|Mr. Tomoji Yokoishi, President of IRODORI|
speaking to high level Local Government officials of Bhutan
|Self with Mr. Yokoishi San|
This is a story of fascinating rural enterprise development of Kamikatsu called IRODORI. Kamikatsu is one of the remote towns in Tokushima prefecture of Japan. Pre-IRODORI Kamikatsu had been different – people (particularly women and elderly) had no hopes for the prosperity with their farm productivities going very low and when suddenly it was attacked by severe cold wave it only inflicted further pain to the people living here. It was somewhere during this time, that Mr. Tomoji Yokoishi appeared in the scene as a young and intelligent agriculture extension officer. Since then he shared the pain and suffering of the people and constantly sought solution to his question: “What can be a good job for women and elderly in Kamikatsu?”
(Ms. Hariki Tsuneko, 90 year old IRODORI producer still strong, active and happy member)
One day it took him by a chance encounter to hear joyful words from young ladies at a restaurant in Osaka city, “How pretty and beautiful!” over those leaves and not for the delicious dishes. Ladies liked the dishes adorned with beautiful leaves. An idea suddenly struck young Yokoishi San to sell leaves, for Kamikatsu town is blessed with bountiful natural gifts of varieties of trees and leaves. He followed his intuition and the IRODORI was kicked off immediately. Some people even laughed at him saying, “Nobody would pay for leaves that can be everywhere. Are you joking?” This did not deter him. He persisted on to it even when IRODORI did not make any profits at all. He visited high class Japanese restaurants (Ryoutei) as a customer to learn more about the reality of the actual site of use. He initiated sales promotion throughout Japan with brochures in his hand. At night he visited restaurants to study further and returned for works at market in the morning. With his dedicated effort, the words spread, customers increased and the sales of his leaves expanded. And with this, smiles on the faces of Kamikatsu people broadened too. Today IRODORI has about 200 participants who are mostly women and elderly people supplying leaves to restaurants all over Japan. Today, people make a good living out of this business. More so, it has identified roles of elderly people in the society that made them happy to find themselves contributing to the society even at an old age. Through this project people have been able to discover a gold mine right at their door steps. People happily say, "The moment we step out of our house, it's all money." People who shared sarcastic laughs once are now wearing huge smiles of joy. This is all because of Mr. Yokoishi San’s philanthropic effort and the IRODORI.
|A book written by Mr. Yokoishi San|
"Let's sell leaves"
Mr. Yokoishi San has restored the smiles of the people. He is an icon of happiness to people of Kamikatsu and a hero of Japan. Hariki San a 90 year old lady describes him thus, "He is our God. He gave us happiness." With his rule of three steps – notice, verify and implement, he strongly believes that “elderly people are resources in the society as well as in the business.”
Senior citizens! They do have a role in our society and in it lies their happiness. They must not be neglected but rather create an enabling environments to keep on hold the setting sun for awhile, for their years of wisdom may be beneficial for the continuity of the mankind. This is Yokoishi San, an icon of happiness and a hero of Japan. His story inspires me and hope it will inspire you too.
His book, Let's sell leaves has been made into a movie called "What a wonderful world: IRODORI" and has already gained popularity in the theaters of Japan. What a wonderful WORLD indeed?