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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One week in Japan

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 (http://www.ackeep.org/) 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 overtime, 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 KEEPs 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.



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