May 30 ~ Bob Stilger’s Notes from Japan #17: Jimotogaku

Dear Friends,

I just have a few more days in Japan this trip.  I’ll be back several more times this year.  Most attention is still focused on emergency and initial stages of recovery here.  Soon, attention will turn to how might the Tohoku — as well as all of Japan — be created anew.  And it is this work of re-creation that I and my many colleagues here are waiting to begin.  One of the things that many here feel strongly about is that the re-creation of Tohoku must be directed by the people of Tohoku and that it will benefit from ideas, resources and volunteers from outside the area.  A theme also raised by many here is that the way to build for the future is to engage people with the question “what do you have,” rather than the question”what do you need?”

I was delighted last week when my friend Riichiro Oda introduced me to the term Jimotogaku, which translates basically as “rediscover one’s own community.”  I’m just starting to learn about  Jimotogaku  and I am already delighted.  It seems to be the naturally occurring form of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) from the US as well as the Oasis Game from Brazil.  In the US, where we often default to more analytical and conceptual frameworks, ABCD has become a powerful process over the last twenty or so years to help communities work with what they have.  The Oasis Game from Brazil, where pleasure must be part of all true work, the Oasis Game works with the same values as ABCD, but in a more dynamic and playful sort of way.  For those of you not familiar with these approaches, I’ve compiled some resources here:

Jimotogaku  comes with the same values.  Communities are filled with leaders and filled with resources.  We just have to invite them forward.

Nearly fifty years ago the Japanese town of Minamata gained unwanted notoriety because of mercury poisoning.  The community has developed into a model community using Jimotogaku.

More recently, the same principles have been applied in Niigata as the best was to recover from the 2004 earthquake.  See: and

You can also learn a bit more about Jimotogaku here:

One of Japan’s leading young architects, Ryo Yamazaki is working with others across Japan to see that this sort of strength based approach is used in Japan now.  They’ve developed an exciting project described here:  It is another example of the kind of work Berkana and New Stories are supporting here.

I think these ways of working with community — building from the inside out — are what comes naturally.  It is the way we have always built communities.  There’s been a bit of detour, especially over the last 60 or so years, when we thought that people from outside community — experts, policy makers, government officials, consultants — could do a better job.  All around the world we’ve learned that these people have valuable contributions to make — but they have to be invited in by a community which has already recognized its own strengths and assets.



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