Toyota International Association Director Bui Chi Trung

Photos by Hans Sautter
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.
 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 future."
 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 limited.
 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."