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Green Clothes for the Yellow Dragon


Written by Russell Molina

Illustrated by Mariano Ching

Seiei Toyama was born to a family of modest means in 1906 in Yamanashi, Japan. His mother strove to educate him well and, in 1934, he graduated from Kyoto University’s Department of Agriculture. The following year, he embarked on an extended research tour of China. When Japan’s invasion in 1937 cut his studies short, Toyama returned to Japan bearing a surprising observation. In northwest China he had seen gourds and grapes and other fruits growing perfectly well in the desert sand. At Tottori University, he experimented in nearby sand dunes and, over the next many years, developed irrigation techniques that transformed Tottori’s barren dunes into profitable fruit, vegetable, and flower farms. When he retired in 1972, Toyama was Japan’s leading authority on desert agriculture. Still strong, and eager to devote his golden years to something useful, he began to apply his knowledge to China.

Toyama, now ninety-six, is happiest in his high boots and sun helmet at work in the desert. He is sometimes cross with his young volunteers. "Plant them straight," he barks. But in Engebei today a bronze statue of him celebrates his remarkable work and spirit. People there call him "Great Old Man."

As a Japanese and a devout Buddhist, Toyama is ever mindful of Japan’s profound debt to China. For him, tree planting is a sort of "green atonement" for sins of the past. But it is also a gesture of hope for the future. "Greening the deserts is a testimony to our desire to live in peace and harmony," he says. So, "Let’s start digging!"

In electing Seiei Toyama to receive the 2003 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding the board of trustees recognizes his twenty-year crusade to green the deserts of China in a spirit of solidarity and peace.

Seie Toyama ( Japanese )

Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Peace and International Understanding, 2003

Size: 8" x10", full color, 16 pages

copyright © 2007

ISBN: 978-971-569-574-9

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