This article aims to investigate the ways in which the ontological question, “Who am I?”, has been answered by civilizations in history in different regions, mainly focusing on examples from Japan, India and Europe. This article suggests that the “second axial breakthrough” took place between the thirteenth and the sixteenth centuries, when the question of how to link one’s existence in this world to the transcendental was answered in different ways in different regions of the world. Subsequently, however, the ontological problem remained the public concern only in some areas such as India. In Western Europe and Japan, it was by removing the ontological question from the public and by concentrating social resources to this-worldly instrumental activities that these areas succeeded in achieving a major increase in productivity. In the contemporary world, our task seems to be to find out how to recreate the space to seek ontological meaning to our life in civil society. Comparative ontology is suggested as a means to understand and consider various possibilities of human existence historically and globally in order to provide ideas for the future redesigning of our world.
The joint reseach project between JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) and the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Tanzania focused on an integrated agro-ecological study of the indigenous agriculture of the Matengo people in southwestern Tanzania, especially their Matengo pit (ngolo) system, a cross-ridge system with numerous pits on steep mountainous slopes. The study revealed the multiple functions of the ngolo system: erosion control, maintenance of soil fertility, weed control, provision of underground drainage system and so forth. The agro-ecological significance of the ngolo system could best be understood as the result of mutual interactions among ecology, society and culture in the Matengo history. Through this joint study, Tanzanian and Japanese researchers acutely recognized the need for rural development based on the indigenous farming technology, knowlege, and wisdom. Thus efforts were mounted for the establishment in 1999 of the Centre for Sustainable Rural Development in SUA as a JICA project. This article discusses the role of international cooperative activities in African Area Studies through examining my experiences in the above projects.