As you leave the country, what are your last thoughts?
I feel that I have done everything I could during the three years. Of course, some of them are yet to complete. These things take time to yield results, so I think even if I am given another three years it would be difficult.
I have sown all the seeds that I could. I hope to see after a few years some seeds grown and bearing fruits. I look forward to seeing how the seeds have grown up.
I complete my assignment as the JICA chief here but this is not the end for me. This is certainly not the end for my commitment to Bhutan. After returning to Japan, I’ll work for the development of this country from a different angle. I am looking forward to seeing great changes in the next few years.
You published a book recently on your stay here in Bhutan recently. Could you tell us about it?
For the last three years, I have written and published some research papers, and contributed some essays in the media. The book is a compilation of these works in order to leave the memory of what I had said and done. My daughter drew all the illustrations. It has a lot of new ideas. The readers would know the idea behind what I had said and done. I still remember my interview with you within days after arriving here taking this post. I had said that I wanted to write a book on Japan and Bhutan. I wanted to write on the agriculture cooperation between Bhutan and Japan. A colleague in JICA Bhutan office is writing this book.
How has the relationship between JICA and Bhutan changed during your tenure?
Many changes. In the last three years, there were two round table meetings, like you observed one last week. At the round table meeting held in March 2017, JICA did not have a dedicated front seat at the table. I never had a chance to speak no matter if I raised my hand. No one paid attention to it. But now after two years, the organisers thought that JICA could give some input to the discussions. So we got a front seat and also a slot for panel session. That’s great progress in two years.
Three years ago, when I talked about bringing a digital fabrication laboratory here, no one paid attention. Last week, during the meeting almost everyone was talking about digital fabrication technology, and innovation at the meeting. So that is a big change and I am very happy to see that kind of change. I believe that JICA contributed a lot to this kind of change.
You have contributed to introducing 3D printing and Kendo in the country. How do you see their future?
I started a group running exercise on Saturdays starting from JICA office and after running for 5kms we meet at the Lungtenzampa RBP gate. From there, on our return journey to JICA office, we collect trash along the pedestrian footpath. Many people call it plogging. Unfortunately, I could not gain any support from the citizens here. I failed in this.
I am happy that I was able to donate a 3D printer to the FabLab.
I have four students who joined me and learn Kendo – the Japanese sword fighting martial arts. A year and a half ago, I started this exercise for my own practice, because after two years I am eligible for the next promotional exams in the sixth grade. Three of the students are studying in class XII and would be busy with their examination preparations. The other instructor with me is a JOCV volunteer, who would complete his term in June this year. So all of us involved in this know that this is a temporary thing. If they keep practicing after the examinations, then there may be another chance to revive it.
You have substantial experience on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). How did it help?
I could not do anything much on SDGs mainstreaming work in Bhutan. When it comes to JICA’s operations, I always ask myself that what SDG goals and targets a particular project would contribute to. I have been able to promote SDGs mainstreaming work in JICA but I couldn’t in any programmes initiated by the UN or the government when it comes to SDGs mainstreaming works here.
Japanese are known for their humility but you have been vocal and critical.
Whenever I prepare a speech draft I listen to the voices from the ground. What I tried most is collecting the views of JICA volunteers, those who work at the ground level in various areas. Then I try to reflect their perspectives in my speeches. At the ground level, there are a lot of realities; some bitter and some sweet. We can promote and commend those sweet realities but when it comes to the bitter realities, we better be honest in sharing the realities with the audience.
What I was doing was trying to connect the ground realities to policy making or public opinion makers. Sometimes, I say that responsibility makes one do so. If I am not the chief representative of JICA, then I may not be as vocal and critical. As the head of the mission, I also feel that I have to be honest and that I should not hesitate to share information about realities on the ground.
What advice do you have for your successor?
I have left some uncultivated areas. I have never done anything in the health sector. Luckily, my successor Mr Kozo Watanabe is an expert in this sector. He has experience in human development specialising in the health sector. My first encounter with him was at an ADB annual meeting on Ageing Population in Asia. We worked together to promote this agenda.
I have a lot to tell him but he is an expert in this sector. He also has the ability to make things happen because he has a lot of contacts within JICA from his long experience working in the organisation. So he can do a lot more than me.