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Yohei Sasakawa
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HEROs AWARD 2019 Given to Japan Inclusive Football Federation [2020年02月07日(Fri)]
The Nippon Foundation has conferred the third HEROs AWARD on the Japan Inclusive Football Federation (JIFF) in recognition of its activities to aim for an inclusive society through promoting soccer for players with disabilities.

At a ceremony held at a Tokyo hotel late last year, I presented the award to JIFF President Tsuyoshi Kitazawa, a former Japan national soccer team member, in the presence of about 130 current and former athletes, among them Mr. Yasuhiro Yamashita, a judo gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and now president of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC).

Mr. Kitazawa said the award gave players with disabilities, some of whom were present at the ceremony, a strong motivation to play soccer. With the Olympic and Paralympic games to be held in Tokyo this summer, he said: “The year of 2020 will provide a great opportunity to create a happy society through sports.” JIFF supports seven associations of soccer players with disabilities, aiming for an inclusive society.

The annual HEROs AWARD recognizes both current and former athletes and their organizations for accelerating efforts to solve various social problems through promoting sports.

The HEROs initiative, launched in October 2017, is a social innovation project that seeks to use the expertise, experience, and human resource networks developed by The Nippon Foundation through its social contribution activities to harness the power of sports in order to give children hopes and dreams for the future and create a better society for the next generation.

HEROs2.jpgPresenting the HEROs AWARD 2019 trophy to former Japan national soccer team member Tsuyoshi Kitazawa, president of the Japan Inclusive Football Federation (JIFF), in a ceremony at a Tokyo hotel on December 9, 2019.

Posing with about 130 current or former athletes who participated in the ceremony. The men wore black-tie formal wear, while the women were clad in long dresses or traditional kimono.

How to Interpret a Survey Showing Japanese Youths to be Short on Hope? (2) [2020年01月20日(Mon)]
When asked what social problems they want to solve, the top two answers given by Japanese respondents were to eradicate poverty and make politics better. On how they want to contribute to society, they said they want to study hard and become good adults, work and pay taxes, and work as volunteers.

In the previous survey, in answer to a question about the national debt, more than 70% of Japanese youth said they are worried. But the number of young Japanese who said that the nation as a whole should be responsible for repaying it was more than double the number of those who believed it should be settled by the generations that increased the debt, while just 5% said it was for young people alone to repay it. I take this as an indication of the resolve and responsibility of young Japanese.

In 2014, Ms. Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani human rights activist, became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate. At the United Nations Climate Action Summit 2019 held in New York last September, Ms. Greta Thunberg of Sweden called on young people around the world to take action to prevent global warming. They made me feel that in the increasingly globalized international community, the voices of young people will become even more important in the future.

There are many young Japanese with ample potential. It is up to adults to create an environment, through political and educational reforms, in which the young can grow.

The Awareness Survey of 18-Year-Olds was the 20th in the series launched by The Nippon Foundation in October 2018, usually covering 17- to 19-year-olds in Japan. It followed the lowering of the nation’s voting age from 20 to 18 in 2015, allowing 18- and 19-year-olds to vote for the first time in the 2016 Upper House election. The survey was designed to track the attitudes and awareness of 18-year-olds regarding politics, society, work, families, friends, and other issues.

We are keenly aware of the need to further upgrade the quality of the survey so that we can have the voices of young people reflected in the nation building in the future.

More details of the 20th survey can be seen HERE.
How to Interpret a Survey Showing Japanese Youths to be Short on Hope? (1) [2020年01月16日(Thu)]
Less than 1 in 5 young people in Japan (18.3%) think they can help change their country and society, while under 1 out of 10 (9.6%) believe their country will get better in the future.  

These are the findings of a survey The Nippon Foundation conducted online from late September to early October last year, covering 1,000 17- to 19-year-olds in each of nine countries−China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.

The survey showed that in all areas, young people in Japan ranked last behind their peers in the eight other countries. When these results were announced at The Nippon Foundation Social Innovation Forum 2019 held in Tokyo from November 29 to December 1, many people were taken aback.

On questions as to whether they consider themselves to be adults (29.1%), whether they believe themselves to be responsible members of society (44.8%), and whether they proactively discuss issues with those around them (27.2%), Japanese youth scored 42 to 47 percentage points lower than the average of their counterparts in the eight other countries.

On the future of their country, 70% of Japanese respondents expressed anxiety, if we add 37.9% of them who said they expect the nation will get worse and 32% who said they have no idea what will happen.

At the Social Innovation Forum, a female student from Vietnam, where 69.6% of youths responded that they expected their nation will get better in the future, said she didn’t understand the attitude of Japanese young people living in a free and affluent society. In Vietnam, teenagers start working at around 15 and are well aware of what the country and society expect of them by the time they turn 18, she added.

Other participants in the forum said that young Japanese today don’t know much about society because they have few connections with the outside world, that they don’t act proactively on the assumption that adults don’t accept what they say, and that an increasing number of young people don’t know what to do for the future of their country.

In a way, it is only natural that young people in fast-growing China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam have a strong desire to contribute to the future development of their countries.

In Japan, on the other hand, aging is progressing at a pace the world has never experienced, while its national debt, including local governments’, is more than double its Gross Domestic Product at 1,000 trillion yen, with no solution yet in sight.

It is unavoidable that young Japanese see no bright prospects for the future in the face of these mounting challenges. Similarly, 43.4% of young people in the United Kingdom responded that their country will get worse, the result seemingly influenced by uncertainty caused by the decision to leave the European Union (EU).  

The Diet (Parliament) in Japan seems to be preoccupied with domestic scandals rather than foreign and national security policies. The current educational system is marred by the controversy over the roles of the national flag and national anthem, making it more difficult for young Japanese to have pride in their country. These factors all keep them from thinking about the future of the nation. The education system, which puts much emphasis on acquiring knowledge, also makes it hard for young people to develop their imagination and judgment.

Conversely, if we improve the current state of politics and education, there is plenty of room for Japanese youth to focus on the future of the country and society.

In fact, as noted above, 44.8% of Japanese youth−although the lowest among the nine countries−said they consider themselves to be responsible members of society, while 60.1% said they have dreams for the future and 46.4% said there are social problems in their country they want to solve. There is ample room for progress. So, I myself don’t think we need to be that pessimistic about Japanese youth.  

(To be continued)
Honored to be Awarded Sound Opinion Grand Prize (2) [2020年01月08日(Wed)]
On April 1, 2019, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced the era name of Reiwa drawn from an anthology of poems called the Manyoshu, representing a break with centuries of tradition as the first era name to have been inspired by a Japanese, rather than Chinese, work of classical literature.

Honestly speaking, I had not expected the discussion on a new era name to heat up in the way that it did.  Never before had as many people joined the debate on a new gengo. Some people maintained that Japan should use only the Western calendar. But Japan is now the only country in the world that adheres to the gengo calendar tradition. Strongly wishing for the further prosperity of the Imperial family, I have come to believe more than ever that gengo is a valuable tradition Japan should maintain.

Throughout my career, I have been committed to placing emphasis on what’s happening on the spot in line with the philosophy of “knowledge and action are one,” espoused by the Chinese neo-Confucian philosopher Wang Yangming (1472-1529).You see both problems and solutions only when you visit a site in person. Although I turn 81 today (January 8, 2020), I spend nearly one third of a year travelling overseas, having visited 122 countries on 541 trips so far.

The Nippon Foundation has been engaged in a wide variety of activities, ranging from the global battle against leprosy and conservation of oceans to measures to assist children, persons with disabilities and the elderly as well as those hit by natural disasters−of which we are seeing more in recent years.

While gaining the wisdom of experts, we are aiming at designing a new model for achieving a society where everyone supports everyone.

Resting in some of the many countries I visit are the souls of Japanese soldiers killed during the last war. With this to spur me on, I am determined to continue engaging in humanitarian activities at home and abroad while being ready to die anywhere in the world.  

I would be most grateful if I am allowed to keep on writing for the Seiron column about the problems and solutions I find on my missions. 
Honored to be Awarded Sound Opinion Grand Prize (1) [2020年01月06日(Mon)]
Happy New Year!
All of us at The Nippon Foundation wish you a happy and great year.

Now, I was greatly honored by the announcement from Fujisankei Communications Group, a Japanese media conglomerate, that I had been awarded the 35th Sound Opinion (Seiron) Grand Prize for 2019.

The annual award is given to opinion leaders who contribute to the development of the Seiron philosophy of fighting for freedom and democracy, according to the announcement made on Decembe10, 2019.

The decision stemmed from the articles I contributed to the Seiron column of the Sankei Shimbun, the group’s flagship national newspaper, most notably the article in which I proposed that Japan should not stick to almost 1,400 years of tradition of selecting the name of the imperial era, or gengo, from classical Chinese literature, according to the announcement.

My more than 40 years of fighting against leprosy and other philanthropic activities were also taken into account, the media group added.

I am a regular contributor to this column, but neither an expert on anything nor a journalist. So, it is indeed an honor for me to receive such a prestigious award as the Seiron Grand Prize with years of tradition behind it. The award ceremony will be held on February 28, 2020.

My article, carried in the January 3, 2019 issue of the paper, triggered a heated debate among the Japanese public. In the end, Reiwa was chosen as the new era name, a word that was for the first time taken from an ancient Japanese source−an anthology of poems called the Manyoshu−instead of old Chinese texts.

The Reiwa era, which can be translated as “beautiful harmony”, began on May 1, 2019 when Crown Prince Naruhito ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne after the historic abdication of his father, Emperor Akihito.

Traditionally, every Japanese emperor is assigned a gengo, or era name, which is used on currency, calendars, newspapers and drivers’ licenses and other official paperwork.

In the Seiron article, I pointed out that some Japanese-coined kanji or Chinese characters are widely used in countries such as China and South Korea. This suggests that Japan should select a new era name from its own sources, breaking with the tradition of drawing era names from Chinese classics, which continued from the Taika era (645-650) until the Heisei era (1989-2019).

Starting around the fall of 2018, I had talked about this idea with people around me. But I was surprised by the bigger than expected response to my Seiron contribution, proof of how keenly Japanese people were interested in naming a new imperial era. 

(To be continued)
Sport for All Leads the Way to Health for All [2019年11月21日(Thu)]

Making a keynote address to the 26th TAFISA World Congress on November 14, 2019.

I was truly happy to welcome over 600 participants from 78 countries who attended the 26th TAFISA World Congress which was held at a Tokyo hotel on November 13-17.  

TAFISA, or the Association for International Sport for All, aims to create a better world through the promotion of Sport for All and physical activity in everyday life, and bring joy, health, social interaction, integration and development to communities and citizens around the globe.  

In my keynote address on the second day, I noted that it was most timely that the biannual congress was being held in Japan in the first of the three “Golden Sports Years” of 2019, 2020 and 2021, so called because Japan is hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games and the 2021 World Masters Games.

It is not just athletes and sport fans but also the general public who are getting excited about sports, I said, adding that I hoped the Golden Sports Years “will become a wonderful opportunity for the people to realize the importance of Sport for All.”

I received a round of applause from the audience when I shared my own physical fitness routine, saying: “I am a young man of 80 years old. My daily workout consists of 40 minutes of stretching exercises and 150 push-ups and sit-ups in the morning. This is what keeps me going!” I drew louder applause still when I said: “We all know that physical exercise is good, but the difficult part is to continue it every day.” 

I mentioned that aging is an ongoing challenge in Japan. “It is important that we all raise health awareness and increase our healthy life expectancy. It is said that there is about a 10-year difference between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy in Japan.” Closing this gap will give elderly people a feeling that life is worth living and it would also lead to a cut in the cost of medical care in the long term, I added.

The Nippon Foundation saw this potential 30 years ago and has since been working to promote Sport for All through our partner organization, the Sasakawa Sports Foundation, which has been actively committed to the promotion of sports programs including the World Challenge Day since 1993.

The World Challenge Day has become one of the largest sports events in Japan with the participation of three million people every year.

“I believe that the promotion of Sport for All can be a solution to confront the challenges of aging and to innovate our society,” I stressed, adding: “I firmly believe that Sport for All is what leads the way to Health for All.”

During the conference, it was a great honor for me to be conferred the Jürgen Palm Award, TAFISA’s most prestigious award, which is given to individuals who have made a significant and long-term contribution to the field of international Sport for All and physical activity.


I drew loud applause when I said: “We all know that physical exercise is good, but the difficult part is to continue it every day.”


With Dr. Ju-Ho Chang (center), President of TAFISA, and Mr. Masatoshi Ito (right), President of TAFISA-JAPAN and the Organizing Committee of the Congress.

I was presented with the Jürgen Palm Award, TAFISA’s most prestigious award, by President Ju-Ho Chang for my contribution to the field of international Sport for All and physical activity.

Winery Employing Workers with Disabilities Opens in Iwate Prefecture [2019年10月17日(Thu)]


Hoping to make Hanamaki a major Japanese wine-producing area!

I visited Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture, in northeastern Japan recently to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the opening of a winery that plans to employ forty persons with disabilities with the support of The Nippon Foundation.

Under the foundation’s “Hataraku NIPPON Project” designed to help create more employment for persons with disabilities, the workers will be engaged in the whole process of wine making, from the cultivation of grapes and fermentation to bottling, labeling and marketing. Under the project, they aim at raising their monthly wage to 30,000 yen, or twice as much as the national average for workers with disabilities, by the end of March 2021.

The winery is called Art Paysan Winery, a combination of two French words, “art” and “paysan,” indicating their determination to pursue wine making to the level of art.

In addition to wine, they will start producing apple cider with sales set to begin in a shop in the winery in February next year.

In the vineyard, a total of 2,200 grape seedlings are being planted in 2018-19 with wine production scheduled to start in 2022.

It is my sincere hope that their wine will sell well, helping expand the employment opportunities and raise the incomes of persons with disabilities, while turning Hanamaki into a major Japanese wine-producing area and revitalizing the economy of Japan’s Tohoku (northeastern) region.

While in Hanamaki on October 4, I also enjoyed touring the winery and wine tasting, and went to the vineyards to work with the staff members of Art Paysan Winery to plant seedlings of Chardonnay, a white grape variety.


They will start producing outstanding wine in 2022!


Working with the staff members of Art Paysan Winery to plant seedlings of Chardonnay, a white grape variety.

I Welcome Prosthetic & Orthotic Professionals to Their World Meet in Kobe [2019年10月10日(Thu)]


Addressing the opening session of the 17th World Congress of the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO) in Kobe on October 5, 2019.

My speech is available HERE

I went to Kobe last weekend to attend the 17th World Congress of the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO). The four-day meeting, starting on October 5, brought together an estimated 5,000 professionals from some 90 countries primarily involved in the care of persons in need of prosthetic, orthotic, mobility, and assistive devices.

In my address to the opening session of ISPO’s first biennial meeting held in this country in 30 years, I said it was timely indeed that the congress was taking place in Japan, given that there is just a year to go until the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

I am confident that the incredible performances of the Paralympians who are using Prosthetics and Orthotics (P&O) would move the hearts of all in astonishment and amazement,” I said, adding: “This will be a wonderful and empowering moment to unlock the unlimited potential of people with disabilities. It is every single one of you here, who are supporting all these Paralympians.”

The Nippon Foundation has supported persons with disabilities for more than 50 years. From the early 1990s, our efforts focused on Southeast Asia, where many people have lost limbs after coming into contact with landmines used in internal conflicts.

Recognizing a strong need to educate P&O professionals locally, The Nippon Foundation supported the establishment of schools in six countries−Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Myanmar.

In total, we have provided P&Os to over 500,000 people with our donations exceeding US$60 million.

I promised the audience in Kobe that The Nippon Foundation will continue supporting people with disabilities to be fully integrated into society. 

While in the western Japanese port city, I also talked with Professor Friedbert Kohler, president of ISPO, and other dignitaries as well as representatives of the schools set up to educate P&O professionals that The Nippon Foundation supported in the six Southeast Asian countries. In addition, I inspected the state-of-the-art P&O devices on display at the conference hall.


An estimated 5,000 delegates from all over the world gathered for the congress, the first time it had been held in Japan for 30 years. 


With Professor Friedbert Kohler, president of the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO), in Kobe on October 5, 2019.


With representatives of schools to educate P&O professionals, which The Nippon Foundation supported in six Southeast Asian countries, in Kobe on October 5, 2019.

Winery to Hire Workers with Disabilities with The Nippon Foundation’s Support [2019年03月20日(Wed)]

Japan is enjoying something of a wine boom these days. But in most cases, wines are made from foreign grapes. Of all wine consumed in Japan, only 2 percent is currently labeled “Japanese wine,” which is defined under new government regulations as being “made from 100 percent domestically grown grapes.”

Japanese wines are now gaining a more favorable reputation abroad with some high-quality Japanese brands winning awards at international competitions during recent years.

As a consequence, production of Japanese wines is rising as more grapes are grown in many parts of the country at a pace never seen before. I am convinced that the Japanese zeal for quality wines will make Japan’s wines globally recognized in ten years or so.

As you may be aware, The Nippon Foundation has been involved in activities to support persons with disabilities all over Japan to help provide them with equal opportunities.

Now, under its “Hataraku NIPPON Project” designed to help create more employment for persons with disabilities, The Nippon Foundation is supporting a project to build a new winery in Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture, in northeastern Japan, which was designated by the Cabinet Office as a “Structural Reform Special Zone.”

Forty persons with disabilities will be employed at the winery, named “Vin Art Paysan” meaning ““wine is a peasant art”

I am pleased to report that the winery is almost completed and is expected to open soon. They plan to start marketing their products in 2024 with annual shipments put at 20,000 bottles.

The Nippon Foundation is disbursing 69.56 million yen out of the project’s total cost of 110 million yen.

I cannot wait for the day when they start shipping their wines!

8 Winery.jpg

Planting seedlings, dreaming of fully grown grapes