Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

More from Japan

Friday, June 10th, 2011

Some weeks ago I posted some letters here from Bob Stilger, being in Japan. In the meantime he has opened a website where you can follow his adventures and musings on what is going on and what should/will happen there.

Here are some of his pictures:

Hosting the grief in Japan, and beyond…

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

A next message by Bob Stilger.
April 14, 2011

Dear Friends,

Yesterday morning the earth shook in Tokyo twice as I sat here at my hotel desk. They are what are now considered mild quakes — just a little more than 5 Magnitude — and both around 100 miles away. This is part of the new normal here. The earth just shakes from time to time. People notice immediately (sometimes aided by little iPhone Apps that set of an alarm). I notice I wait, a little surprised, but not really, and wonder how long will this last and should I be doing something other than sitting here, watching the shaking.


A little later, I went downstairs and outside into a lovely, sunny Tokyo morning. Spring has popped completely into being here. The cherry blossoms have moved past prime, but on my street, gorgeous purple tulips now mark the path. Such an interesting contrast — earth shakes and purple tulips bloom. Life finds a way to be normal.

Lot’s of thinking activity going on on about how to grow a network of 500 or so FutureCenters as spaces of innovation and change. I’ll write about that a bit later. Right now I want to share some of what happened at a gathering last night. Forty or so people came.


Most were folks I had an opportunity to meet and work with last year — teachers, students, personal coaches, web designers, business people, government workers, facilitators. A somewhat unusual collection of wonderful folks who have become community to each other through Art of Hosting. In a check-in circle, we reminded each other of when we each had become part of this community and then talked about how life has been since 3/11. A number of those present have spent time volunteering in the Tohoku region in the last month. Some have family there.

As I listened, one of the themes which came up time and time again was that people are searching for the right way to stand with and behind people who live in the Tohoku. Sano-sensei, who has left a post teaching social innovation to graduate students at Rikkyo University is starting an NPO for this purpose. There’s just a boat load of people wanting to volunteer, people starting NPOs, corporations wanting to help. Earlier in the day I heard about a major data services company which is seeing its mission shift from “exchange of data to exchange of personal will.” They’re planning on sending people in to Tohoku to listen deeply to discover how people what to be connected and exchange their personal wills.

But back to last night’s meeting. Part of the sense I picked up is that for everyone, trying to think of all the Tohoku is just paralyzing. They need to find one place where they can form more intimate human connections. In that place, they need to listen and listen and listen. They need to find the local people who are starting to step forward with some leadership and work with them. They need to not rush in and try to fix things.

One of the things I’ve shared on a number of occasions is something Meg Wheatley wrote earlier this week. Normally in situations like this people go in and ask “what do you need?” Its a totally overwhelming question. The question to be asking is “what do you have?” Starting from this place of what we have will often eventually lead to needs. But needs which arise out of what we have are totally different than the staggering weight of asking someone whose old life is gone what they need.

The sensitivity to wanting to come into right relationship with people from communities in the Tohoku is strong. One of the things we keep talking about, probably since I am present, is how to create and connect self-organizing systems in the Tohoku. There’s a knowing that first there needs to be a continual hosting of the grief everyone feels. People outside the Tohoku feel guilty for having grief when they have not personally experienced the devastation of Tohoku’s people. The grief is just everywhere. People speak of how often, and how easily tears come to the corners of their eyes. This grief will be present for a long time all begins by hosting it.

Some of the folks who had been present at Kiyosato last weekend spoke of how it was important for us to have spent the first day just being in our confusion together before we started to move on to develop some ideas that might be of help. Grief, confusion, listening. They’re all needed before action comes.

Another thing that happened during the evening is we talked about how different the disasters of 3/11 feel than the Kobe earthquake 16 years ago. Certainly there are the physical differences — much wider area, many more people, the triology of quakes/tsunami/nuclear, the continuing medium magnitude quakes, the unraveling nuclear disaster. All those differences play a role, AND it feels like there is something deeper present as well. A couple of days ago one person I was speaking with talked about how in this collectivist culture, grief and emotion travel subtly and rapidly through the cultural membrane. So there’s this feeling present and it is present all over Japan. Another colleague talked about how she has found ways to switch the feeling off — to be able to act as if normal is here. It gets easier to distance oneself from this emotional field when further away than Tokyo. But it is still there.

So, the insight that dropped into the room is that 16 years ago, most people thought they were still in a world where things were just going to get better and better. Sure, a few adjustments might be needed, but generally speaking, life was good. You might say that there was still a desirable normal to which one could return. What was clear from the work I was doing here last year is that there were already massive shifts taking place. The change in political leadership here, after a 50+ year dominance by the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) was one surface manifestation of this desire for change — but it was clear it ran much deeper and that many people were in questions about what kind of life they wanted — because they didn’t like the one they had.

This series of disasters has dropped in on top of a wide-spread sense that deep change is needed. So it ends up being experienced in multiple ways — as a horrific disaster, as a release from a future people didn’t want anymore, as a huge set of uncertainties about how to move forward. It bears little resemblance to the world of 16 years ago.



Other news from Japan

Friday, April 15th, 2011
Bob Stilger (picture taken by Tenneson Woolf)

What follows are two messages I received from Bob Stilger, who is related with Berkana Institute and with the Art of Hosting community. He has a life long relationship with Japan, knows a lot of people there and has been introducing Art of Hosting practice there since last year. Of course he was and is very much touched by what is going on there, and has recently shared some stories in an attempt to get some clarity for himself, and also to let others know what is going on there. He actually loves it that we spread this news, as he hasn’t much time to blog himself. Here he is:

April 12, 2011:
I’ve been in Japan for a week. I’ve worked with about five different groups and been a witness to what’s unfolding here. I’ve been writing e-mails, at different times, almost as a journal of my experience here. In being here, I am working on behalf of The Berkana Institute, New Stories and the ALIA Institute. Soon we will launch a small website to host these e-mails and invite response. I’ll appreciate your reflections and responses to what I write – you help me find my own center here, day-by-day. Your thoughts will help us all in our learning.

Mount Fuji

Mt. Fuji revealed itself today, for the first time since I’ve been in Kiyosato, a small town in the mountains a couple of hours south and west of Tokyo. This silent sentinel is always on the rim, hosting Japan. Often hidden by many layers of clouds, it is always there. Sometimes just a glimmer… I love it when Fuji-san shows itself. It helps me to quiet my spirit and simply be present. Again and again, that is what many of you have said in these days: Stay present. Be where you are. Notice what calls your attention. Act with respect, compassion and dignity. Stay clear while staying unattached. Be prepared to be surprised. Stay connected.

Yesterday we met for a day to sense why might want to happen. Let me give a little background. The KEEP at Kiyosato was started in the 1930s by an American named Paul Rusch who brought modern farming practices to Japan. He helped people here transform their mountainside into a demonstration center for new ways to raise cattle. Along the way he helped to build a hospital here, another in Tokyo and founded a University in Tokyo. Quite a guy, to say the least. His spirit is deeply present here, although he died in his early eighties more than 30 years ago. There never was a grand plan for the KEEP, it simply evolved over time, working with the people and possibilities present in this one small area in Japan.

Among other things, it is a lovely space now where groups come to meet and people arrive for quiet retreats. Last year we held two major training events for Art of Hosting here. While the Tohoku region where the disasters struck on 3/11 is some 250 miles to the north, the disasters struck here as well. First, and most powerful, it shows up in the subtle field. The deep connections which hold people together in Japan also mean that the grief in one part is felt throughout. So there is a deep collective grieving here. People say time and time again is that the future for all of Japan is different now. Some things may stay the same, but everything needs to be re-imagined. The new Japan that emerges will be grounded in traditional values and beliefs, they say, and the future is different now. Secondly, on a more material level, everyone is affected as well. Occupancy at the KEEP is down to 30%. Most young people have lost their part-time jobs. Rolling power black-outs have hit all of Japan, including here. Quakes have happened here in the last month as well. People know their lives have changed. They’re not sure how.

The week after 3/11, Yamamoto-san, a wonderful deeply present man who has been here for many years, got in the KEEP’s bus and drove to Fukushima, the area where the power plants are. He had to do something. Somehow he found his way to one shelter among many. A sports complex, it has some of the best conditions around. 2000 people — mostly in their 60s and 70s — now live there. Only a small portion of the total number displaced by the disasters. Only a small portion and totally overwhelming as well. He brought 43 people back to the KEEP to stay in better conditions for a while. A small drop in the bucket, but it was what he could do. 43 people who could sleep in real beds, have real baths, eat real food. 43 people who could be warm even while they still shivered with their grief. Yamamoto-san took this small step, not knowing what was next — but trusting this beginning.

So yesterday we met: What is next? What can this small place do that might make a difference? A difference in the lives of people who live near here, those from Fukushima, those from other parts of Japan. A difference in the lives of those who work here are have seen the future they know disappear. It is easy to get overwhelmed. I know I did when I first heard Yamamoto-san’s story. 2000 people living with almost no privacy in a sports complex; for four weeks each day the government has brought them rice balls to eat. Four weeks in which life as they know it is gone — and nothing in sight. What can make a difference?

Kato-san had just returned from Sendai, a region he has been many times before. When he got off the train, he knew the difference. Not just the broken buildings — but what was in the air. It just felt different. Subdued, almost glazed over. He saw some young people and talked with them. Wandering aimlessly in the rubble they wanted to know — what can we do? He had no answers of course. Almost overwhelmed by his own sense of grief and loss, he could only stand with theirs. Devastation, devastation, overwhleming devastation made even more real by the many pockets where life looks like normal. Stores destroyed. Stores shuttered. Stores opened. Side-by-side.

We spent the morning just dwelling in our confusion. Sharing impressions. Letting the grief flow. Bewildered. 2000 people. What could the KEEP do. And what about the people here, and elsewhere in Japan, with their own grief. We went on a trip to visit to the Paul Rusch Museum here to see what inspiration it might provide. Paul’s story is quite inspiring. By the end of his life, his motto of “do your best, and make it first class” was well know here. It reminds me of the principle “get a clear sense of direction and then find the minimum elegant next step,” something Berkana has learned from the World Cafe Community.

What’s the direction? Where are the starting points? What resources does the KEEP have and how can they be used? What can be done to invite people into their wholeness? What might make a difference. Many of us started drawing concentric circles KEEP in the middle, then Kiyosato, then Fukushima, then all of Japan, then all of the World. It’s all connected. AND, one of the things Paul Rusch did was he connected people.

By the end of the day, there was still no clarity. What’s the stone to drop in the middle of the concentric circles so they become ripples, leading outward to a newness? A sense was present that some of what the KEEP might do is around youth and youth leading. A sense that this facility has a new purpose. A wondering if it might be one of the Future Centers — places of innovation to discover the future — needed now in Japan.

This morning an idea began to crystalize. Yamamoto-san leaves tomorrow for Fukushima for three days. He goes to discover what they have — not what they need. He goes to look for several youth who have dealt with their grief enough to be ready to stand with each other to discover a next step. Contours of a possibility began to be visible. We will host an 3 day event at the KEEP in the middle of May. It will be for around 100 people. Most of them will be youth. The majority will come from Fukushima and they will come from three sources — youth living inside the sports complex shelter who are starting to come back to life, youth serving in the shelter, and youth from the “normal area” around the shelter. They’ll be joined by 25 or so youth from the Kiyosato area and 25 or so from Tokyo. Purposes envisioned for this gathering include:

1. Be in our grief together. Be in all the different griefs surfaced by these disasters.
2. Enjoy and breathe in this beauty.
3. Connecting youth of different ages with each other as well as with other generations.
4. Begin to see the resources we have and how to use them. What strengths, what assets, what dreams, what skills, what muscles?
5. Learn some about how to host dialogues that matter, which surface grief and joy and possibilities and actions
6. Begin to support each other in making the changes we need ourselves, while visible to and connected with each other.
7. Sensing into what else is possible in each of our lives and in each of our regions.

Of course, this will emerge and shift and change. It may be something entirely different when Yamamoto-san returns. But I think the core will remain: releasing grief while continuing to stand with it. Connecting with each other. Regaining some measure of authority over our own lives. Discovering the minimum elegant steps which will allow self-organizing to emerge everywhere, and especially in the Tohoku Region, in Fukushima, at this one shelter for 2000 people whose lives have shifted so dramatically.

Honored to be here in these conversations. Providing a listening presence and occasionally being able to speak in stories and ideas from Berkana’s work around the world.



Bob Stilger
A next email in the following blogpost.