One of Japan's richest men, Soichiro Fukutake, speaks to
about 150 people at a National Centre for Peace and
Conflict Studies open lecture at the University of Otago.
Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Is compassion mightier than the yen? Japan's 18th richest
man Soichiro Fukutake thinks so.
The Benesse Holdings Inc director and chairman, and Fukutake
Foundation president recently spoke at a National Centre for
Peace and Conflict Studies open lecture about how he has used
his corporate wealth to regenerate several islands in the
Seto Inland Sea of Japan - all with the aim of creating
''paradise on earth''.
He could not have picked a more difficult area to regenerate.
The islands and surrounding water were ''poisoned'' by copper
refineries and illegal waste dumping sites in the 1960s
during Japan's rapid economic growth, to the point where
trees struggled to grow and marine life shrivelled.
''People talk about Utopia, the afterlife, paradise. I
thought, why not create Utopia in reality,'' he said through
Where there is a will, there is a way.
Inspiration for the project came following the sudden death
of his father in 1986, and a sailing trip around some of the
700 islands in the Seto Inland Sea.
''These islands represent a negative legacy of modernisation
''The islands used to be beautiful.
''This reality is what drove me to become a rebel and do
something about this.''
He became unhappy with changes in his living environment in
Tokyo, describing life there as lacking humanity with little
evidence of anything historical or natural.
''Life there is a crazy way of living''.
So he created a camping ground as part of his father's
wishes, and in the process he became a ''rebel'' against
urbanisation and modernisation.
Since then, the island town of Naoshima has become a haven
for outdoor artworks, art museums, refurbished historic
houses and the Setouchi International Arts Festival.
''I couldn't use violence to make change, so I decided to use
His desire to create a paradise where life is a joy for the
people living there, is coming to fruition, he said.
Naoshima now has a population of about 3000, and more than
400,000 tourists visit each year as a result of his work.
He now plans to expand his initiatives to more of the 700
islands in the inland sea.