Rev. Dr. Toshihiro Takami,
Founder of ARI
The main founding member of ARI exemplified a life of service that still guides us today.
Through Poverty and War
Toshihiro Takami’s youth was marked by hardship and war. Born on September 30, 1926 in Japanese-controlled Manchuria, his family moved to its Japanese homeland amidst poverty. To educate him beyond grammar school, his parents apprenticed Takami to a Zen monastery in Kyoto. At the age of eighteen, just months before the end of World War II, he enlisted in the Japanese navy and briefly attended radar school. Hard times followed as he fended for himself and his family in post-war Japan, mostly as a manual laborer.
Christian Study in the US
In 1951, Takami found work as a cook for a Christian missionary. He began studying Christianity. Soon he was baptized. A youth organization in the United States then sponsored him to attend Doane College in Nebraska. By 1960 he had earned his bachelor’s degree, graduated from Yale Divinity School, and become an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ in Japan.
Back in Japan, for ten years Takami taught practical theology and directed the Southeast Asia Christian Rural Leaders’ course at the Theological Seminary for Rural Mission in Tokyo; work that led to an eye-opening field assignment in Bangladesh and the founding of the Asian Rural Institute.
With the people of Bangladesh
As a Christian pastor assigned to a disaster relief project in Bangladesh, Takami witnessed the desperate struggle for survival that followed the murdering floods of 1970. Discerning a dearth of capable and committed local leaders, he was determined to establish an institute dedicated to providing rural leaders training and skills to increase their capacity to serve their people. In 1973, “in response to God’s calling,” he says, “we moved to found the Asian Rural Institute,” or ARI.
Takami designed the institute’s curriculum around intensive, small-scale, organic farming, and animal husbandry, linking these activities to building a vibrant community. All participants, including staff, engage daily in dirty-hands chores. All take their turns preparing food for the group’s common meals. “Sharing food is sharing life,” is one of Takami’s most well known phrases. ARI participants also share in decision making. The difficult process of achieving consensus among a group of strong-minded, quick-to-action people, Takami believes, helps ARI’s rural leaders become more effective change-makers in their poor communities.
A Rich Spiritual and Human Legacy
Takami resigned as ARI director in 1990 but continued to serve for many more years as a teacher and board member. He dedicated the whole of his life for the following years to ARI and to the training of grassroots local leaders. “To me,” he said, “the local level is the highest level.”
Takami passed away on September 9, 2019, after long years of living with a severe nerve disease. He left behind a rich legacy of spiritual wisdom and profound impact on many people’s lives around the globe. His spirit, based in both Christian and Buddhist values, continues to guide and enrich ARI.
Recognition and Awards
Rev. Dr. Takami’s achievements for peace
and human development have been recognized
on a national and international level.
The Shimotsuke Prefectural Citizen Prize
The Yoshikawa Eiji Prize
The Ramon Magsaysay Award for
Peace and International Understanding
The William Sloane Coffin Award for Peace and Justice
from Yale Divinity School, Connecticut