Japanese archaeologist killed in Vietnam accident

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Nishimura Masanari (3rd, R) poses with Kim Lan villagers in Hanoi's Gia Lam District in a file photo
A file photo shows Nishimura Masanari (3rd, R) with Kim Lan villagers in Hanoi's Gia Lam District. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

A Japanese archaeologist who had been working for 23 years in Vietnam died Sunday in a road accident in Hanoi.

Nishimura Masanari, 48, was riding a motorbike on Road 5 from the capital city to the northern port city of Hai Phong to survey a new excavation site when the accident happened, news website VnExpress reported.

More details about the accident have not been released at the time of going to press.

Masanari, whose Vietnamese name is Ly Van Sy, came to Vietnam in 1990 under a exchange program between Vietnam and Japan to excavate some ancient graves in Nghia Dan District, Nghe An Province.

Several years ago, he discovered a cast bronze drum piece which dated back to between the 1st-3rd century A.D. in Vietnam. The discovery was of great significance because it proved that the bronze drum was cast in Vietnam, not brought in from elsewhere, according to the Vietnamese Institute of Archaeology.

Masanari and his Vietnamese coworkers also discovered castings of arrows dating back to the reign of King An Duong Vuong, who ruled over the ancient kingdom of Âu Lạc from 257 to 207 BC, proving arrows were made in Vietnam then.

He is also known for making significant contributions to the building of a ceramic museum in Kim Lan Village, Hanoi, and a showroom in Duong Xa Commune, Bac Ninh Province.

Masanari, his wife, who is also greatly attached to Vietnam, and their two children have spent years visiting many Vietnamese villages in pursuit of his archaeological work.

"His death is a shock to the Vietnamese archaeologists' community," said Nguyen Lan Cuong, deputy general-secretary of the Vietnam Archaeology Association.

Cuong described Masanari as an honest person who was always helpful to his friends.

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Tong Trung Tin, director of the Institute of Archaeology, told VnExpress that the institute will conduct the funeral for the Japanese archeologist.

Nguyen Giang Hai, general secretary of Vietnam Archaeology Association, said Masanari's family wished to have a Vietnamese-style funeral.

It is expected that he will be cremated in Hanoi and his ashes taken back to Japan by his parents.

It is not the first time a foreign scientist has been involved in a serious road accident in Vietnam.

On December 5, 2006, Seymour Papert, mathematician, computer scientist, and educator with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was struck by a motorbike while crossing a busy street near the Hanoi University of Technology.

Papert, who had come to Hanoi for a conference on teaching math with computers, fell into a coma afterwards.

He underwent emergency brain surgery at the French Hospital in Hanoi on December 6 to remove the blood clot that had formed. He was later airlifted to the US and has since recovered after treatment.

According to the Boston Herald, Papert was fascinated by Hanoi traffic, and spent his first days in Hanoi talking with his former student, Northwestern computer scientist Uri Wilensky, about how to use NetLogo (Wilensky's modification of Logo) to model the city's traffic flow. It was as the two were crossing a six-lane road separating their hotel from the university that Papert was hit.

Also on Sunday (June 9), three people were killed and 30 others injured when a Mai Linh bus overturned on National Highway 1A in the central province of Quang Nam.

Two days earlier, seven people were killed and 21 injured when a bus crashed into a cliff in the south central province of Khanh Hoa, home to the popular resort town of Nha Trang.

At least 12,000 traffic accidents occurred across Vietnam in the first five months of this year, killing 4,163 people 28 more than the same period last year, official figures show.

Road accidents are common in Vietnam. Experts have blamed narrow highways, poorly maintained vehicles and drivers' disregard for road safety and traffic rules for most fatalities.

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