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First Japanese in 90 years becomes Sovereign Order of Malta knight | The Asahi Shimbun: Breaking News, Japan News and Analysis


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A Kyushu University associate professor is studying ways to achieve a sustainable society, but he may be more famous as one of about 13,000 knights of the Sovereign Order of Malta.

Shutaro Takeda became the first Japanese to earn the title of a knight in nearly 90 years.

Also known as the Knights of Malta, the organization is an independent sovereign state without a territory of its own but has diplomatic relations with countries around the world.

Headquartered in Rome, the Sovereign Order of Malta provides medical and food assistance to areas of conflict and disaster.

Takeda, 34, has always wanted to help others.

Immediately following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, he took temporary leave from Kyoto University to work with the Ground Self-Defense Force as an interpreter for U.S. service members engaged in Operation Tomodachi, a disaster relief effort off the coast of the Tohoku region.

Subsequently, he was dispatched to Bangladesh as a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer of the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

What he saw there were children suffering from poisoning in an agricultural village where the underground water was contaminated with arsenic.

He helped dig a well, but it wouldn’t immediately improve the lives of the villagers, who were living in poverty.

Takeda was overcome with a feeling of helplessness, feeling too small to make a difference.

While in search of emotional support, Takeda eventually learned about cavalierism.

The Knights of Malta date back about 1,000 years, when they served others in battlefields.

Three years ago, Takeda translated “La Chevalerie,” a book about the origins of cavalierism and its philosophy, into Japanese.

Takeda has also provided personal computers to poor households and served as an online learning instructor.

Such efforts attracted the attention of the Sovereign Order of Malta.

While he was working in Vienna as a United Nations staff member, he was repeatedly invited to dinner by several knights and asked what he would do in Japan if he were a member.

The meetings were, it transpired, a series of interviews.

The title of knight cannot be obtained through a self-recommendation or by applying.

Candidates must be Catholic and have engaged in philanthropic activities. They also need recommendations from those who are already knights.

“Cavalierism is a way of life that focuses on how one should contribute to the society,” Takeda said. 

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