• Asia-Pacific

Japanese Eager to Continue Work for Angkor Wat Conservation

REUTERS/Clarissa Cavalheiro/file photo
Angkor Wat temple is reflected in a pond January 23, 2010.

Tokyo (Jiji Press)—Japanese professor Yoshiaki Ishizawa, 86, remains eager to continue his support for the conservation of the Angkor Wat ancient temple complex in Cambodia after working on the project for three decades.

“I feel relieved that we have paved the way for training of Cambodians to restore the site,” Ishizawa of Sophia University said in an interview with Jiji Press in November 2023 in Cambodia’s Siem Reap, where the UNESCO World Heritage site is located.

That month, Ishizawa attended a completion ceremony for the restoration of Angkor Wat’s western causeway, which was supported by the Japanese government and the university.

Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni referred to Ishizawa in his address and expressed his gratitude for the professor’s important support.

Ishizawa, who majored in French at the Japanese private university, was fascinated by Angkor Wat when he visited Cambodia, formerly a French protectorate, in the 1960s.

“I was impressed by the fact that such large stone temples were built about 800 years ago,” he said. “I decided to cast light on the technologies at that time and the reason for the construction and pass the findings to the future.”

However, a fierce civil war began in Cambodia in 1970. The Southeast Asian country had about 40 Angkor Wat conservation officers in the 1960s, but many were regarded as intellectuals and killed under Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot’s administration.

When Ishizawa visited Cambodia in 1980, only three such officers were confirmed to be alive.

In 1991, Sophia University started a project, led by Ishizawa, to train Cambodians to become conservators, under the slogan “Restoration of historic sites for the Cambodians by the Cambodians.”

In 1996, his team established an educational facility in Cambodia. “I wanted to help Cambodians restore the pride of the people, hurt by the civil war,” Ishizawa explained.

That year, restoration work on the western causeway began. Local conservation officers worked with Japanese experts to gain experience.

“It has taken more than 30 years, but now we have a good prospect for the training system,” he said. “But we will continue to provide cooperation.”