BUILDING A NEW SOCIETY
Toyota International Association Director Bui Chi Trung
The city of Toyota, which is located in central Aichi, is the home of the
global Toyota Motor Corporation. Its multinational flavor is also evident
in the director of the city's international association, Vietnamese scholar
Bui Chi Trung.
Photos by Hans Sautter
Bui's fluent Japanese and wide-ranging experience have enabled him
to play a leading role in grass-roots international exchange, and he is
fond of saying that if ordinary citizens in every country could learn to
know each other as friends, there would be no more wars.
A person's name card reflects their way of life to some extent. Bui
appears to typify this maxim, for he designates himself on his card not
only as "Dr. Bui" but also as association director. Bui studied agriculture
at Meijo University and then undertook postgraduate agricultural research
at Nagoya University.
During his student days, he was energetically involved in
organizing foreign student activities. This background led to his
participation in the establishment of an international exchange association
in the city of Toyota, and he became the association's deputy director upon
its inception in 1988. He was named director in 1992.
Many local governments in Aichi Prefecture have international
exchange associations. However, Bui is the only non-Japanese to head such
an organization, and one of only a handful of nongovernment personnel to
serve in that capacity. Bui himself emphasizes that the appointment of a
nongovernment person to the post is more significant than the appointment
of a foreigner.
The Japanese place great importance on formality and tend to be
rigid in their ways. However, Bui's past experience and mental flexibility
have enabled him to propose a wide range of innovative ideas, and he has
been able to dismantle the walls of formality. The thrice-weekly Japanese
classes provided for foreign residents by the association are very relaxed,
punctuated by laughter and the cries of children. This is another example
of the importance of what Bui calls "environment building."
Bui has ambitious plans. "The idea of agriculture is that if you
create the right environment, the crops will grow, the people will grow.
That's how I approach my work. If the present situation continues, Japan's
future will be bleak. I want to change Japanese society by creating an
environment in which voluntary activities will flourish and community
organizations will prosper. I have my sights set 20 or 30 years in the
The fact that Bui did not pursue an academic career despite earning
a doctorate is attributable to the times he has lived through. After the
Vietnam War, it became difficult for people who had studied in the West to
work as researchers in Vietnam. And in Japan the opportunities for
foreigners to gain formal employment in universities were extremely
When Bui was asked by Toyota City to assist with the formation of
the international association he was working as a part-time lecturer. "Once
a researcher moves out of academia, he or she can never return. After deep
reflection, I made a decision. I'm suited for this work because I can
understand both Japanese and non-Japanese viewpoints. And because of my
scientific background, I tend to seek logical solutions. Most people
involved in international exchange have a humanities background, so this
tendency to think differently can be quite useful."
Bui approaches his work as an international exchange specialist
with incredible energy and drive. Each day is a flurry of meetings and
lectures that must be fitted in between many official tasks. Bui laughs as
he recalls how he attended a conference in Tokyo in the morning and another
in Osaka that same evening.
In 1995 Bui chaired the organizing committee for the Hakone
Conference, which was a national gathering of civic groups. The selection
of someone from a provincial area to fill that post was unprecedented and
indicated that Bui's influence as a driving force for international
exchange had spread to the national level.
Bui first arrived in Japan in 1969 and has lived in Aichi
Prefecture ever since, except for one brief spell. "Aichi is a conservative
region where tradition is regarded highly. It's typically Japanese: at
first it's difficult to fit in here, but once you gain people's trust, it
becomes very easy."