Message from the faculty (Course of International Tourism Management Assoc. Prof. Ayako Toko)

Global Environmental Problems Exert Influence on Everything


(Updated in May 2016)

Q. What qualities define a good researcher? What does research mean to you?

Curiosity and perseverance are indispensable for research work.

What is important, I think, is taking an interest in things happening around the world, always with broad perspective and curiosity. Then, find the one thing that draws your attention and explore it. That is where research starts. At this stage, perseverance is indispensable to keep going single-mindedly. In my area—environmental studies—solving ongoing problems is very much required. So for me, doing research means contributing to society to the best of my ability.

Q. What made you choose an academic career path and become a faculty member?

Many types of global environmental issues became evident when I was in high school and university. I felt concerned that there would be no future for our planet if nothing was done.

Initially, my interest was in the solutions to global problems, and for this, I aspired to find a career in international relations. Then, I looked thoroughly into global challenges and found that “environmental problems” was the research area that I wanted to pursue. In further exploring existing problems, I came to understand that the destruction of ecosystems that comprise the Earth was the fundamental problem, and thought that I would commit myself throughout my life particularly to the conservation of the natural environment in the area of environmental problems. That was the start of my life as a researcher if I trace back my career trajectory. But I can also say, the root of my career lies in my love for nature and creatures since childhood, and this matters a lot.

Q. What are your specialized fields of research? Please describe major topics you have pursued.

My research theme is the symbiosis of human and nature. I have been studying the conservation of natural environments and ecosystems, and for this to be realized, I have been doing research on the diversity of systems and institutions as well.

Suitable approaches to nature conservation vary depending on the situation pertaining to each region where problems occur. And also, it is essential to involve local communities located closest to the environment in question in your project. For these reasons, I have been interested in and carrying out research for a long time on community-involved nature conservation policymaking. My current focus is on ecotourism, sustainable tourism, and other forms of tourism that have the potential to help community development while giving due consideration to the natural environment.

Q. Tell us about the negatives and positives you have had as a researcher. 

For me, 80 percent of research work is tough. But that makes the remaining 20 % all the more exciting.

I have had too many tough experiences to list here. My research can not be done without fieldwork, but the deeper I go into nature, the more physical stress (including the risk of infection) I receive. I often face the inconveniences of life in developing countries. The toughest time is when I go to a place where water is scarce. When I stay in such a place, it is almost impossible to take a shower, let alone a bath, and I know I look awful, so honestly, I do not want to see people I know from Japan (laughs). On the other hand, I am impressed and moved to see the beautiful scenery and creatures with my own eyes, and feel thrilled to meet diverse people in different countries. When I am not on fieldwork, it is very hard to sit at a computer and keep on writing for hours or days, but once I finish doing that, the sense of achievement I get takes away all the tough work.

Q. What do you think are the key benefits of studying at a graduate school?

Graduate students and faculty members are colleagues that work together.

Learning at graduate school is completely different from the relatively passive way of gaining knowledge—the way you learned in university and before that. It is true that you will gain a great deal of knowledge from teaching staff and senior researchers, but if you want to make a difference, you will have to actively seek knowledge and make use of what you find. Actively expose yourself to literature, fieldwork and a wide variety of opportunities and apply what you have gained from them to your research. Faculty members are more like your senior colleagues than persons who teach you. I think graduate school is where researchers can share knowledge and ideas, and stimulate and inspire each other.

Q. Would you give some messages to potential applicants of graduate courses?

Have the power to think for yourself and act for yourself.

As I mentioned earlier, at graduate school, you are expected to seek knowledge actively and use this knowledge to create a research plan and carry it out, rather than just doing given assignments. For this, you always have to explore things deeply for yourself. The power to think and act for oneself gives great strength to researchers, and indeed to all workers in society, and will be of great help whether you become a researcher or work for a company in the future.


Name: Ayako Toko

Education and employment background:

Currently, Associate Professor of the Course of International Tourism Management, Graduate School of International Tourism Management, Toyo University

Ayako Toko graduated from the Faculty of Foreign Studies, Sophia University in 1992. After years of work experience, in 2003 she enrolled in the Department of Natural Environmental Studies, Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, the University of Tokyo, where she completed her PhD in Environmental Studies. She worked for WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) Japan following research activities related to the conservation and sustainable use of the natural environment, and has been in her current position since 2014.

Research field: Natural Environmental Problems, Symbiotic Systems

Publications: Ayako TOKO (2016): Community-Based Eco Tourism as a Tool for Conservation — a Case from Cambodia: Journal of Environmental Information Science 44 (5), pp. 149–156

Ayako TOKO (2015): Participatory Approach: Study on Adaptation of Sustainable Tourism: The Journal of Contemporary Social Sciences, Issue 12, pp 51–60

Ayako TOKO (2008): Development of a Conceptual Framework for Measuring Social Capital: Journal of Environmental Information Science 36 (5), pp 87–94