How has Japanese Life Improvement started?
No.1) History of Ms. Matsuyo Yamamoto
The Life Improvement Program started with a request from GHQ (General Headquarters of the Allied Forces) after the World WarⅡ.
At that time, GHQ observed relationship with agriculture and rural condition of Japan as follows;
“We believe that it is important to pay attention to the quality of famers’ lives as well as farm lands. In Japan, however, administration of agriculture and forestry had not recognized famers as inevitable actors, which is same as soil improvement of farm lands. This is because, if famers are not in good and healthy condition, agriculture would not be developed enough even lands is fertile. Thus, famers need to improve their living conditions in order to think properly for better their lives. In addition to living environment, they need to think of old norms to improve. Otherwise, agriculture will not be developed well. Therefore, it is the Life Improvement Division of Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) to implement the life improvement program in rural areas with a great responsibility” (Based on memoirs)
Life improvement program had been started together with youth support program as well as existing agricultural technology support program. And it was expected to be one of the three important pillars of Japanese agricultural extension service. Thus, Life improvement program which highlighting fostering self-reliance of famers was introduced. For the first time, it was extremely difficult for MAFF to carry out Life Improvement Program as planned, because MAFF had not any idea on capacity building of farmers although they had certain know-how about technical support.
Under these circumstances, it was Ms. Yamamoto who took the first initiative and made great efforts to build the basis of life improvement program. She was the first director of the division of Life Improvement, and later on, she became as the first female director of the division of women in MAFF.
Baking in 1937, Ms. Yamamoto went to the United States after graduated in Japan, and then graduated from the faculty of Home Economics in Washington State University. After coming back to Japan, she started working at Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. She dedicated to introduce “New Home Economics” subject including home management into the ordinal curriculum from elementary to high school. After that, she succeeded in providing a compulsory home economics subject for boys in the elementary school. Thus, she contributed to create a basis of current home economics education. In this way, such kind of her careers attracted the GHQ to ask her to be responsible for the life improvement program.
“After World WarⅡ, I began to recognize the actual level of Japan including culture. I figured out that rural area is a key for development of Japan. I was really convinced that rural people’s lives have to be improved first in order to overcome all difficulties that Japan faced. … I was born and raised in a Christian family, so that I really wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to serve people. Therefore, when MAFF asked me to work with them, I decided to accept this offer since it was the question of rural life improvement.”
“As a director, I worked through life improvement program for about twenty years.” “At that time, there was nothing that I could utilize, so I started setting a basis, that I think how we should be. And then, I tried several approach, taking so many years to define how we should be.”
As a result, she dedicated to develop Japanese Life Improvement and agricultural improvement extension service, adapted from the United States.
She tackled problems through discussion about principle of Life Improvement and extension service thoroughly, and then, produced guidance and booklets, and distributed to extension workers. Thus she had a chance develop capacities of life improvement program extension workers.
In 1974, FAO awarded her with “Ceres Goddess of Agriculture”, a medal offered to women contributed to improvement of rural women’s status. It is an honorable prize awarded, same as Mother Teresa and Indira Gandhi, former Indian Prime Minister.
Ms. Yamamoto’s thoughts will not remain only within Japan. She insisted on importance and necessity of expanding Life Improvement Approach, called “SEIKATSU KAIZEN” to all over the world starting from Asia, in order to support as much rural women as possible.
Her sculpture and copper plate telling her will are in safekeeping in Tsukuba training facilities of MAFF.
Next time, guidance of Life Improvement and its activity methods will be explained.