Staff Interview: Masato HIRANO (Laos Project)

[Original by Yuka WATANABE, 2015 Public Relations Intern (February 15, 2016); Translated by H. Velnom/R. Florea]

Beside of being in charge of the JVC Laos project, Mr. Hirano is the director of a research group on edible insects. Laos is a country, where the culture of eating edible insects exists. He recommends crickets as the best one.

Hello everyone, I am the public relations intern Yuka Watanabe. Here is the blog article number 9! This time, I will be interviewing Masato Hirano who spent three and a half years in Laos since 2008, and worked for three years in the Tokyo office. He is now working again in Laos since November 2015. We will deliver a picture of the interview we took just before the appointment.

I heard that you have left a private company, why did you decide to leave it to join an NGO instead?

Mr. Hirano at the time he was a businessman. What a handsome man!

While I was at university I did not have any interest in international organizations, so after I graduated, I joined a beer company. While at university, I studied once in the US through an exchange study program. The reason was because I thought that it was a little bit too early to start working in a company (he laughs). I spent five years as a businessman in the beer company and during my employment, the terrorist attack of September 11th, 2001 happened – 9/11. This led me to wonder how it was possible for this to happen, much affecting my personal outlook. Until then, I had no particular interest in international affairs. However, as I learned these things, I gradually got interested in the North-South divide, poverty issues, and so on. These are the reasons why I left the private sector to work for an NGO. My work for the beer company was a pleasant experience, even now I am happy to have worked for the company. Above all, however, I was interested in development assistance.

I heard that after you quit, you lived in Cambodia.

It was not with JVC, I spent a total of 2 years with 2 different NGOs.

After Cambodia, you went to graduate school in the UK. Why did you make the decision to return to school again?

A picture taken at the time in Cambodia. His appearance is quite different from the salesman era (2005).

Because I wanted to do development studies. With 9/11 as a start, I got interested in the problems between the North and South. My choice of studies was closely related to these issues. Actually, I decided to attend this university even before going to Cambodia. Before moving to university, I wanted to live in a developing country in order to see one with my own eyes.

During your stay in Cambodia, I heard that you were attending the wedding of Mr. Yamazaki, who is in charge of the Cambodia project, as a witness. Have the two of you had a good relationship since then?

Picture taken when he was the witness to Mr. Yamazaki’s wedding ceremony (2005).

That is right. At that time compared to now, there were very few Japanese NGO staff members in Cambodia. I think we got along well with each other, we were almost the same age, and both of us liked alcohol.

I learned a lot from him because he started to work for an international organization way before I did. Even now, I’m still learning things. Mr. Yamazaki got married to a local woman and when I became a witness at his wedding, I remember feeling happy to be part of a ceremony with a different atmosphere compared to the Japanese one.

You are in charge of the Laos project for seven years. Is there any reason why you have been involved for so long?

With a baby in Laos (2011). He learned Lao in the field.

To be honest, I have the feeling that if it’s needed, I could go anywhere. I picked up the local language (Lao) and still have an attachment to this country. I like the peaceful and relaxed atmosphere, the huge forests, and the abundant nature not altered by the low population density. The people here are usually peaceful. If you think about it though, you will have to face good and bad things wherever you go. For anyone living abroad, there will be a time when you will be frustrated with the country. Through my experience, I assume it’s the case for everyone and even I had a time when I had troubles to deal with life in Laos. The reason was not necessarily due to Laos, but a lack of ability and various other causes.

By the way, I heard that your hobbies are fishing and boxing. There is a popular belief that fishing is something really tough.

I do boat fishing, and the boatman usually leads us to the spot where fishes are. So, you can catch some if you do it properly. But, actually you can’t see any fish. I try to be ingenious, and look for the perfect spot to catch the fish and think of the best way to do it. If I do find one, it’s a pleasure to be rewarded for the effort.

In boxing, I don’t worry how may calories I consume. Instead, I find a pleasure when I try various ways of punching so as to approach the correct style. I get fully tired through the trial and error, which makes me satisfied.

In his free time, Mr. Hirano does his best in fishing and in boxing.

You seem to like the “trial and error” method of solving problems by repeating various attempts until success. Can you use it at work, too?

What can I say, for example, if I compare myself to a professional fisherman, I’m not as meticulous. But, I like to give it a try and then see the result. For example, in order to support the Laos project, we are collecting postcards with writing mistakes on them. The amount of postcards we collected has considerably increased in the past few years. It is interesting to think about ways to increase the number of collected postcards. Every time I assume a model and verify it.

You seem to enjoy everything without being discouraged and perturbed.

No, I am only doing things that I could manage by chance. I have to admit that when I was about your age, most of the time I was perturbed. Even now, there are so many cases when I find myself in trouble. But the difference is that, now, I can make choices based on my experiences. Boxing, for example, is not a fight against a physical opponent. I am fighting against myself of last week and I am becoming a stronger version. It took me time to figure out what I was capable of doing. There were also many disappointments. Still, I think that it is good to try various things while being young in order to gain experience. Honestly, I’m personally surprised by these amazing things I’m saying right now…

Finally, please tell us your motto and why you chose it.

Storm blows away blossoms. Life is full of goodbyes.
All roads lead to Rome. Go any way, Don Quixote!

What is important is to not attach too much to anyone or anything. People are like seasons, they come and then disappear from your life, so I do not mind it anymore. It is quite likely that we will not meet a person twice, but if we do in tens of years, we should strengthen the relationship. It becomes too painful to try to keep the link with someone at all costs. I am a lonely person, maybe that’s why I think of life in this way. But by thinking so, your life will at least become stable.

-[My impression after the interview]

Mr. Hirano is loved and supported by many people. It was a great interview, which made me realized how strong and kind Mr. Hirano is. He didn’t change regardless of anything. It occurred on trial and error. In NGOs, we are constantly facing difficult tasks, it may be required to persevere with trial and error. I am looking forward to meeting him once more when he will be back in Japan! (Yuka Watanabe)

-[Notice for the next interview!]

Are you smiling because the portrait you draw resembles so much the person of the next interview? Stay tuned for the next interview!

Next time, we will interview a person who, Mr. Hirano says, “Is very adult!”

* The order of uploading the English version of “Staff Interview” is random and hence different from the order of the original Japanese version. We are sorry, but the person coming next may be different from the “next person to be interviewed” mentioned in the text.

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