This is the story of Sugiyama Tatsumaru, a man from Japan who traveled to India in 1961 to help restore water and agriculture.
At the time, a number of villages in the northern region of India were suffering from starvation and loss of crops due to the rapid desertification of their land.
Sugiyama Tatusmaru fulfilled the wishes of his grandfather and Rash Behari Bose, dedicating his life to the reforestation and vitalization of India. To this very day, the area that Tatsumaru worked on remains lush with greenery and rich agriculture.
Below is a video of this remarkable story. I have written English subtitles for the film, which you can read by clicking on the “CC” button in the bottom right-hand corner of the video. The full English script is also available below.
There is a precious 8 mm film that was recorded about 40 years ago. It shows a village in India. A Japanese man was welcomed by the people of the village. Sugiyama Tatsumaru is seen receiving great respect and reverence. They called him Green Father.
Shortly after India received independence from England, Tatsumaru first set foot on Indian soil in 1961. In those days, India was far away. He later visited India many more times, but when they saw him for the very first time, 42 year old Tatsumaru was strongly impacted. From the airplane window, all he could see was desert. His breath was taken away by the sight of the barren, red landscape.
“So this is India…”
India was increasingly turning into desert, agriculture and lives were suffering, and most of the people were suffering from chronic starvation. It is said that one year when it did not rain, over five million people lost their lives. He was struck hard by this harsh reality. Tatsumaru made a vow.
“I will save the people of India.”
He put 14 billion yen towards helping India. Who was this man? Sugiyama Tatsumaru was hailed as the Green Father, and spent 14 billion yen on the reforestation of India.
Tatsumaru was born in 1919, in Fukuoka prefecture. His father, Sugiyama Taido, was a novelist known by the pen name, Yumeno Kyūsaku.
It is said that he was Itō Hirobumi’s right-hand man. His grandfather, Shigemaru, was a man of extraordinary achievement in the world of politics. When he went overseas for international trade work, he saw that Asia was being eaten alive by Europe and America.
Seeing this, he vowed, “When we become independent, let us establish a system of agriculture that will be the foundation of the country.”
In 1901, he purchased a 38 acre plot of land in Fukuoka. He established a plantation there, and hired students from every country across Asia. He was a great supporter of the Indian independence movement, and enthusiastically taught agricultural skills to Gandhi’s disciples.
Tatsumaru’s eldest son, Sugiyama, still remembers his father’s wish.
“When my father was 16, his father and grandfather both passed away within the same year. He was still very young, so their loss must have had a great impact on him.”
His grandfather, Shigemaru, left him with one request,
“You must save the people of Asia.”
Tatsumaru honoured his request, and even after India gained independence, he continued to bring in students from India and teach them agricultural techniques.
When Tatsumaru was 36, he received a phone call that would change his fate forever. It was a call from Nehru, the first prime minister of India. He had heard of Tatsumaru’s work with the students. During the call, Nehru made a request.
“I want you to save India.”
India was turning into desert, agriculture was failing, and the people of India were starving.
Tatsumaru boarded a flight to India.
Agriculture will end their famine. But for that to happen, water was essential. Every day, Tatsumaru searched tirelessly for a water source that would bring green back to the land. But, no such water could be found. Just as he was about to give up, a strange sight caught his attention.
In the blazing desert heat, there was one spot where cattle were resting.
“There’s shade nearby, so why are they resting here?”
Tatsumaru began to dig up the ground, and noticed that the dirt was damp.
“There’s water in the desert!”
Even if the land is dry on the surface, there was water flowing underground. Tatsumaru decided to plant trees there in the desert. He chose to plant eucalyptus trees, which he knew to thrive in the deserts of Australia.
“They are strong in the heat, and grow quickly. Eucalyptus trees will pump the water up to the surface, and we will be able to grow crops.”
Northern India borders the foot of the Himalayas. Water must be flowing from the mountains into the ground. We should plant the trees in a line along the national highway. Tatsumaru visited each village located along the highway, asking for their cooperation.
“Together, let’s grow crops and thrive.”
But, people were against it. No one listened to Tatsumaru and his ideas about the efficacy of the eucalyptus trees. They were too busy struggling to survive. Even then, Tatsumaru did not give up.
“If we plant the eucalyptus trees, they will be saved. There is no doubt.”
His only driving force was the memory of his grandfather’s wish. In the scorching Indian heat, he used his own drinking water to plant the trees.
People began to change.
“He came all the way from Japan. Let’s put our faith in him.”
Japanese cheers echoed across the desolate desert.
All along the highway that was once lifeless and barren, green eucalyptus trees are thriving. The trees are 15 metres tall.
Tatsumaru’s vision became a reality. The trees pumped the water to the surface, and the 470 km stretch of highway is now lush with vegetation. The trees blessed the land with water, making it possible for rice fields, and wheat and barley crops to all thrive. The number of deaths by starvation decreased dramatically.
“It is all thanks to the abundant plants that were are able to live like this.”
Tatsumaru’s simple reforestation plan was spread from village to village, and from person to person. But, Tatsumaru’s efforts did not end here.
The desert was the main cause of starvation in India. He thought about how to prevent this. The Sivalik Range was causing the desert to increase.
The Sivalik Range is a mountain region in the Himalayas. Day and night, the hills continue to erode, and the resulting sand is contribution to the expansion of desert land.
Tatsumaru was certain that eucalyptus trees were the answer. Their roots would also dig into the ground and prevent erosion. However, the solution was not so simple.
The Sivalik Range spans 3000 km. That’s longer than Japan. Planting eucalyptus trees along the entire range would require a lot of money and time. However, Tatsumaru calmly said,
“There is no problem. As long as you believe, anything is possible.”
He sold the vast acreage in Fukuoka that he had inherited from his grandfather, and used the money to fund his eucalyptus project. It was no small amount of money. By today’s calculations, it was 140 billion yen.
For Tatsumaru, however, he was only fulfilling his grandfather’s dream.
“You must save the people of Asia.”
Tatsumaru vowed that he would accomplish this difficult task, even if it meant dedicating his entire life to it. To save the people of India from starvation, we must stop the root cause of desertification. He mustered up his strength and tirelessly got to work planting the trees, day in and day out.
However, Tatsumaru did not live to see his dream fulfilled. One day, he suffered a stroke and collapsed. He was 68 years old. His son, Sugiyama, is astonished by his father’s tenacity.
“When he collapsed, it was intense. He started making sounds, and nearly bit through his lip. He had such a mortifying expression on his face. He knew that there was so much work left unfinished. For two years and two months, he battled his illness. You could tell there was so much more that he wanted to do.”
The Sivalik Range. At one time, it was plagued by frequent landslides. But now, it is covered in lush greenery. The land that was once dry and cracked has been revitalized.
Tatsumaru carried out his grandfather’s wish. He brought abundance to the people of these villages. His passion resonates in the hearts of the Indian people.
“We made a promise. Sugiyama dedicated his life to bringing green to our land. Just as he did, we also vow to protect these trees with our lives.”
“As long as you believe, nothing is impossible.”
Perseverance in the face of great challenges. That was Tatsumaru’s life. In India, there is a saying,
“Gandhi was the father of independence. Tatsumaru Sugiyama was the father of green.”