Memories of Mr. Koichi Takashima

In March 23, 2000, Mr. Koichi Takashima, who was an honorary member of the Japan Association for Nilo-Ethiopian Studies and the Chairman of Kyoei Steel Ltd., passed away. I was very much grieved. He was 79 years old at his death. His death was a severe loss for the Association and also for this country, as we lost a business leader who had a deep understanding of the arts and culture as well as the sciences.

The Japan Association for Nilo-Ethiopian Studies, which received a major contribution (60 million yen) from Mr. Takashima, was established in 1992. It is thanks to the “Takashima Fund” that this small association was able to act forcefully and to be smoothly managed.

One of the biggest goals of the Association is the development of excellent young researchers. Thus, the “Takashima Prize” was established. In the first awarding ceremony in 1995, Mr. Takashima made a heart-felt, warm speech. He also personally gave a high-quality camera to the winner as an extra prize. I cannot forget his kindly face. His wife says that Mr. Takashima was always merry when he attended meetings of the Association. She also said that she had not seen such a happy face in many other situations. I think that he valued this Association from the bottom of his heart. I regret that the Association has lost a great patron.

Ten years have passed since the establishment of the Association. I would like to describe how and under what kind of circumstances the “Takashima Fund” was formed.

My first encounter with Mr. Takashima began a wonderful relationship nourished through African research. One day in 1980, Dr. Umeyo Mori telephoned from Paris. She had gone out with two members to study the mandrill in the tropical rainforest of southern Cameroon, and I thought she was in Cameroon then. However, the telephone call was from Paris. To enter Cameroon conventionally, after a temporary one- week visa was issued at Douala airport, a visa for a longer stay had to be acquired in the capital, Yaounde. However, Immigration Control rules had changed, and the visa had to be obtained from a Cameroon embassy in a third country. So, the group had returned to Paris to obtain visas.

Dr. Mori said, “It costs 1,200,000 yen for the flight and hotel expenses. Is that OK?” I said that money would be arranged somehow and that she should concentrate on her research. However, how was I going to find 1,200,000 yen? I had a sinking feeling.

I had some confidence about raising funds. However, difficulties had to be overcome. I contacted senior executives whom I knew at companies, acquaintances, and teachers from whom I might be able to raise some money. However, I was unsuccessful. Mostly they said, “It is impossible.” But, if only it were possible from a few people.

Then, I remembered a postcard that I had received unexpectedly. It was from a person unknown to me, Mr. Koichi Takashima, the Chairman of Kyoei Steel Ltd. On the postcard, he wrote that he could assist with research costs. It seems that he knew about the cost of research from reading my essay book, Eyes of an Ape and Eyes of a Human.

On the off chance that he would help, I telephoned him. He replied pleasantly and we agreed to meet. I then went to the office of Kyoei Steel in Osaka. Mr. Takashima was just dandy. He was tall and stylishly dressed in a chic suit. He greeted me with a smiling face.

When you meet someone for the first time, asking for a lot of money may seem impudent. Thus, I was not able to speak well because of the tension. However, he eased my anxiety and provided an environment in which I could speak freely. When he asked me “How much is needed,” I answered, “Please provide one million yen.” I thought that I could pay the 200,000 yen from my savings, and that it would be a small return of his courtesy.

That was the first meeting with Mr. Takashima. Our relationship developed in a surprising direction. Six years later, Mr. Matsuyama, the Managing Director, came to me. He told me that Mr. Takashima had said, “Because the company is successful, I want to donate five million yen for research costs.” Because the probability of funding the research costs of the mandrill study in Cameroon was fading, I was so glad that I jumped for joy. However, I thought that his special gift should be used to greater benefit. At that time, The Primate Society of Japan was launched, and I was elected its first president. Then, I decided to make a fund to provide an award to a promising young researcher. Because a deposit earned six per cent interest in those days, a fund could be sustained by the interest only. When Mr. Takashima heard this, he increased his contribution to 60 million yen.

The Japan Association for Nilo-Ethiopian Studies was launched in 1992. If the capacity for activity was low, even though its ideals were high, the association was going to have little meaning. The board of directors was strongly motivated and had many plans, such as an English-language academic journal and a newsletter. Regarding area studies, if an association cannot publish an English-language academic journal, it is not likely to appeal to overseas researchers, and its raison d’être is small. However, such an academic journal cannot be funded by the annual membership dues alone. Although various plans were suggested, no good proposal emerged. So, I thought I would ask Mr. Takashima. When I suggested supporting the expense for publishing an English-language journal for five years, he hospitably agreed to provide a 60-million-yen fund to cover future economic contingencies.

At the time of the economic bubble in Japan, the French word “mécénat” was an in-vogue word. In fact, mécénat is a term for public relations by a company and is conspicuous for neither welfare nor academic research! Indeed, I think, the concept has almost no direct connection with and is of no assistance to an academic society.

Mr. Takashima was a serious book reader. He had an especially deep knowledge of historical essays. His understanding of culture was wide, as was his patronage. He heard of the financial difficulties of the East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department at Harvard University and contributed there, and he supported the research activities of Japanese studies. Moreover, at the time of the establishment of the Asia Center at Harvard University, he contributed a large sum. He also contributed to the Department of Japanese Studies, Faculty of East Asia Studies, University of Warsaw. The “Takashima Memorial Fund” was established there. He was appointed as an Honorable Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Osaka as a result. Also, the crown lecture “Professor Takashima Chair” was presented at the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of California. I cannot but admire his energetic international activities in the furtherance of Japanese culture.

There are many small and weak academic societies, like the Japan Association for Nilo–Ethiopian Studies. If they were wealthy, activities comparable to larger-scale societies would become possible. Indeed, a good patron is required for all small and weak societies! If such assistance were available to many small and weak societies, the level of the scientific culture in our country would surely increase by leaps and bounds. Thus, I continue to hope that people like Mr. Koichi Takashima continue to appear.

I want to value Mr. Takashima’s last wish and to continue to develop international research activities. I believe that this is the best way to honor his memory.

February 2001