Sophia University has a long and amicable relationship with Cambodia originating in professor Yoshiaki Ishizawa's long-term commitment to preserve and restore the Angkor Wat temple complex, a World Heritage site and one of the most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia.
The complex stretches over approximately 400 sq. kilometers in Siem Reap province and consists of as many as 700 remains from the Khmer Empire of the ninth to 14th centuries.
The buildings, monuments and Buddha statues underwent decay as political turmoil, especially since 1970 when a military coup took place followed by four years of Khmer Rouge rule in 1975, engulfed the country.
Ishizawa has been involved in the conservation since he was a student in 1961. However, he suspended his activities during the years of instability, returning in the early 1980s, shortly after the Khmer Rouge went out of power.
From the '80s to the early '90s, international organizations were hesitant to provide support for the work because Cambodia's domestic situation was still unstable. However, Ishizawa knew that Angkor's preservation was important to all Cambodians regardless of political beliefs.
He used his own money to hire villagers to clear trees and bushes, and clean the black mold that had grown to cover the buildings and monuments over the decade.
Ishizawa also networked with international organizations and specialists. His efforts led to the establishment of the Sophia University Angkor International Mission that played an important part in research and training, as well as conservation work, under Ishizawa's leadership.
Since 1991, knowledge and personnel exchanges have gone one through various training programs. Additionally, Ishizawa brought Japanese professors to Cambodia for lectures on related topics, led Sophia students to conservation sites for fieldwork and supported research students from the Royal University of Fine Arts in Cambodia to gain master's and Ph.D.s at Sophia University through fieldwork and research.
In 1996, the Asia Center for Research and Human Development was established with Ishizawa heading up the center, which aims to develop human resources in Cambodia based on Ishizawa's belief, "The protection and restoration of the sites of Cambodia should be carried out by Cambodians, for Cambodians."
In 2001, 274 statues of Buddha were found during a restoration of the Banteay Kdei Temple. It was an encouraging and rewarding success for the local conservation trainees, and exactly the kind of achievement that the mission has been aiming for.
These statues are stored and exhibited at the Preah Norodom Sihanouk Angkor Museum, one of the museums participating in the ASEAN Cultural Properties and Museum International Workshop this year.
Ishizawa, who has devoted more than 50 years of his life to help Cambodian people protect and restore Angkor Wat's heritage, received the 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Award. With a history of 60 years as the most prestigious award in Asia, it is referred to as the Nobel Prize of the East.
Ishizawa and Sophia University will continue their collaborative activities with Cambodians to preserve the treasures of Angkor Wat.