Ordinary People

Pausing as I write the phrase, ordinary people….

What’s really true is that I am just blown away.  I’ve spent the last three days meeting people who are doing the work needed to stabilize and then re-create the Tohoku region of Japan that was ravaged by the triple disasters of March 11, 2011.

There are special names for these folks in Japan.  Some are called “U Turn:”  people raised in Tohoku who had moved away and have now returned.  Some are called “I Turn:” people who never had a connection with the region, but who have moved their lives to Tohoku.  Some are called volunteers:  people who have spent days, weeks and months living in the various volunteer centers doing whatever is needed.  And, of course, others are the people who have lived in Tohoku all their lives.  They arec sometimes are called victims or sufferers, but those terms turn them into applicants.  They are just people rebuilding their lives and their communities.

A year ago Suji Suzuki had no idea he would be living in Sendai.  He was happy in Tokyo, finding ways to use Appreciate Inquiry to change health systems in Spokane.  He did an I Turn and has now set up the Sanaburi Foundation to act as an intermediary foundation to create a bridge between people with resources outside Tohoku and those who need support within (see http://www.resilientjapan.org/content/id/c6c47e).  He came to the region back in April and just showed up for what needs to be done.  Gradually, as he worked alongside many other volunteers, he began to see this need for an intermediary function and he had some previous background doing foundation work so he stepped forward.  Each day he continues to find his way.  Brokering new partnerships and forming new relationships with others who are working to create a new Tohoku.

Watanabe-san worked for a firm in Tokyo that made log homes.  He did a U Turn to Tohoku after the disasters hit.  Now he is the volunteer coordinator for Minami-Sanriku-cho area where 7 communities with 2500 people were completely destroyed (see http://www.resilientjapan.org/content/id/41e63a).  He was born in Sendai and thinks that he will be in the region for a long time.  There was nothing in particular in his background which prepared him for the work he is doing now.  He just showed up and started to offer his talents. stepping forward to do what he could for people who needed his help.

I don’t have a picture of Chiba-san.  I was too blown away by his story to take one.  An older man with white hair.  So humble.  So unassuming.  He was born in the small village of Oosawa where all 188 homes were washed out to see.  He spent most of his life away, as a ship’s engineer and returned for retirement three years ago.  He’s been the servant leader of one temporary housing site where he’s managed to gather many member of the village together.  They’re organizing themselves to do all sorts of things because they already had relationship.  Although he waved his hands to reflect any praise, I have no doubt that most of what’s happened in the new Oosawa would have happened without him.

Or then there is Kawasaki-san from Shikoku. He showed up in Kesennuma in May to help.  He thinks he will be there for a long time, helping businesses and communities rebuild. In Rikuzentakada, I met with two met who had been friends for 35 years.  One is a former local politician and the other is the President of a large Driving School.  They are among the people who lived through the days of the disaster and who are now working together to build a new community which combines the strengths of traditional culture with new technologies.  (see http://www.resilientjapan.org/content/id/3114ad).

These and others I met are just a few of the ordinary heroes who are stepping forward because the times call them.  They each have a large portion of common sense, a lot of humility, a willingness to do whatever needs to be done and the courage to step into the unknown time and time again.

I feel honored to have met them and will look for ways to support their work.

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Resilient Japan

Hello friends,

Right now my work has taken me to Japan — in a big way.  We’ve launched a new website:  www.resilientjapan.org as host for this work and the commentary I am writing from there.  I will be bringing some of this over into Resilient Communities, because it is the same work.  But right now most of my writing is on this small new website.  Please come see what’s happening beneath the visible surface in Japan.

I’m working closely with Art of Hosting – Japan and KDI’s Future Centers — both described in earlier blogs from my work in Japan last year.

Blessings,  Bob

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Stepping Into New Possibilities in Japan

In a week I’ll be headed back to my beloved Japan.  What will I find there?  Community.  Friends and family.  Colleagues. Grief.  Destruction. Possibility. Fear. Hope.  All those and more.  My heart quivers some.  I am almost overwhelmed by all the images and stories that have flooded in over the last two weeks since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.  And, I am going to be with my community, with my kindred.  I’m carrying with me learning from the web of The Berkana Institute as I explore questions of what is possible now that was not possible before with my many friends and colleagues.

Over the last two weeks much of my time has been focused on Japan.  Connecting and supporting people, being in many conversations via twitter, facebook, skype, e-mail and even telephone.  Some ideas have been coming into focus that I want to share.  These are written as I see them.  They are based on many conversations and they are still my formulation of what might be helpful.  They are part of my starting point as I go home to Japan.

I see four main domains of work:

Grief and Possibility in the Tohoku Region.  Much has been lost:  25,000 people dead or missing; 500,000 people without homes; businesses, schools  and infrastructure destroyed.

  • This grief must be hosted.  Spaces need to be created which support people in speaking of their grief and loss and disappointment.  A safe space of talking and of listening is needed now.
  • And Tohoku can be re-created, stronger and more resilient than it ever was before.  What is essential is that people in Tohoku are in charge of this re-creation – not government, not NGOs, not well intended forces from outside.  People in Tohoku must come together in new ways to direct this recreation.

A new effort called  Japan Dialog -  is beginning to address these needs and possibilities.

A Wide Field of Possibilities. People around Japan and around the world want to support the people in Tohoku.  Think of this as an eco-system with many parts.  Some have ideas and resources for different community engagement processes.  Others know how to work with the strengths and assets still present in the communities.  Some know of more energy efficient and durable building techniques.  Others know of better ways to grow food sustainably.  These ideas can either be another tsunami that washes over the area, or they can be a rich ecology of possibilities which can support in the rebuilding.  Work is needed which can call this eco-system together.

The work of  Instituto Elos and the Oasis Game from Brazil may provide important tools for working in this area as well as the ABCD approach (Asset Based Community Development).  I’ve assembled some resources for this approach on my Resources Page

A Bridge to the Future. A third domain of work is the work of connecting Tohoku with this wide field of possibilities.  Spaces and places are needed which support this connection between the people in Tohoku and these many possibilities.  This bridge must be wide, solid and flexible, supporting robust dialogue and design which supports people in creating new future possibilities.  The work that the Knowledge Dynamics Initiative at Fuji/Xerox has done to bring Future Centers into Japan will be a foundation for this bridge.

Possibilities

Bridge To Future

Tohoku Tomorrow

New Relationship To Energy. The earthquake came.  The tsunami came.  What stayed was the radiation.  Perhaps there is an opportunity for a new dialogue in Japan about how much energy is needed to live happy lives.  Japan might choose to learn how to live with less.  If that choice were made in Japan, it would be put into action immediately.  Japan might provide critical leadership for the rest of the world on this important issue.  This is a deep dialogue that needs to be hosted well in the coming months.  There are no easy answers – just very important questions.

Who might help?

In many ways Japan is a large country and a very small community.  Over the last year I have had the opportunity to work with many people and organizations who might be, I believe, the key players to work in these four domains.  I know there are many others as well.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing stories from our work together.

And many, many more.  Japan is ripe for change.  Please visit some of my blogs here from November and December, 2010 to get a sense of the possibilities

And please come visit here from time to time.  I arrive in Japan on April 5th and will be there until the first of June.  I’ll be sharing stories and learning here from time to time.  Please also visit http://bit.ly/dMALkr for a story about Resilience in Japan from the latest Fieldnotes from ALIA — Authentic Leadership in Action.

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Social Ventures – Shikoku

Takeda

My body did protest a bit at the 5:30am alarm after five hours of sleep.  But there was a Shinkansen “bullet train” to catch at 6:30 in Tokyo in order to arrive on the island of Shikoku a little after noon.  Shikoku is one of found main islands of Japan, in the Inland Sea, just […]

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Helping People Design Their Own Communities

Yamazaki

Yamizaka-san and I were invited to do a workshop in Osaka.  Yamizaka-san was a landscape architect 10 years ago.  Now he’s something else?  But what does he call it?  A community developer?  A community designer?  Both of those have the sense of someone working from the outside.  He works from the inside and is no […]

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Unleashing Leadership and Inspiring Innovation and Creativity in Japan

atwork

Once again I am awake in the middle of the Japanese night.  Head and heart buzzing from yesterday’s work.  I was invited to join KDI — Knowledge Management Initiative in Tokyo for a afternoon workshop with participants in their new Future Center.  KDI was started 10 years ago to work with knowledge creation and realationships […]

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Open Spaces Project in Southern Africa

I’ve had the chance to come to Southern Africa a couple of times a year for the last decade to work with wonderful people.  My work has been as part of The Berkana Institute and our efforts to create the Berkana Exchange as a translocal network of people and places building healthy and resilient communities.  […]

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