A Japanese historian is receiving major recognition for his work in protecting and restoring the Cambodian World Heritage site of Angkor. The Ramon Magsaysay Award is known as "Asia’s Nobel Prize," and is given out by a Manila-based foundation every year. It recognizes contributions to peace and development in Asia.
Professor Yoshiaki Ishizawa is one of this year's winners. He's an eminent scholar of Southeast Asian history and the former President of Sophia University in Japan.
Ishizawa has spearheaded the protection and the conservation work of the Angkor religious complex for 50 years. He's helped assure its cultural heritage survives and remains a living place of worship for Cambodian people.
"I realize also that it's almost not my efforts alone but rather efforts of various friends and colleagues as well," says Ishizawa.
Ishizawa will accept his prize at a ceremony on August 31st in Manila.
NHK World Special Affairs Commentator Aiko Doden discusses the significance of Ishizawa winning the prize.
People might wonder why a Japanese professor at a Catholic institution in Japan became involved in the restoration work of Angkor -- a Hindu and Buddhist temple complex in Cambodia. But Prof Ishizawa’s motivation was quite simple.
He first visited Angkor Wat as a student in 1961, but when he returned to the country in the early 80s, he was devastated to find that almost all his Cambodian archaeologist colleagues had been killed by the Khmer Rouge regime. Over 1.5 million Cambodians, mostly intellectuals, died as a result of the genocide.
Professor Ishizawa felt it was up to him, as a fellow Asian scholar, to help conserve the cultural heritage which had been left endangered and unprotected because of the war.
What deserves recognition is his transformative leadership in training and empowering budding young Cambodian archaeologists. He tries to put them in the driver’s seat for the restoration work, instead of having the project defined by foreign engineers.
It has been Professor Ishizawa’s strong conviction throughout that restoring Angkor temples is not just about rebuilding the physical structures, but about Cambodian people regaining their cultural identity.
His work in Cambodia is also a reminder that wars and conflicts not only exact a terrible toll on human lives, but can also destroy a country culturally and spiritually. It shows that it takes a painstakingly long time to restore what's been lost.