say something about your projects in Viet Nam? Which ones leave you with the deepest impression?
I've had numerous activities in Viet Nam, and I can't introduce all of them here. But virtually all of my projects always face a lot of difficulties.
One of my activities that left a deep impression involves that time when I decided to adopt orphans. When I visited the orphans at the Ha Noi Birla Children's Village for the first time, I brought a lot of confectionery and toys, as I thought that the children like them so much. But while the children were happy, two siblings were very sad. I told them that the confectionery was delicious and they replied: "We do not need confectionery. We need parents."
Upon hearing that, I went outside and burst into tears. I found out that I did not understand anything about children. I'm shy. That's why I thought confectionery would bring them happiness. Since then, I decided to become their father, and that is my unforgettable story.
At present, I have more than 80 adopted children. Besides supporting them with funds for daily living and schooling out of my own pocket, I find ways to give them medical treatment whenever they are sick. I also listen to them and let them share their problems with me.
In another incident, I witnessed a local resident hurling stones at a leper. In 1989, during a heavy downpour in Ha Noi, a leper fell on the road and was about to drown in the rising water. I intended to come near the man, but someone hindered me. And then a man threw stones at the patient. I was very angry and pushed the stone thrower, so he fell. I was broken-hearted and did not understand why people of the same country could do such a thing to a fellow countryman.
Inner Sanctum: What about your illiteracy elimination programme?
In my opinion, building a country involves educating people, and a country develops because its people get good education. Thus, with the role of special envoy of the UNESCO, I support funds to build and maintain schools in different provinces and cities in Viet Nam with the hope that more and more children can go to school. I also try to support Japanese language courses. When I came to Viet Nam, the Vietnamese people paid much attention to studying foreign languages, including Japanese. However, at that time, books and documents on Japan were of poor quality, so I presented nearly 9,000 books about Japan to the country. I think that when studying the Japanese language, it is important to learn about its culture.
Then I set up a Japanese Centre in 1995. More than 20,000 people graduated from it and now work at government agencies or Japanese enterprises or have become professional interpreters and tour guides. At present, the centre has more than 1,200 trainees.
Inner Sanctum: What is your future plan for Viet Nam? How do Japan and your family help you in your work?
I think that social welfare expects neither reciprocation nor gratitude. People with money should donate. People with no money should spend time doing social welfare work. If they also do not have time, they should express their understanding of people doing social welfare work.
My family and other people understand my work and help me a lot, especially my wife, Godai Natsuko, who always shares with me my physical and mental fatigue.
Next time, I want to introduce the culture and customs of Viet Nam and Japan using multi-media technology. — VNS