Athletes, Entertainers Help Foster Donation Culture in Japan [2020年04月28日（Tue）]
The Nippon Foundation has received an increasing number of donations from celebrities. They include two-time Olympic figure-skating gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu, three former members of the iconic band SMAP−Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi and Shingo Katori−who have formed a new group called Atarashii Chizu (Japanese for “new map”), and boat racing stars, to mention just a few.
This may be attributable to growing understanding among the Japanese public that all the money the foundation receives in donations goes toward charitable activities with administrative or other indirect costs being borne by us. I am delighted with this trend.
When big-name athletes and entertainers make donations, this goes a long way to foster a culture of donations in Japan. Until the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which dealt extensive and severe damage to the northeast of the country, donations by celebrities were apt to be ridiculed as publicity stunts. But times have changed. The shift in people’s attitude is in line with The Nippon Foundation's belief that we are all responsible for taking care of each other.
On March 16, Mr. Yuki Nishi, a right-hand pitcher for the Hanshin Tigers in Nippon Professional Baseball’s Central League, announced that he would donate 2 million yen to The Nippon Foundation Kids Support Project, which is designed to support children, including those with serious illnesses, being raised in challenging environments. This is the second year in a row that he has made a donation to the fund.
This year, he was joined by Mr. Taisuke Yamaoka, a star right-hand pitcher for the Orix Buffaloes of the Pacific League, who donated 500,000 yen to the fund.
Mr. Nishi said: “I wanted to do something to support children with serious illness or those who are not fed well. This may be a small step. But I am so happy that Mr. Yamaoka joined me. I want to continue these activities over a long span of time.”
Mr. Yuki Nishi (right) and Mr. Taisuke Yamaoka as seen in the March 17 issue of Daily Sports
My Book on Leprosy Reviewed, This Time in Lancet Infectious Diseases [2020年04月24日（Fri）]
I was honored and delighted recently when I learned that my English-language book on my life’s pursuit of a leprosy-free world was reviewed in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, a specialty journal published by The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most authoritative medical journals.
No Matter Where the Journey Takes Me: One Man’s Quest for a Leprosy-Free World (Hurst Publishing, 2019), was first reviewed in Nature, another prestigious scientific journal, in March last year.
The review in The Lancet Infectious Diseases by Mr. Vijay Shankar Balakrishnan, published online on February 18, 2020, said the author “goes to great lengths to describe not only his own journey from travelling with his father (Ryoichi) to leprosariums, but also his experience of being a Goodwill Ambassador of WHO for leprosy elimination.”
“Ever since his childhood, young Yohei witnessed his father touching and embracing people with leprosy,” the review went on, adding: “This touch was both a scientific and a social message that these infected people were to be treated in a humane way and that leprosy does not spread through touch as people often fret; a mood that Yohei Sasakawa vividly carries throughout the book.”
As the reviewer suggests, my hope is that the book “will inspire other people to take to heart the plea of individuals with leprosy who are still experiencing stigma in their countries.”
The review comes after an event in New Delhi on January 30 this year to mark the launch of the book in India, which accounts for about 60% of the more than 200,000 new cases of leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, reported to WHO each year.
No Matter Where the Journey Takes Me is an English translation of my 2014 Japanese publication Zanshin, updated and with additional information on recent global developments in the fight against leprosy.
For those who are interested, you can read the review HERE.
Deeply Moved by Sasakawa Fellows’ Fight Against Coronavirus Pandemic in China [2020年04月21日（Tue）]
As China grappled with the escalating coronavirus outbreak in February, I sent a letter to Dr. Zhao Qunk, president of the Sasakawa Medical Scholarship Alumni Association, to encourage Chinese fellowship alumni working night and day to combat COVID-19 and to express our appreciation.
Of those alumni, more than 30 medical doctors were at the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus in Wuhan, the capital of China's Hubei Province, where the virus first emerged last December.
They are among some 2,400 medical students and professionals who The Nippon Foundation has invited to Japan under the Japan-China Sasakawa Medical Fellowship program since 1986 to study and conduct joint research at universities, hospitals and research institutions all over the country.
In return, Dr. Zhao, also president of China Medical University, sent me a letter, expressing gratitude on behalf of all the Sasakawa scholarship alumni who he said were truly encouraged and moved by my letter.
I would like to share with you some translated excerpts from his March 16 letter, which was written in Chinese:
First of all, I would like to express our wholehearted gratitude both on behalf of all the members of the Sasakawa Medical Scholarship Alumni Association and myself personally for your letter at a time when people in China were united making every effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The association members, myself included, were all encouraged greatly and moved deeply by your letter with many of them asking me to write you back, expressing our profound appreciation.
Following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, some members of the association were working on the front lines battling the pandemic by risking their own lives, while more members joined this battle in their respective positions providing logistical support.
Especially, it is noteworthy that Dr. Hu Yu, a 1996 fellow under the Sasakawa scholarship program and now president of Wuhan Union Hospital, exercised the leadership of thousands of doctors, nurses and medical staff at this pivotal hospital in the battle against COVID-19.
Dr. Xiao Ning, a 1997 fellow and now a researcher from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, was a member of the first group of Chinese experts sent to Italy to help advise officials there.
There are plenty of other heart-warming episodes, but I will save them until I meet you again after we conquer the disease.
At present, the situation surrounding the coronavirus in China has improved with production resuming gradually and people’s lives getting back to normal. But as you said in your letter, the coronavirus is a formidable enemy, which has not only threatened the health of the Chinese people, but also could deal devastating damage to the peace and welfare of people the world over, including Japan.
Under your leadership, we are determined to contribute to this fight against the common enemy of humankind by demonstrating the characteristics of the alumni association.
Finally, on behalf of all the members of the association, I would like to express our sincere gratitude to you for years of your contribution to the fellowship program. I look forward to seeing you in Japan in September at a ceremony welcoming the class of 2020.
President of the Sasakawa Medical Scholarship Alumni Association
16 March 2020
The letter I received from Dr. Zhao Qunk, president of the Sasakawa Medical Scholarship Alumni Association, dated March 16, 2020.
The Nippon Foundation Starts Accepting Donations to Support Coronavirus Response [2020年04月17日（Fri）]
Having received a large number of inquiries regarding our role in combating the coronavirus pandemic, The Nippon Foundation has begun accepting donations to support the operation of makeshift facilities it will build in and near Tokyo to accommodate over 10,000 COVID-19 patients.The entire amount of donations received will be used to help support the activities of doctors, nurses, and volunteers who will work at the facilities being established in a parking lot of the Museum of Maritime Science in Odaiba, Tokyo, and an adjunct location by the end of April and in a compound of a now-defunct research institute in Tsubuka, north of the capital, by late July. Altogether, the facilities will contain a total of more than 10,000 beds for COVID-19 patients with mild or no symptoms.I would like to note here that we have decided to use for operating these facilities a donation totaling over 124 million yen sent to the foundation in January.Considering the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, we made the decision as the donor, who remains anonymous, said in an accompanying letter: “Please use the money to help support people hit by natural disasters.”The coronavirus outbreak is the biggest national crisis since the end of World War II, and cannot be dealt with by the government alone. I sincerely hope that as many people as possible provide critical support for our all-out battle against COVID-19.If you are interested in donating, details can be seen HERE.The earlier blog on the anonymous donation can be seen HERE. The earlier blog on the foundation’s emergency measures can be seen HERE:
The Nippon Foundation to Ready 10,000 Beds for Coronavirus Patients [2020年04月13日（Mon）]
Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo on April 3, 2020, to announce that The Nippon Foundation will ready 10,000 beds for coronavirus patients with mild or no symptoms.
Responding to the coronavirus pandemic, The Nippon Foundation has announced that it will build two makeshift facilities in and near Tokyo with a total of over 10,000 beds for COVID-19 patients with mild or no symptoms.
I made the announcement at a press conference held in Tokyo on April 3 as Japan’s capital and other major population centers reported fast rises in the number of coronavirus cases, putting a growing strain on the nation’s healthcare system.
I believe that if we are to avoid a breakdown in the country’s medical system, we urgently need to free up hospital beds for severely ill and high-risk patients by providing more facilities for patients who are asymptomatic or display only mild symptoms.
In Tokyo, the metropolitan government aims at securing 4,000 hospital beds for patients with medium to severe symptoms, but as of early April had only secured 500.
The Nippon Foundation will set up nine large air-conditioned tents in a parking lot of the Museum of Maritime Science, operated by our partner organization, in Odaida on Tokyo Bay. We will also use The Nippon Foundation Para Arena, a dedicated para sports gymnasium located in the grounds of the museum. In these facilities, we plan to make 1,200 beds available for patients demonstrating mild or no symptoms by the end of April.
We will also ready 9,000 beds at a facility to be completed by the end of July in a compound of a now-defunct research institute in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, north of Tokyo.
Operational details will be worked out by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Japan Medical Association. Costs of setting up and running the facilities, recruiting doctors, nurses and medical staff, paying their salaries and covering their meals and other expenses, will all be taken care of by the foundation.
I told the press conference that the coronavirus outbreak is the biggest national crisis in the 75 years since the end of World War II, affecting every aspect of people’s lives across the country. It is crucially important that we all unite to confront the disease.
Before the press conference I met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and afterward with Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, to discuss how best we can cooperate in battling the pandemic.
On April 7, Prime Minister Abe declared a state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures to curb the coronavirus pandemic. At his press conference, he referred to The Nippon Foundation’s project to provide 10,000 beds for COVID-19 patients. While we were greatly honored and encouraged by this, we feel a strong sense of responsibility to fight this virus in the front lines.
The Nippon Foundation has been involved in disaster response and recovery operations more than 60 times, including the major earthquakes that devastated Kobe in 1995, Tohoku (northeast Japan) in 2011 and Kumamoto Prefecture in 2016. In dealing with disasters, it is crucial to move swiftly. Considering the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, it took only two and a half days for The Nippon Foundation to decide to launch the emergency project in consultation with medical and other experts.
Concerning the requisition of the Para Arena for this purpose in the wake of the postponement of Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, I sincerely appreciate the support of Mr. Yasushi Yamawaki, president of the Japanese Paralympic Committee, who said that we should do everything possible to save lives in the battle against COVID-19, which goes beyond comparison with sports.
As I said at the April 3 news conference, it would be best if we did not have to use these facilities. But we need to be prepared for every eventuality.
Media covering the press conference were mostly TV reporters and camera crews. Other journalists covered it online due to the coronavirus restrictions.
The parking lot of the Museum of Maritime Science, where nine large tents will be set up to accommodate coronavirus patients with mild or no symptoms.
Inside The Nippon Foundation Para Arena, a dedicated para sports gymnasium located on the grounds of the museum. The arena will be used to accommodate COVID-19 patients.
Coronavirus “Fake News” in Taiwan Spotted by Japanese Fact-Checking Body [2020年04月10日（Fri）]
“Fake news” is a familiar term even to the Japanese public, thanks to its repeated use by U.S. President Donald Trump to dismiss media coverage critical of his administration. Fake news has a damaging effect on the political, economic and every other arena.
With this in mind, The Nippon Foundation is supporting a project to fact-check questionable information regarding the coronavirus outbreak. This was in line with a proposal by Mr. Ichiro Kabasawa, executive director of the foundation and a former journalist with NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster.Let me share with you the first result of the project.
It concerned a tweet that spread in Taiwan at a time when fake news about the coronavirus outbreak was proliferating in many countries. Dated February 28, it was purportedly posted by Mr. Taro Kono, Japan’s Defense Minister, and was accompanied by his photograph.
The tweet said in Japanese: “As we received 500,000 masks from Taiwan, I pray for the safety of Taiwan.” The post drew comments thought to be from Taiwanese critical of their government for allegedly sending a large number of masks to Japan at a time when the purchase of masks by local residents in Taiwan was restricted.
A fact-checking organization in Taiwan, Taiwan Factcheck Center (TFC), requested FactCheck Initiative Japan (FIJ) to verify the authenticity of the tweet. Founded in 2017 to support journalists, media outlets and others in fact-checking questionable information, FIJ started a special website in early February this year focusing on fake news on the coronavirus outbreak.
A journalist who works with FIJ contacted the office of Mr. Kono and found out that he did not tweet such a message. Upon receiving this information from FIJ, TFC posted a message in Chinese on its website that the tweet was a fake, and posted the same message on Facebook as well.
This fake news may have aimed at instigating criticism of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who won reelection in January on promises not to allow China to bring Taiwan under its authority. However, it poses a serious problem for Japan if a fake tweet attributed to a Japanese Cabinet minister spreads overseas through social media.
We decided to support this initiative with the aim of combating fake news on the coronavirus pandemic. But I believe it will be one of Japan’s new diplomatic challenges to detect, monitor and prevent fake news going viral against Japan overseas.
FactCheck Initiative Japan (FIJ) investigated this tweet, purportedly from Japan’s Defense Minister Taro Kono, which read: “As we received 500,000 masks from Taiwan, I pray for the safety of Taiwan.”FIJ confirmed that the tweet, which spread around Taiwan, was a fake.
First Officially Approved Visit to Key Northern Myanmar City in 74 Years (3) [2020年04月08日（Wed）]
Crossing this bridge would take me into Chinese territory.
On March 9 and 10, 1945 when I was six years old, I survived the Great Tokyo Air Raid, which killed more than 100,000 people and destroyed my school and countless other buildings in downtown Tokyo. From there I moved to Osaka, western Japan, and entered an elementary school a year later. My class consisted of some 50 kids who shared only two color textbooks between them and otherwise used mimeographed materials.
Given my experiences, I wanted to provide children all over the world with opportunities for education. In Myanmar, The Nippon Foundation has built 460 elementary and junior high schools mostly in conflict-affected areas. I am resolved to deliver on the promise we made last December to supply teaching materials and other humanitarian assistance to displaced children in Kachin.
With the presence of land mines and training camps of other rebel groups in the area, it was necessary for me to cross back over the truce line before sunset and thus I rushed back to Myitkyina. But I became the first foreigner in 74 years to visit Laiza with official permission. I sincerely hope that my visit, though a small step, will eventually help pave the way for a national reconciliation in Myanmar.
During World War II, Kachin was the midpoint of the vital route used by Britain and the United States to supply the Nationalist Chinese under Chiang Kai-shek in Chongqing. The Kachin people are mostly Christian in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.
In November 2018, after directly consulting with Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, I called for the military to declare a unilateral Christmas ceasefire with EAOs that have not inked the NCA. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing then announced after careful consideration to halt, from December 21, 2018 to April 30, 2019, all of its military activities against the EAOs in Northeast Myanmar. It was a rare unilateral truce by the military for Christmas, which was later extended and in effect for a total of nine months. But it was really regrettable that he was forced to terminate the ceasefire as other EAOs in Northeast Myanmar launched shelling on the military’s school for training senior officers. The senior general did not blame me for this incident because it was his long-cherished wish to achieve reconciliation with the EAO in Kachin.
Days later, I learned that some groups had been chasing our vehicle in an attempt to abduct and hold in custody my colleagues−but not me−but gave up doing so as we had already crossed back over the truce line. I let it be known that next time we visit, they should only seize me, but never my colleagues.
Japan has been at peace since the end of World War II, but it has never played a leading role in resolving a conflict in a third country since the Meiji era (1868-1912). Given the unique relations between the two countries since the end of the war, I believe that it is a major responsibility of Japan to end the 74 years of armed conflict in this pro-Japanese country. No matter how long it might take, I am determined to step up my efforts to achieve this goal.
One of the IDP camps we visited near Laiza. The mountains in the background are in China.
“Study hard and take care of your parents,” I told the pupils.
In front of temporary housing in the IDP camp, where people live in close proximity. A fire broke out here in the past.
First Officially Approved Visit to Key Northern Myanmar City in 74 Years (2) [2020年04月06日（Mon）]
On my way to Laiza, we passed banana plantations here and there where I could see green bags full of bananas.
Even though I received official authorization from both State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services of Myanmar, the Chinese side exerted pressure on local mediators to cancel my visit to Laiza even while I was in Myitkyina on the day before our planned departure. Scared by the pressure from the Chinese, the mediators were inclined to call off the trip.
But I strongly insisted that China has long committed itself to abstention from intervention or interference in the internal affairs of another country, as it stated at the 1955 Asian–African Conference, also known as the Bandung Conference. Stressing that Laiza, though part of the conflict area, is clearly Myanmar territory and that I had received the formal green light from both the government and the military, I decided to proceed as scheduled. However, the original plan to drive to Laiza in a convoy of seven vehicles was scaled down.
It took about two hours and a half to get from Myitkyina to Laiza by Land Cruiser.We were escorted by a vehicle of the Myanmar military up to the midpoint. There were five checkpoints. It usually takes 30 to 40 minutes to go through each of these checkpoints, but we went through quite smoothly thanks to our military escort. Roads near Myitkyina were neatly paved, but after an hour’s drive, it became clear we were going through villages deserted after years of armed conflict.
Strangely enough, we saw banana plantations everywhere, all of them apparently looted after farmers fled in the wake of years of fighting. The soil had obviously degraded considerably, which must be heart-breaking for the displaced farmers driven from their land. Even in this area of Kachin State, we felt that governance was not functioning well.
After driving an hour and half, we reached a truce line. Security arrangements were not as tight as I had expected.
After the Land Cruiser traversed the shallow river marking the truce line, I saw sand mounds here and there that were left over from dredging for gold dust.
There is no knowing just how much area Kachin’s ethnic armed group, the biggest among some 10 groups that have not signed the NCA, controls in the state. The state is rich in lumber and mineral resources as well as jade favored by the Chinese, while the area under the ethnic group seems to be well administered: they have collected taxes for years and operate universities and prisons.
But seeing is believing. This part of Kachin State shares a border with China. I went to a small rocky river, only about 20 meters wide, separating the two countries. I have heard that television programs are broadcast in Chinese, and people use the renminbi, or Chinese yuan, and passports issued by the Chinese authorities. I have come to understand clearly that as a result of seven decades of armed conflict, the Chinese now wield absolute power over the area controlled by the EAOs. In the corners of a small town, some persons were busy filming us as we drove by. In order to avoid unnecessary skirmishes, I toured the town without alighting from my vehicle and headed for the IDP camps.
I visited three camps near Laiza, where I heard all the IDPs voice a desire to go home. When I entered classrooms of a temporary elementary school without prior notice, schoolchildren in every classroom all stood up immediately and greeted me with a polite bow. I was surprised that, starting at first grade, they were learning four languages: Kachin, Burmese, Chinese and English. They listened to me intently as I was the first Japanese they had seen. They responded enthusiastically when I said to them, “Take care of your parents.”
The first checkpoint on my way to Laiza.
Roads are well paved near Myitkyina.
This was once a large village, but it has been deserted by residents after the armed conflict between the military and ethnic armed groups intensified.
Residents deserted this village in the wake of fighting that took place in 2011.
Crossing the shallow rocky river, we passed the truce line.
Evidence of dredging for gold dust
First Officially Approved Visit to Key Northern Myanmar City in 74 Years (1) [2020年04月03日（Fri）]
Visiting an elementary school at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) near Laiza, a key city in the northern Myanmar state of Kachin, on February 10, 2020. When I asked the children to raise their hands “if you love your mother and father,” all of them did and said “Yes.”
It has been seven years since I assumed the post of Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar in 2013 with the aim of achieving a nationwide ceasefire and peace between the Myanmar government, the military and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs). While the previous government under then President Thein Sein, a retired army general, signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with eight EAOs, the current civil government led by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has only managed to sign the NCA with two EAOs.
The peace negotiations have since stalled, but I believe my role is to keep the peace talks going by working closely with both the government and the military, and the EAOs. During the past seven years, I have shuttled back and forth between them almost a hundred times.
No matter how fragile the situation is with no immediate results in sight, it is the basics of negotiation and essential for confidence-building that I continue to meet with all the stakeholders regularly.
In Myanmar, there have been conflicts between the government, the military and EAOs for seven long decades. The government and the military have had delicate relations with each other while some 20 EAOs have been through alliances and rivalries. In the absence of outstanding leaders on either side, efforts to find a solution have been like trying to solve highly complicated mathematical equations. But all sides are in agreement on one thing−the goal of creating a democratic federal republic that will emerge in the future for national reconciliation and union peace. This makes me convinced that we can surely achieve this goal no matter how long it might take.
In February, I went from Myitkyina in Kachin State in northern Myanmar to Laiza, the de facto capital of the EAO in the state. Except for those traveling from the Chinese side of the border, I was the first foreigner to visit Laiza with formal permission from both the government and the military since World War II ended 74 and a half years ago.
The Nippon Foundation and the Japanese government announced last December that they will provide a total of 500 million yen to support the return and resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachin State. The money will be used for building 500 houses to resettle about 3,000 IDPs in the state as well as providing hygiene guidance, agricultural training and other income-generation support. Thus, my visit to Laiza was designed primarily to conduct an on-the-spot survey on how best we can assist the IDPs.
Talking with Kachin villagers. Water is supplied from a nearby mountain, but they lack detergent and other daily necessities. They say they want to go back to their village, five to six hours’ drive from the IDP camp.
(To be continued)