- 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.”
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.”
Vice President of the Philippines Maria Leonor Robredo, trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, members of the Magsaysay family, fellow awardees, ladies and gentlemen.
It is with deep feelings of joy that I stand before you today to receive the world-renowned Ramon Magsaysay Award. I feel elated, humbled, and deeply moved by your kind decision to confer upon me such a magnificent honor.
In all sincerity, I declare that it was not my efforts alone, but rather, the efforts of numerous friends and colleagues as well that have served to earn for me this singular distinction. Hence, on behalf of my staff at the Sophia University Angkor International Mission, I accept this award with profound humility and gratitude.
The founding philosophy of Sophia University is “Men and Women for Others, with Others.” Spurred on by this motto, we have so far sought to diligently pursue our works of service for Cambodia, a nation whose people have undergone acute suffering and sorrow, owing to the civil war and political unrest that began in 1970. The situation in Cambodia was such that it could never be bypassed or ignored. During a period of 24 years, the Cambodians had lost virtually all they had, and every single day for them was marked by anguish and despair.
We of the Sophia Mission have pursued two distinct goals. One is the extending of humanitarian assistance to Cambodia through relief services for refugees, while the other is the revitalization of Cambodian culture through the restoration of Angkor Wat. Our reason for insisting on rescuing Angkor Wat is because this would signify a call to the people to return to the peace that once characterized the Angkor period, as well as a call for them to rebuild their nation once more.
This call of ours echoed far and wide. We even moved a step ahead, because this appeal for the restoration of Angkor Wat was also a plea for reconciliation between ethnic groups, and the revival of the nation’s culture. In fact, these two appeals are linked to the establishment of peace. In our training of human resources, our stress was on the fact that “the preservation and restoration of Cambodian cultural heritage should be carried out by the Cambodians, for the Cambodians.”
A key factor in our development of human resources lies in the fact that in 1996, we purchased land in Cambodia, and later erected over there a training center, namely the Sophia Asia Center for Research and Human Development. This enabled us to move closer to the sites, and it also signified our motivation with regard to the issue. We also launched a program whereby conservators acquired academic degrees. Here, selected individuals entered the Graduate School of Area Studies of Sophia University in order to obtain their required degrees, and, to date, 7 have acquired their doctorates and 11 have acquired their master’s. All of them have now returned to Cambodia, where they serve as senior officials for the government. This program was initiated in 1996, and it still continues.
These, in brief, are some of our modest accomplishments. I express my sincere appreciation to all of you for your unstinted generosity, and thank you from the depths of my heart. May God bless you all.