- Born in 1930, Hirayama was attending middle school in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb destroyed the city and killed many of his schoolmates and teachers.
- Suffering badly from radiation sickness a few years later, Hirayama endured a crisis that led to a spiritual awakening and recovery. He expressed his breakthrough in a painting depicting the seventh-century monk Xuanzang, bearing the message of Buddha across the Silk Road to China, from whence it reached Japan.
- He spearheaded international efforts to rehabilitate Angkor Wat in Cambodia and to safeguard the ancient Korguryo tomb frescoes of North Korea.
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his efforts to promote peace and international cooperation by fostering a common bond of stewardship for the world’s cultural treasures.”
The Silk Road once linked East Asia to Western Europe and hosted flourishing oases of high art and civilization all along its great length. Today, many remnants of its brilliant past lie in ruin. The same is true of countless other cultural artifacts around the world. Whose responsibility is it to care for these treasures? Professor Ikuo Hirayama believes that they are the inheritance of the entire world; the entire world, therefore, should join in caring for them. He is setting the example.
Born in 1930, Hirayama was attending middle school in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb destroyed the city and killed many of his schoolmates and teachers. He went on to study Japanese painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts (now the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music) and joined the school’s faculty in 1952. Suffering badly from radiation sickness a few years later, Hirayama endured a crisis that led to a spiritual awakening and recovery. He expressed his breakthrough in a painting depicting the seventh-century monk Xuanzang, bearing the message of Buddha across the Silk Road to China, from whence it reached Japan. Hirayama’s interest in Buddhism’s origins and its path to Japan influenced his paintings for years to come and led him to explore the Silk Road for himself.
Year after year, he did so. All along the fabled route he encountered long-neglected Buddhist shrines and works of art. In Dunhuang, northwest China, he saw hundreds of cliff-side grottoes filled with ancient Buddha images and bright paintings-priceless antiquities that China lacked the resources to protect. Hirayama pondered this. Each one of the Silk Road’s historic entrepots and pilgrimage sites had contributed to the passage of Buddhism to Japan. This insight led Hirayama to persuade the Japanese government to underwrite and equip a groundbreaking research and restoration project at the Dunhuang Caves.
But there were so many sites like the Dunhuang Caves in Asia. Some of them, like the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, lay in countries beset by turbulence and without the means or will to protect them. What was needed, Hirayama decided, was an international campaign to save cultural treasures wherever they existed. By this time, his paintings had brought him fame and wealth, and he was a professor (and later president) of a prestigious art school. Hirayama now put these assets to use as an activist for cultural preservation.
He spearheaded international efforts to rehabilitate Angkor Wat in Cambodia and to safeguard the ancient Korguryo tomb frescoes of North Korea. He helped rescue Chinese artifacts from the Yangtze River flood of 1998 and, in the city of Nanjing, fostered Chinese-Japanese reconciliation by recruiting Japanese volunteers to help rebuild the ancient city ramparts. He funded French-led efforts to save war-threatened treasures in Afghanistan’s national museum and led an international appeal to the Taliban not to destroy the unique Bamiyan Buddhas. And much more.
Hirayama channels his collaborative efforts through his own foundation and through governments, international organizations, and UNESCO, for whom he serves as a Goodwill Ambassador. Exhibitions of his paintings, in Japan and abroad, arouse public interest and generate funds for restoration projects. He has committed many millions of dollars personally.
Hirayama believes that restoring works of art goes hand-in-hand with restoring human societies. Projects like those in Cambodia must always include training for members of the host community so that, in time, they can assume the restoration work themselves. This, he says, helps damaged societies to reestablish kinship with their own past and, in doing so, “restore their humanity.”
In electing Ikuo Hirayama to receive the 2001 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding, the board of trustees recognizes his efforts to promote peace and international cooperation by fostering a common bond of stewardship for the world’s cultural treasures.
Your Excellency Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, President of the Philippines, Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is indeed a great honour and privilege for me to have been selected as this year’s recipient of the world-renowned Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding.
First of all, I should like to express my heartfelt gratitude and deepest appreciation to the members of the Foundation and to all of you gathered here today. I should especially like to offer my warm congratulations to the other award honorees.
I was exposed to the atomic bomb in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. At the time I was in my third year of junior high school. I miraculously escaped death, although I suffered for some time from the after effects of nuclear exposure. This experience—feeling firsthand the suffering and devastation caused by war—motivated me to create my artistic works in the pursuit of lasting peace.
In 1962, I was awarded a UNESCO Fellowship, which I used to study European Art. Later on, I had the pleasure of expressing my gratitude to UNESCO by providing 100 Hirayama Silk Road Fellowships for Young Scholars over a period of 10 years. As Goodwill Ambassador of UNESCO, I also made humble efforts to safeguard the Angkor Monuments in Cambodia and the Dunhuang Grottoes in China. Currently, I am engaged in the preservation of artistic works of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, and of the Koguryo Tombs’ Mural Paintings in D.P.R. Korea.
Through our shared efforts to preserve outstanding cultural properties for future generations and to strengthen cultural exchanges among the world’s people, I firmly believe that together we can promote a culture of peace and mutual understanding. To help achieve this goal, I have been advocating the “Red Cross Spirit for Cultural Heritage” and joint activities “to promote peace through culture.”
This highly prestigious Award encourages me to continue my work dedicated to the cause of peace.
In closing, let me express once again my profound sense of appreciation for having received this award. I should also like to express my great respect for the late President Magsaysay, in whose memory these awards were established. Finally, please allow me to wish further prosperity and wellbeing to all those gathered here today and to the people of the Philippines, under the capable leadership of your President.
Thank you very much.
Ikuchijima is one of the most scenic islands in Japan. It faces the Inland Sea and is part of the Hiroshima Prefecture. West of it is Kyushu, and east, the Kii Peninsula. It was in Setodacho on Ikuchijima Island that Ikuo Hirayama was born on July 15, 1930. In his autobiography, A Life of Painting, he describes his home island: “Ikuchijima itself is small—only twenty-eight kilometers in circumference—but it has a long history. In Japan’s maritime trade, the island is believed to have served as a vital entrepôt between Kyushu and Kyoto. West of Ikuchijima lies the island of Omishima, from where the navy sailed to defend northern Kyushu during the Mongol invasion in the thirteenth century. The temple of Kojo-ji, immediately behind our house, has a three-storied pagoda that dates to the fourteenth century and is designated an Important Cultural Asset.”
Hirayama’s family was the oldest on the island, and was well known and respected there not only for its wealth but also for its unbroken lineage that went back 350 years. About fifty of his ancestors are buried on Ikuchijima. The family line stretches back to Katsui Shubata, feudal lord and vassal of Nobunaga Oda, who seized the imperial capital at Kyoto in the late sixteenth century. In the power struggle that followed Nobunaga’s death, Katsui fought against his successor, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who soon prevailed and unified the country. After Katsui’s defeat, one of his sons fled to Ikuchijima.
Hirayama’s father, Mineichi, came from a neighboring village but was adopted by the Hirayama family and married the only daughter, Hisano. He had a degree in politics and economics from Waseda University and worked as a journalist for the newspaper Mainichi Shimbun in Nagoya City. After his marriage, Mineichi stopped working as a journalist and was elected council member of Setoda-cho. The family being well-to-do, Mineichi could afford to accept honorary jobs that paid him nothing, such as leadership of the town’s agricultural cooperative and membership in the citizens’ welfare committee.
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