28 Aug - 3 Sep 2015 #773

Takashi Miyahara 2020 vision

Takashi Miyahara who never left Nepal since he arrived in 1962 does everything differently
Karma Gurung

BY THE BOOK: Takashi Miyahara in front of a map of Nepal showing his infrastructure-led vision for the future. His memoir has just been published in Japanese and will soon be translated into Nepali and English.

“There is a Japanese saying that to make new things, you have to be young and foolish,” says Takashi Miyahara, the 81-year-old social entrepreneur who came to Nepal first in 1962 and never left.

A mountaineer, he quickly fell in love with the beauty of Nepal’s pristine mountains, a stark contrast to a rapidly-industrialising Japan that was rebuilding after the war. As it turned out, he also married a Nepali and started a tourism business. Frustrated at the slow pace of change and Nepal’s inability to use its huge resources to uplift the lives of citizens, he opened a political party and even stood for elections in 2008.

Miyahara does everything differently. When everyone was only just talking about the unique attraction of the Khumbu, he overcame huge hurdles to establish Hotel Everest View at 3,880m in 1975, got the government to make an airfield at Syangboche to service it and introduced Nepal to up-market international tourists. The iconic hotel became a model for foreign investment in Nepal’s nascent tourism industry.

He started Trans Himalayan Tours and introduced organised trekking to Japanese tourists, bringing in 1,000 visitors annually. Miyahara always dreamt big, and tried to get Nepali officialdom excited about the potential that Nepal had in tourism, infrastructure, energy and nature conservation. Despite setbacks and official apathy, Miyahara persevered with his trademark Japanese tenacity.

At a time when Nepalis were leaving the country in droves to settle in the West, Miyahara gave up his Japanese citizenship, donned a Nepali cap and started the Nepal National Development Party in 2006 to try to change the political culture so that government would be more responsive to the needs of the people. The laid back “ke garne” mentality of Nepalis was not for him.

Having travelled throughout Nepal on foot across most of Nepal’s 75 districts, Miyahara knows Nepal inside out, better than most people born here. His vision for Nepal’s future is based on intimate knowledge of the land and its peoples.

Pointing at a map in his office, Miyahara shows a plan for an east-west railway artery linked to north-south feeder roads, he talks about shifting the capital to Narayangadh to ease the pressure on Kathmandu, a masterplan for hydropower, tourism and water supply. All these are included in his party’s manifesto. His party didn’t win a single seat in 2008, and in 2013 did not field any candidates, but Miyahara says he admires Baburam Bhattarai the only Nepali politician who shares his vision for Nepal’s economic growth.

After a full life one would expect Miyahara to spend his time with his family in quiet retirement. But that would be most unlike the man. After Everest View Hotel and Himalaya Hotel in Patan, Miyahara is busy with his next dream project: Hotel Annapurna View in Pokhara’s Sarangkot which is scheduled to open next year.

“Society lacks a moral compass”

Nepali Times caught up with Takashi Miyahara in his office in Patan for a chat about his political experiences.

Nepali Times: How different is Nepal since the first time you arrived in 1962?

Takashi Miyahara: Fifty years ago when I came to Nepal, Singapore, Bangkok and Kathmandu were almost at the same level of development. Why has Nepal lagged behind? The public must be aware of the political failure that led to this. Bureaucrats don’t take decisions and just shift responsibility. There is greed, and society lacks a moral compass.

Is that why you wanted to enter politics yourself?

People criticise politicians for not doing their duty and for being corrupt, but they still elect the same people to power. Nepali politicians lack a vision for the country. Even the federal provinces are designed to secure vote banks, not for a development strategy. If you have to look for a visionary politician, you can find a little bit in Dr Baburam Bhattarai.

What is your vision, then?

I believe tourism is central to the development of Nepal. This will not only increase national income but also help Nepal become self-reliant. Using Nepal’s natural resources like rivers and forests and moulding them for tourism purposes and also harnessing their potential through hydropower generation and transportation is the vision I have.

Why is that so difficult to do?

The people only vote for the same four main parties who are only looking at their own self-interest not the national interest. The youth leaders need to step up.

What lessons can we learn from Japan on post-earthquake reconstruction?

Japan has always been prepared for earthquakes. Here, only eight out of 75 districts were affected severely. During the reconstruction phase, we should restructure governance and infrastructure in the whole country, not just affected areas.

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