Seven Japanese development aid workers and engineers were among those killed in Friday’s terrorist attack at an upscale restaurant in Bangladesh, people who wanted to contribute to the development of the South Asian country.
The seven killed and the sole Japanese survivor, who was rescued when police stormed the restaurant, were in Bangladesh as consultants on a project for the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a government agency that implements projects in developing countries financed with Japanese aid.
Of the seven Japanese confirmed to have been killed in the attack, two were women. Yuko Sakai, 42, and Rui Shimodaira, 27, who both worked for the Tokyo-based construction consulting company Almec Corp., were passionate about their work, chosen for the opportunity it provided to help make a difference internationally, according to people who knew them.
“What must (we) really invest in to protect human life and assets?” Sakai, who traveled overseas frequently for work, wrote in an essay published in the company’s in-house online magazine. Sakai had previously spent two years from 2001 working in Morocco as part of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, helping to develop that country’s tourism infrastructure.
University of Tsukuba professor Masaki Fujikawa, a former teacher, says Sakai wanted to work abroad and joined Almec after graduation in the hope of using her knowledge in urban planning.
Shimodaira also had been active in volunteering for international nongovernmental organization activities since her school days, and at one point served as an intern at the U.N. Development Program, friends said.
Shimodaira also helped clear debris in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of the Tohoku region.
“She was working hard for developing countries … I am really shocked,” a 28-year-old acquaintance said.
According to one friend, Shimodaira began researching slums in Thailand after starting a graduate program at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and for roughly a year from 2012, she studied at a university in Thailand.
Friday’s attack cut short not just Shimodaira’s life, but her dream of playing an active role in international development.
Makoto Okamura, 32, another Almec employee, was a transport system expert who had worked on other JICA projects in Turkey, Indonesia and Thailand as well as in Bangladesh where he had many acquaintances, the aid agency said.
Okamura, who got involved in JICA-linked projects at Almec after graduating from a graduate school of Nihon University, is said to have been interested in urban planning since junior high school.
Okamura was planning to get married, according to his father, Komakichi.
Another victim, Koyo Ogasawara of Tokyo-based construction consulting firm Katahira & Engineers International, was a veteran valued by his company as someone who had the “qualities of a leader.”
Having taken part in many JICA projects as an environmental impact assessment expert, the 56-year-old was well liked and respected by his juniors, whom he took good care of, people from his firm said. His projects focused on Asian countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines.
Ogasawara flew to Bangladesh on June 20 and was set to return home on Tuesday, according to the company.
The three other fatalities — Hiroshi Tanaka, 80, Nobuhiro Kurosaki, 48, and Hideki Hashimoto, 65 — worked for the Tokyo-based consulting firm Oriental Consultants Global Co.
Tanaka’s 72-year-old brother, Takashi, said Hiroshi was trying to share his knowledge of railway technology with people in Bangladesh.
Having worked as an engineer for a railway technology research institute under the now-defunct Japanese National Railways, Tanaka afterward engaged in urban development consulting work. He was in Dhaka as part of a JICA project to study traffic congestion in the capital.
A former colleague of Kurosaki said he was an engineer involved in the structural design of roads and railway tracks, and took part in projects involving bridges and underground tunnels.
In an online post, Kurosaki had written that there is potentially strong demand for subways overseas, and expressed a desire to share his expertise and be involved in at least one such project abroad every year.
About his work Kurosaki once said, “Hardships come with the territory, but that is why it is better to have fun and work with a smile on your face.”
Tamaoki Watanabe, an Almec employee in his 40s, was among the 13 people rescued in a police operation. He suffered gunshot wounds but his injuries are not life-threatening. He had left Japan in late June.
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