Ichiro Akiyama, the first director of the inspection arm of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was among those honored when the group was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo this month.
Akiyama was the chief inspector of the 16-year-old global chemical arms watchdog for a total of 10 years.
“I had believed the organization would receive the Nobel Peace Prize someday,” the 64-year-old former Ground Self-Defense Force officer said in a recent interview.
Akiyama said he is proud to have made considerable contributions to freeing the world from chemical arms.
The native of Hyogo Prefecture loved chemistry since he was in high school.
“I wanted to contribute to society (with chemistry), not just do research,” he said.
Akiyama joined the Self-Defense Forces and was assigned to the GSDF’s chemical unit, where he specialized in protection and defense against chemical weapons.
He was first dispatched from the SDF to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, in 1997. Akiyama said he tried to teach his colleagues there Japanese values such as the importance of collaborating with teammates, respecting punctuality and listening carefully to others.
To help win his subordinates’ trust, he said he never failed to see off a colleague on a business trip no matter how early in the morning or to meet them when they returned no matter how late at night.
When one of his subordinates sent classified information to the wrong person, the director general told him to fire the subordinate immediately, but Akiyama asked that the subordinate be allowed to stay, even threatening to quit himself if his request was not be accepted.
“People are bound to make mistakes when working hard,” he said.
During his second stint as chief inspector starting in 2004, he was asked to reduce the workforce because chemical weapons had been abolished in many countries.
He had to dismiss many officials and left the organization himself five years later, turning down overtures to stay on.
One of his treasures is a board on which his colleagues and subordinates wrote messages for him. One of them says, “I would go to any place you tell us to go.”