Documentary on My Quest for Leprosy-Free World to be Screened at True Colors Film Festival [2020年11月30日（Mon）]
The Nippon Foundation will present the inaugural True Colors Film Festival (TCFF) online from December 3 to 12. The 10-day feast will showcase 28 award-winning full-length and short films, documentaries and dialogues from 15 countries. All the films can be streamed online for free.
TCFF is the latest in a series of performing arts events presented by the foundation’s True Colors Festival across geographies, in celebration of diversity and inclusion as “One World, One Family.”
Curated around this theme, each of the films turns the spotlight on the universal experiences of connection, hope, dreams, struggle, and transformation, and on the vision of a diverse and inclusive world.
TCFF's launch date, December 3, coincides with the International Day of Persons with Disability. In acknowledgement of the more than 1 billion people in the world living with disability, the TCFF lineup includes several films on this theme.
I am also pleased to note that the festival will feature the documentary “The Last Mile: On the Road to Eliminate Leprosy,” an account of my more than 40-year battle to eliminate leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, and the discrimination and stigma associated with it.
The 104-minute documentary, directed by Mr. Naohiro Asano, followed me to 50 locations in 20 countries as I travelled in my capacity as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination.
Leprosy is one of the world’s oldest diseases and has been feared for much of human history. Today there is an effective cure and our goal is to achieve a leprosy-free world. We are embarked on the “last mile” of that quest.
But as the saying goes, on a 100-mile journey the last mile is only halfway, and we still have much to do. In particular, we need to end the misunderstanding and fear that linger around leprosy and ensure that those affected by the disease are able to lead their lives free from discrimination.
Resolving such issues will bring us closer to achieving a truly inclusive world, which is what the True Colors Festival is all about. For that to happen, everyone must play their part. I hope that by watching this and other films being streamed during the TCFF you will be inspired to help realize a society that celebrates difference and in which everyone is respected.
True Colors Film Festival 2020, the second in a series of digital events by True Colors Festival presented by The Nippon Foundation, runs online from December 3 to 12. For more information, visit the Festival Program.
Back in Myanmar to Push for By-elections in Ethnic Minority States [2020年11月27日（Fri）]
Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, won the November 8 general election by a landslide.
The election was only the second competitive national poll in the Southeast Asian nation after some 50 years of military rule.
As head of the Japanese government’s election observer mission, I visited 10 polling stations in and around Yangon to observe voting and ballot-counting amid the lockdown restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I reported in my blog on November 18, I told an online press conference with local Myanmar and Japanese reporters on November 9 that based on my observations and other reports we received, the election was organized peacefully in a free and fair manner.
However, in some areas of the country that are home to ethnic minorities, including Rakhine and Shan states, voting was cancelled ahead of time due to security reasons. So, at my meeting with Chairman U Hla Thein of the Union Election Commission (UEC) in the capital of Nay Pyi Taw on November 6, I stressed the importance of holding by-elections in those areas and he promised they would take place−providing, that is, the security situation there has stabilized.
I made a similar plea when I talked with Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in the capital before and after the election and discussed the issue with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at our meeting on November 10.
After I came back to Japan, I received an urgent message from Myanmar that they need my cooperation to hold the by-elections. I accepted the request, believing “knowing what is right and not doing it is a want of courage” as I wrote here previously quoting an old Japanese saying. I thus left Tokyo and arrived in Yangon on November 25.
Myanmar is a country I have visited some 130 times in my capacity as Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar and chairman of The Nippon Foundation. I am determined to work to the best of my ability to live up to Myanmar’s expectation by working with all the stakeholders in the country to hold by-elections in the areas concerned.
60% of Japanese Youths Enjoy Reading Books, 30% Do Not Read Them At All: Survey [2020年11月26日（Thu）]
Left: Responses to the question, “Do you enjoy reading books, including both paper and electronic editions? (n = 1,000)
Right: Responses to the question, “How many books do you read per month?
It has been a long time now since young Japanese were first said to be losing interest in reading. It seems to represent a phenomenon in which fewer young people read newspapers and books amid the burgeoning spread of smartphones and tablet terminals. On the other hand, they are in day-to-day contact with an enormous quantity of letters and characters via digital media.
To look into this evolving phenomenon, The Nippon Foundation conducted the 30th installment of the Awareness Survey of 18-Year-Olds on the subject of “Reading and Writing” from late September to early October ahead of “Newspaper Week” (Oct. 15-22) and “Book Week” (Oct. 27–Nov. 9).
Regarding newspapers, the online national survey, covering 1,000 17- to 19-year-olds, found that roughly two-thirds of the respondents (67.3%) said they do not read papers, including digital editions, whereas less than a third (32.7%) said they read them, representing a sharp 14.8 percentage point decline from a similar poll in September 2018 (47.5%). Nothing yet appears to have halted the decline in newspaper readership.
Concerning books, almost 60% (59.7%) responded they enjoy reading books, with 44.8% reading one or two books a month and 6.8% seven books or more. Their favorite book genres are novels (62.6%), manga (49.9%) and light novels (26.0). One in four (24.9%) said the amount of reading they do has increased because of the impact of the coronavirus. On the other hand, one in three (32.7%) said they do not read books at all.
When queried about writing, young Japanese were divided with 29.4% saying they enjoy writing and 27.7% saying they do not. Of respondents who enjoy reading books, 39.4% enjoy writing, and the number rises to 46.2% among those who read three books or more per month. In particular, they enjoy posting short messages (24.0%), and messages with photos (14.8%) on social media.
As for their reading skills, 38.2% felt that they were “weak,” 33.7% felt they were not and 28.1% said they do not know.
According to the 2018 PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) survey announced by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) last December, 15-year-old Japanese students ranked 15th in reading literacy, posting a large fall from 8th in the previous report three years earlier. When The Nippon Foundation poll asked about Japan’s decline in the OECD survey, which covered 79 countries and regions, almost two in three young Japanese (65.4%) responded that they think it is not desirable while only 14.9% said they see no problem in it.
The findings of the foundation’s latest survey are open to various interpretations. But in my view, there is no other means than reading to acquire a wide-ranging and deep knowledge of history and what is going on in society. Without such knowledge, we cannot marshal our thoughts and express our opinions.
Therefore, I have made it a rule to read newspapers every day and as many books as time allows. I have also earnestly encouraged my colleagues at the foundation to read books voraciously. I think the amount we read has a bearing on our way of life. Looking into the findings of the survey, it is my sincere hope that young people, upon whom the country’s future depends, will definitely learn from the wisdom of the past by reading books.
Q.: Do you normally read a newspaper? (Note: For 2020, “Yes” includes a printed newspaper and/or a digital edition.)Q.: Do you feel that your reading skills are weak?
【Photo Diary】 Visit to Myanmar - 4 [2020年11月25日（Wed）]
I would like to share with you some of the photographs taken during my visit to Myanmar from October 29 to November 11, 2020, to head the Japanese government’s special delegation to observe the Southeast Asian country’s general election on November 8. I became the first foreign visitor State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi received after the election.
[November 10, Nay Pyi Taw]
With State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (right) in front of her residence.
State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (left) holds a copy of my recent book on leprosy, No Matter Where the Journey Takes Me: One Man’s Quest for a Leprosy-Free World, which I presented to her at our meeting. She expressed great interest in reading it. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (left) poses with a folder bearing the logo of The Nippon Foundation.
【Photo Diary】 Visit to Myanmar - 3 [2020年11月24日（Tue）]
I would like to share with you some of the photographs taken during my visit to Myanmar from October 29 to November 11, 2020, to head the Japanese government’s special delegation to observe the Southeast Asian country’s general election on November 8.
[November 9, Yangon]
Meeting with a group of Japanese journalists. Speaking at an online press conference with reporters from some 20 local and Japanese media organizations. Speaking in an interview with a reporter (right) representing Myanmar’s state television stations, MRTV and MNTV. With a reporter of a Myanmar state television station (center) and Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar Ichiro Maruyama (right).
(To be continued)
【Photo Diary】 Visit to Myanmar - 2 [2020年11月23日（Mon）]
【Photo Diary】 Visit to Myanmar - 1 [2020年11月20日（Fri）]
I would like to share with you some of the photographs taken during my visit to Myanmar from October 29 to November 11, 2020, to head the Japanese government’s special delegation to observe the Southeast Asian country’s general election on November 8. After undergoing a week-long quarantine at a Yangon hotel as a precaution against the novel coronavirus, I started work as the mission chief by meeting with government and military leaders.
[November 6, Nay Pyi Taw]
Meeting with Mr. Kyaw Tint Swe, Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor (right). Union Election Commission Chairman U Hla Thein (center) and the author (second from left). With Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services of Myanmar (right).
(To be continued)
I Observe Free and Fair General Election in Myanmar (2) [2020年11月19日（Thu）]
With State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (right) in front of her residence in Nay Pyi Taw on November 10, 2020.
--Meeting with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi
On the morning of November 9, I received word through Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar Ichiro Maruyama that State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was ready to meet me in Nay Pyi Taw. After politely declining the offer from the Myanmar military to fly me there by helicopter, I left Yangon at 5:30 a.m. the following day on the five-hour drive to the capital, accompanied by the ambassador.
The state counsellor was waiting for me at her residence. Amid media reports that her ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) had claimed a resounding victory in the parliamentary election, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was extremely calm. She underscored the importance of realizing a comprehensive ceasefire with all the ethnic armed organizations, asking for my further cooperation to achieve that goal.
I thus became the first foreign visitor the state counsellor received after the election. The meeting was reported widely by local and international media outlets as well as on social media. The ambassador and I also received a multitude of inquiries about my conversation with Ms. Suu Kyi from foreign embassies. I was pleased that Japan’s presence in the country was well recognized by not only the people of Myanmar but also foreign diplomatic missions and international organizations.
Later in the day, I met again with Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and discussed the military’s efforts to ensure a free and fair election on November 8 and Japan’s ongoing support for Myanmar’s peace process and democratic nation-building.
The following is the text of a statement issued by the Office of the State Counsellor on November 11 about my meeting with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. The report of our exchange is a little overstated in parts, but let me share it with you for your information.
State Counsellor receives Japanese Special Envoy to Myanmar
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi received Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar, at her office in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday morning.
At the meeting, Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, congratulated for the successful holding of the multiparty general elections in Myanmar on November 8 peacefully in a free and fair manner, in line with the rules and guidelines for COVID-19 prevention; he also congratulated the National League for Democracy party led by the State Counsellor for winning the elections with the overwhelming support of the people.
He also said that after the elections, their government would provide support for the socio-economic development of the Myanmar people in all sectors; systematic containment measures against COVID-19 were found to be implemented during his visit to the polling stations; Japan would provide comprehensive and full support for Myanmar’s peacemaking process; his Nippon Foundation has been helping the people to be able to enjoy the peace dividends in the areas where ceasefire agreements have been reached; that they would try hard for achieving peace in Myanmar; he also expressed his belief that during the term of the new government strenuous efforts would be made for achieving peace in Myanmar.
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi expressed thanks for the assistance of Japan in Myanmar’s peace process, and for the participation of the observer mission sent by the Government of Japan to observe the multiparty democracy elections of Myanmar.
She added that her government would exert further strenuous efforts on the peacemaking process. The call was also attended by Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor U Kyaw Tint Swe and Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar Mr. Ichiro Maruyama.
(End of text)
I Observe Free and Fair General Election in Myanmar (1) [2020年11月18日（Wed）]
As the sun came up, long lines of voters wearing masks and face shields formed at a polling station in Yangon on November 8, 2020, observing social distancing guidelines amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. I visited 10 polling stations in and around the city as the head of the Japanese government special delegation to observe Myanmar’s general election.
After going through a week-long quarantine that included two PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests for the novel coronavirus at a Yangon hotel, I started work as head of the Japanese government’s special delegation to observe Myanmar’s general election on November 8.
This was the second time for me to head an election-observer team in Myanmar, a country I visit frequently in my capacity as Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar and chairman of The Nippon Foundation. I previously observed the general election of 2015 that ended more than a half-century of military rule.
First, on November 5, I consulted with Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar Ichiro Maruyama as to how best my team and his embassy staff would work together in observing the election. I then made the five-hour drive to the capital, Nay Pyi Taw. (The Japanese embassy, along with other foreign missions, is located in Yangon.)
On the following day, I met with government and military leaders, including Mr. Kyaw Tint Swe, Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor, and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services of Myanmar, as well as Chairman U Hla Thein of the Union Election Commission (UEC), mainly to discuss the situation leading up to the November 8 election.
On election day, my team and I spent the whole day visiting 10 polling stations in and around Yangon to observe voting and ballot-counting in coordination with the ambassador and his staff. As the sun came up, long lines of voters wearing masks and face shields formed at polling stations in the country’s biggest city, observing social distancing guidelines amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
To ensure a free and fair election, the Japanese government supplied 113,000 bottles of indelible ink that were distributed to all polling stations across the country. To prevent double-voting fraud, voters are required to ink a fingertip to show they have voted.
I saw some young men and women show off their ink-stained fingers, and many such pictures were posted on social networks and featured in other media.
Talking with a number of Myanmar voters, I found that despite some criticisms ahead of polling day, they were excited with the elections as they believed their votes could change their country’s situation.
Speaking at an online press conference with some 20 reporters of local Myanmar as well as Japanese media groups, I said that based upon my observations, the general election was organized peacefully in a free and fair manner. There were no major incidents or misdeeds reported, I added.
I commended the voters for their compliance with the rules and for their discipline at polling stations amid the fresh spike in COVID-19 cases in the country. At the same time, I acknowledged the UEC for the way it ran the election, setting up more polling stations than five years ago to make access to voting easier, which I believed has helped result in a high voter turnout despite the pandemic.
Ahead of the election, there were widespread concerns after voting was cancelled in some areas that are home to ethnic minorities due to security reasons. Quoting what I was told by the UEC, I said that I expected by-elections would be held in some areas of Rakhine and Shan states before long.
I believe that the election, only the second competitive national election since the end of military rule, marked an important step in the country’s democratic transition.
(To be continued)
Sasakawa Africa Association Marks Year of Change, Renewal and Revitalization in 2019: Annual Report [2020年11月11日（Wed）]
“When the next history of the Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) comes to be written in 30 years’ time, the year 2019 will be seen as a year of change, renewal and, perhaps, revitalization,” said SAA Chair Ruth Oniang’o in the organization’s 2019 annual report released earlier this fall.
Above all, SAA’s involvement in the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VII) held in August 2019 in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, was “particularly significant,” the report said, referring to a symposium which brought together government officials, agricultural experts, entrepreneurs and young farmers from both Africa and Japan for a series of engaging discussions focusing on youth unemployment in African countries. It also explored ways in which Africa and Japan can continue working together to improve agricultural opportunities available to young people.
At an official side event of TICAD VII it organized, SAA signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which will have major significance for smallholder farming and, indeed, Japan’s involvement in African agriculture in the future. “We truly look forward to this collaboration,“ the chair said.
Honoring the symposium, the then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid special tribute to SAA’s “30 long years of continued devotion and engagement” in supporting smallholder farmers in Africa.
He commended the role that Japanese technology can play in innovation, as part of efforts to develop agricultural practices and develop human resources, committing the Japanese government, together with JICA, to assisting in doubling rice production in Africa by 2030, the report said.
“The year 2019 saw, too, a consolidation of our SAA outreach with the incorporation of SAFE (Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education) into the SAA structure, significantly increasing the number of African countries in which SAA is involved,” Chair Oniang’o said, noting: “So, with a strengthened organization, and after a productive year, we look forward to the new decade with confidence.”
The primary focus of SAA is improving the livelihood of smallholder farmers’ in the field, whilst the SAFE program is committed to delivering human resource development programs, in partnership with agricultural colleges and universities in Africa, according to the annual report.
SAA was established in 1986 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug, and my late father, Ryoichi Sasakawa of The Nippon Foundation, in the wake of the devastating famine that ravaged the Horn of Africa in 1984/85.
For over 30 years, SAA has worked in 15 countries across the continent with the firm support of The Nippon Foundation. Currently, SAA operates, and has country offices in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Mali and Uganda, which are known as focus countries, with a SAFE program also operating in seven additional countries. So far, SAA has offered higher education courses for more than 6,500 mid-career extension agents in 26 universities in Africa.
For well over three decades since the formation of SAA, The Nippon Foundation has been its principal donor, providing over 300 million dollars in support of its programs−an unprecedented figure from a donor to a non-governmental organization on a continuous basis, the report said.
“I wish, on behalf of the Board and the whole SAA fraternity, to thank The Nippon Foundation and Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, and all our partners, for their unfailing support and for standing by us,” Chair Oniang’o said.
The Nippon Foundation and SAA have always believed in the agricultural potential of Africa and placed importance on advancing agricultural skills among smallholder farmers, who comprise about 70% of the population in Africa.
Nowadays, we have also focused on capacity building of extension agents to help shift the mindset of the smallholder farmers from producing for "eating" to producing for "selling". Agriculture must be seen as an attractive career option full of business opportunities. I sincerely hope that the younger generation in Africa will take agriculture on to a new era.SAA’s annual report 2019 can been seen HERE.