HIGHLIGHTS

  • Ishizawa devoted fifty years of his life to help assure that Angkor Wat survives and remains a living monument for Cambodians.
  • Starting in 1980, Ishizawa worked side by side with Cambodians, networked with international experts and organizations, campaigned in the Japanese media to generate awareness and support, and devised programs for Angkor’s protection and conservation.
  • Ishizawa has been relentless in building local expertise and commitment to Angkor’s preservation. He quietly but adamantly insists, “The protection and restoration of the sites of Cambodia should be carried out by the Cambodians, for the Cambodians.”
  • In electing Yoshiaki Ishizawa to receive the 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes “his selfless, steadfast service to the Cambodian people, his inspiring leadership in empowering Cambodians to be proud stewards of their heritage, and his wisdom in reminding us all that cultural monuments like the Angkor Wat are shared treasures whose preservation is thus, also our shared global responsibility.”

 CITATION

For decades after Cambodia gained independence in 1953, the country was ravaged by foreign aggression and chronic civil war. The violence of war impoverished the population and exacted a terrible toll in human lives. It also destroyed and threatened the survival of the nation’s unique cultural and spiritual resource – its ancient shrines and monuments. The most renowned case was that of Angkor Wat, a 162.6-hectare temple complex that is the world’s largest religious monument, dating back to the 12th century, a symbol of Cambodian identity and a true world treasure. Unprotected and unpreserved because of the war, Angkor stood gravely endangered.

One Japanese scholar devoted fifty years of his life to help assure that Angkor Wat survives and remains a living monument for Cambodians. Yoshiaki Ishizawa, an eminent scholar of Southeast Asian history and one-time president of Sophia University in Japan, began his involvement in conservation work when he first visited Angkor as a student in 1961. With the suspension of conservation efforts due to the fighting, nothing much could be done until the Khmer Rouge went out of power in 1979. War had decimated the pool of Cambodian conservationists, and Ishizawa, responding to urgent appeals, led an effort in Japan and Cambodia to save Angkor Wat.

Starting in 1980, Ishizawa worked side by side with Cambodians, networked with international experts and organizations, campaigned in the Japanese media to generate awareness and support, and devised programs for Angkor’s protection and conservation. These activities led to the launching in 1989 of the Sophia University Angkor International Mission, later known simply as the Sophia Mission, which under Ishizawa’s leadership, conducted research, training, and conservation work. Leading the Mission and collaborating with both Cambodian agencies and intergovernmental bodies, Ishizawa has been at the center of activities which also include technical studies, public heritage education, and restoration work, all aimed at the sustainable development of Angkor.

In its archaeological and preservation work, the Mission restored the Buddhist temple Banteay Kdei, excavated 274 statues of Buddha in 2001, and in 2007 completed major repairs on the western causeway that provides key access to Angkor Wat. But what has made Ishizawa’s work quite singular is his culturally-sensitive and long-term approach to the problem. A historian steeped in Khmer epigraphy and early Cambodian history, he does not favor quick, aggressive engineering interventions but views Angkor’s conservation as integral to the rebuilding of Cambodian culture itself. Hence, he has put the premium on appropriate technology, bringing Japanese stone masons to work with Cambodians so they can learn from each other. He has painstakingly trained Cambodians and supported them for studies in Japan; to date, eighteen Cambodian scholars have earned conservation-related graduate and postgraduate degrees in Sophia University. Ishizawa believes that Cambodians need to discover and create their own specific cultural preservation strategies and methods, different from those of foreign origin.

Under his leadership, the Mission has systematically raised awareness among Cambodian school children and villagers to take pride in their heritage and become its protectors and conservators. As part of this effort, the Sophia Mission established the Center for Education on Angkor Cultural Heritage; constructed the Preah Norodom Sihanouk Angkor Museum, and founded the Sophia Asia Center for Research and Human Development in Siem Reap, a training center and hostel for Cambodian and other scholars.

Despite threats to his safety and health, Ishizawa has been relentless in building local expertise and commitment to Angkor’s preservation. He quietly but adamantly insists, “The protection and restoration of the sites of Cambodia should be carried out by the Cambodians, for the Cambodians.”

In electing Yoshiaki Ishizawa to receive the 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes his “selfless, steadfast service to the Cambodian people, his inspiring leadership in empowering Cambodians to be proud stewards of their heritage, and his wisdom in reminding us all that cultural monuments like the Angkor Wat are shared treasures whose preservation is thus, also our shared global responsibility.”