Japanese mine safety expert falls for Vietnam, works to prevent deaths caused by Japan's anthracite imports
Japanese mine safety expert Takehiro Isei (2nd, left) with his Vietnamese colleagues at a mine in Quang Ninh Province. Photo courtesy of JICA
Dr. Takehiro Isei first came to Vietnam under a Japanese government project to set up a foundation for mine safety in the country, and he has asked to come back for more work.
Isei was assigned to the northern coal province of Quang Ninh in 2001 as the first mine safety expert sent to Vietnam under a Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) program, which has sent more than 140 other volunteer experts since.
And the first person to sign Japan’s mine testing and explosion prevention decision in 1966 also was the first to sign such a decision in Vietnam, Lao Dong newspaper reported.
As an expert from the Japan National Institute for Resources and Environment, Dr. Isei has lectured and joined researches at more than 20 countries about the causes of mine accidents. He has visited 45 countries.
He was the chief advisor at a Vietnam mine gas safety project in Quang Ninh, working until 2006 to build and operate the country's Mine Safety Center.
Back in Japan, he kept in touch with the Vietnamese colleagues to provide them regular consultancy via phone calls and email.
He has also continued to visit central Vietnam twice or three times a year.
He said his wife had asked him if he had fallen for someone in Vietnam.
“I do fall, yes, but for Vietnam and not any woman,” the expert said in the report.
So he later volunteered for JICA to come back and work at the center until now.
He said Japan is importing a lot of anthracite from Vietnam, so he is cooperating with the center and the Institute of Mining Science and Technology to limit the fatalities involved in the trade.
“Import of anthracite resources to Japan has turned to export of disaster to Vietnam, namely, right now about one person dies per one million ton coal production in Vietnamese coal mines.
“Now Japan is importing three million tons of anthracite from Vietnam a year, which is equivalent to an export of three fatalities from Japan to Vietnam. We want to buy the resources produced safely,” he told Thanh Nien News.
As a professional volunteer, the Japanese expert is helping install and operate the fire and explosion research lab, improve techniques for early discovery and prevention of fire, explosions and other accidents.
Isei said his research found that mining accidents happen more on Monday morning, as managers tend to be loose in their safety supervision after a break.
He said each accident comes from a specific reason.
“What we need to do is to note down clearly any tracks and analyze them to stop the accident from happening again.
“I hope Vietnam’s fire and explosion prevention forces will be strengthened every year and the center can help reduce more accidents.”
Pham Xuan Thanh, deputy director of the center, said they usually joke that the doctor is working here for one yen a year.
Thanh said the expert represents the working fashion of Japanese people – very disciplined, detailed and careful.
“He plans each work ahead with a specific timeframe.
“He always keeps a notebook. He notes down everything he does, so he can compare or systemize the information later, while Vietnamese people pay little attention to keeping archives.”
Isei also makes an example of personal principles when he wakes up at 5 a.m. every day and walks 10,000 steps on the center’s grounds, rain or shine. He wears a heartbeat and step meter.
Thanh said many young colleagues cannot catch up with his spirit.
As a local, Thanh said he hardly ever climbed up to the top of the province’s Yen Tu Mountain, one of Vietnam’s major Buddhism centers at 1,068 meters high, but Isei does so every Lunar New Year, when the mountain is popular holy land for pilgrims.
“There was a year when the professor climbed up there four times as he said he found inner peace there.”
But apart from his principles, Thanh said, the expert is “80 percent Vietnamese.”
He can eat almost any kinds of food including exotic ones like “trung vit lon” or duck eggs with embryos inside, raw blood pudding and fermented shrimp paste.
“In the countries that I’ve been to, there are three that I like most – Canada which is the first foreign country I came to, Hungary where I spent five years researching and teaching mine safety, and Vietnam where I’ve spent nearly ten years of my life,” Isei said.
He has a 94-year-old mother and a family of two children in Japan but they all support his devotion for Vietnam.
“I won’t be able to devote my heart and brain to Vietnam without the support of my wife. She also loves Vietnam a lot and has been here ten times, my mother three times. My son and daughter also really love Vietnam,” Isei said.
He said with pride that he has been to many places from north to south and learned many customs of Vietnam, “possibly more than many Vietnamese,” and he found that the country still keeps many good traditions.
“In Japan, the young generation no longer gives old people respect or privileges. But when I get on a bus in Vietnam, a younger person will stand up and give me their seat.”
The expert is still working on his Vietnamese which he is not satisfied about.
“Maybe because I’m old and Vietnamese words are so hard to pronounce, I have only learned enough to shop and bargain.”
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