On the train headed back to Tokyo after almost a week in the Kansai Region. Different teutonic plates, different electrical grid. The physical disasters seem far away here. The emotional turmoil is very strong.
I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Nagoya, a city I don’t know very well. When I returned home to Kyoto, I said to my Japanese father that it felt a bit like a frontier town and he nodded in immediate agreement. It doesn’t have the long history of Kyoto or even the shorter 500 year history of Tokyo. There’s just a different air in Nagoya.
On Friday, a two hour event turned into almost four hours. About 15 people gathered under a broad invitation to “spend the afternoon with Bob.” One of the participant was a fellow I met several times last year, a business leader with a large manufacturing company. When we first greeted each other and I asked how he was, his response was casual: oh, you know, just working along. That changed as the afternoon progressed. Later his response was more powerful: I don’t watch the news anymore, I can’t. I pretend everything is normal with my family and then I go to my office and pretend even more. Tapping on his heart he says: it is all different in here and I am sad and confused.
We used a simple format for the afternoon. Sitting in circle, we did a brief check-in. Then I told a little story of my life and of my relationship in Japan. Then we asked people to write the questions they wanted to talk about on small, textured cards which we gathered in the middle of the circle. Well, actually, the request was for questions they wanted me to answer, but what I wanted was to hear from them. So the cards came, 14 in all. Over the next couple of hours, three questions were picked at different times with different people picking. They picked as if from a deck of cards, not know which question would appear. The three were:
- I haven’t been able to link/connect the earthquake and my ordinary life. How do you link them, Bob?
- After the quake, I hear voices praising Japan. Before 3.11, Japan was said to be a country which is hard to live in. I am dubious about the gap and concerned.
- The feeling right after 3. 11 and the feeling now one month afterward
In each case I spoke a little of my experience, and then asked people to form groups of three with people they hadn’t yet spoken with. Intense, deep, long conversations followed. As has been the case before, this was the first time people had a chance to come together to talk about their experiences and feelings since the earth shook, the waves came and the radiation began. Five hundred miles from the physical disaster itself, the feelings were strong.
Now, I don’t want to get to far out there, but there’s something else I must point out. We only had time for 3 cards out of the 14. Later we looked at the others — none of them had anything to do with 3.11. Only the three picked dealt with 3.11. And that was also the division of the cards — 3 about the disasters, 11 about other things; 3/11. Makes me wonder if the universe was saying something…
Saturday I was the final keynote speaker at a day long conference on multiculturalism at the Nagoya International School. A group of about 60, mostly foreigners, gathered. The deeper theme of the gathering was that almost all were part of a Japanese-Foreign couple and had children who here are called “Hafu” or half — although some parents prefer to call them them “doubles.” Stories of discrimination and abuse about the challenges of growing up in Japan with this heritage. In my closing comments I talked about the larger view which was available to their children and about the younger leaders all around the world who had learned to see more because of their multi-cultural experiences. We talked some about Berkana’s two loops and how their children — as well as they — were living into a period of immense change.
One interesting side conversation was with a foreigner who is a teacher in Sendai at Tohoku University. She was in her office when the earthquake came. She and an assistance hid in their their floor office under a table as her hundreds of books fell to the floor, along with everything else in the room. The quakes went on forever she said. Finally, they carefully made their way outside, where snow was falling. Dazed, confused and alive. Later she was able to make her way back to her apartment, which was a wreck. She and others form the apartment gathered at a nearby shelter for the next three nights, packed closely together, not having known each other all that well before sleeping in each other’s breath. Finally they all went back to their apartment building and began cleaning. One man on the first floor invited: bring what food and supplies you have here; I have a gas stove. And so they gathered and and two hot meals a day, sharing what they had, as they began to make their spaces livable again.
Sunday was another day long event. This one had a theme of “Leadership with Bob” and was a day of using drawing to sense into how and where each of us were, as well as to enter into conversations of importance. Perhaps because I was a little bit tired, I found myself growing a bit impatient with one leader of a key nonprofit organization in Nagoya. On the one hand, she talked about how the government was already making plans — and not good ones — for responding to the disasters and we had to stop them, but carefully. I ended up suggesting that this was not the time for protest, it was the time to work together to build communities in new ways. I also invited people to think about how the coming years were going to be really, really messy if anything was likely to change. I also mentioned that perhaps it was time for some to stop being so well behaved. It was a thoughtful conversation and I chuckled when, later that night, I received the daily meditation from my friends Joel and Michele Levy quoting my friend Meg Wheatley:
More to write, but this is enough for now.