HIGHLIGHTS

  • As a Christian pastor, Toshihiro Takami witnessed the desperate survival struggle in Bangladesh that followed the murdering floods of 1970.
  • Discerning a dearth of capable and committed local leaders, he established the Asian Rural Institute or ARI in 1973 dedicated to filling this need. Takami designed the curriculum around intensive, small-scale, organic farming and animal husbandry linked to exercises in collective community life.
  • Christian in inspiration, ARI is ecumenical in practice. All faiths are welcome. ARI accepts only thirty participants a year to its unique nine-month rural leaders’ course; and yet its nearly eight hundred graduates are spread across the entire developing world.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his enlisting community leaders from fifty countries in the common cause of secure, sustainable, and equitable livelihoods for the world’s rural people.”

 CITATION

As a Christian pastor assigned to a disaster relief project twenty-five years ago, Toshihiro Takami witnessed the desperate survival struggle in Bangladesh that followed the murdering floods of 1970. Discerning a dearth of capable and committed local leaders, he determined to establish an institute dedicated to filling this need. In 1973, “in response to God’s calling,” he says, “we moved to found the Asian Rural Institute,” or ARI.

Takami’s youth was marked by hardship and war. To educate him beyond grammar school, his impoverished parents apprenticed Takami to a Zen monastery in Kyoto. At the age of eighteen, just months before the end of World War II, he enlisted in the Japanese navy and briefly attended radar school. Hard times followed as he fended for himself and his family in post-war Japan, mostly as a manual laborer. But in 1951, Takami found work as a cook for a Christian missionary. He began studying Christianity. Soon he was baptized. A youth organization in the United States then sponsored him for college in Nebraska. By 1960 he had earned his bachelor’s degree, graduated from Yale Divinity School, and become an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.

Back in Japan, for ten years Takami taught practical theology and directed a Christian Rural Leaders’ course at Rural Evangelical Seminary in Tokyo, work that led to his eye-opening field assignment in Bangladesh and the founding of the Asian Rural Institute.

Takami designed the institute’s curriculum around intensive, small-scale, organic farming and animal husbandry linked to exercises in collective community life. All participants, including Takami, engage daily in dirty-hands chores at the institute and on neighboring farms. And all take their turns preparing food for the group’s common meals. “Sharing food is sharing life,” he says. ARI participators also share in decision making. The difficult process of achieving consensus among a group of strong-minded, quick-to-action people, Takami believes, helps ARI’s rural leaders become more effective change-makers in poor communities. Field tours in Thailand and the Philippines provide exposure to tropical farming conditions.

Christian in inspiration, ARI is ecumenical in practice. All faiths are welcome. Its first class included participants from Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, and Japan. In subsequent years, as the institute’s six-hectare campus north of Tokyo burgeoned with new facilities, men and women from virtually every country in Asia, and eventually many in Africa, the Pacific, and the Americas, joined its unique nine-month rural leaders course. Takami deliberately kept ARI small, accepting only thirty participants a year. Yet he cast the institute’s net so widely that today its nearly eight hundred graduates are spread across the entire developing world. Graduate study tours, refresher courses in Japan, and newsletters keep their ties with the institute fresh.

ARI applicants pledge to return to work in their local communities. Today, over 80 percent of the graduates do so—as rural extension workers, teachers, pastors, and church and social workers.

Takami resigned as ARI director in 1990 but still contributes as a teacher and board member. In recent years, he worked to raise the effectiveness and status of nongovernmental organizations as chairperson of the Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation. Takami believes that global economic trends do not bode well for the self-sufficiency and independence of rural people, nor for the conservation of the environment and natural resources. In this impending crisis, he says, “public welfare cannot be left to government.” Local communities must speak and act for themselves. “To me,” says Takami, “the local level is the highest level.”

In electing Toshihiro Takami to receive the 1996 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the board of trustees recognizes his enlisting community leaders from fifty countries in the common cause of secure, sustainable, and equitable livelihoods for the world’s rural people.

 RESPONSE

Your Excellency, President Fidel Ramos; Mrs. Luz Magsaysay; Trustees; Fellow Awardees; Distinguished guests; Ladies and Gentlemen:

I wish to express my deepest appreciation for this great honor. I appreciate this Award particularly because it recognizes the importance of doing common ordinary things by ordinary people everyday. I appreciate it also because the honor comes from the Philippines, where people are involved in a constant flowing process of self-renewal with a deep sense of humor.

What I have been doing is what common people have been doing for centuries: to cherish Life and food which sustains life. Life and food are inseparable. The reverence of Life leads to the reverence of food and nature.

When my friends, ARI graduates and NGO workers and their partners heard the news, hundreds of them sent messages rejoicing the occasion. They said they share the joy. They felt they are honored also. I share exactly the same feeling. This sharing relationship gives us hope and joy. Common people like us find our lives enriched when we share what little we have and work to sustain lives of others, of the present and future, by producing healthy food.

This sharing of life in our time requires us to live a simple life. Simply live a simple style of life.

I have the honor to recognize the presence among us of Mother Teresita Villaluz and other Augustinian sisters of the La Consolacion Convent. For many years they have been a source of inspiration for us to maintain a simple life. And today’s honor inspires us to keep on living by simply serving others, especially those who are in need.

Thank you very much for the encouragement and inspiration.

 BIOGRAPHY

Meru District in Kenya in 1984 had no electricity, no running water, and no other modern conveniences. Moreover, the district had suffered from a long drought that threatened the lives of both humans and animals. Reverend Misheck Kanake, who was based in Meru, was responsible for twenty-six churches. He and his wife owned nine hectares of land in the district. Although their land was no different from that of others, the Kanakes were able not only to feed themselves but to help many others do the same.

How? By showing the people how to use the land wisely, building up the soil through organic farming and putting in many hours of hard work. Every day, hungry people came to the Kanake farm with their hoes and sickles and worked to get food. Mrs. Kanake promoted a “culinary revolution” by cooking and serving meals that included new and healthier kinds of food. After a few days, the people returned home to try the new methods of farming that they had learned from the Kanakes on their own dried-up land. These new methods consisted primarily of organic farming practices and other useful information, skills, attitudes, and approaches to community life that the Kanakes—committed “to witness to the Hope of the World, to Love as experienced and expressed in Jesus Christ”—had learned at the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) in Japan, founded by a fellow Christian named Toshihiro Takami. The Kanakes were among hundreds of individuals in Asia and Africa for whom Reverend Takami’s course at ARI marked a turning point in their lives as rural leaders.

Takami founded the Institute in 1973 in Nishinasuno, Tochigi Prefecture, a rural area outside of Tokyo. His life leading up to this event is a remarkable saga. Toshiro Takami’s parents were from Kyushu Island in southern Japan. Driven by poverty, Takami’s father and mother, Taisuke and Toshi, migrated to Manchuria along with many other Japanese in the early twentieth century.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)