November 21st ~ Bob Stilger’s Notes on Japan #26: Taking the First Steps

It’s been another busy week.

First, we gathered 60 people together for three days of dialog about their leadership at the KEEP at Kiyosato.  They came from all over Japan; two thirds of them in their 20s and 30s.  It was our fourth Youth Community Leader Dialogs since May; they have now involved more than 200 people  — many of whom either live in or have volunteered in the disaster areas.  Each time the mood has been different.  I’d call this last dialog “quiet determination.”  One young man from Fukushima, location of the nuclear disasters came to the May dialog.  Something started to grow in him.  He was a bit afraid of it, but the idea would not leave — he had to start bringing people in Fukushima together to talk and to listen to each other.  He’s ready now.  Small steps.  Important steps.  People finding their way forward.  And that is what in our collective field.  In May’s dialog the grief was overwhelming.  In September, confusion dominated the field.  Now, quiet determination.

I came back from Kiyosato to spend a morning with ETIC — the Entrepreneurial Training for Innovative Communities (English:; 日本語:  They’ve been doing creative work for many years and now they are working with 20 communities in Tohoku to place young social entrepreneurs in those communities for 3-12 months.  AND, they are working with community to build community — not just sending in the young experts to tell people what to do.  The ETIC Fellows join a growing number of “U Turns” — people who grew up in Tohoku and left who are now returning to help and “I Turns” — people who never imagined themselves living in Tohoku who are now dedicating their lives to work with people there to recreate a ravaged region.  As I told Kogi Yamaguchi, the program director, if I was Japanese, I’d be doing exactly what he’s doing.  More quiet determination.  People just stepping in to get the job done.

The last three days have been with the Goi Peace Foundation (日本語:; English:  And it’s been quite a journey!  Goi Peace Foundation gives a Peace Prize for outstanding work to one person each year.  This year’s prize when to Bill Strickland,  social innovator and the President and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation—an extraordinary jobs training center and community arts program, which gives disadvantaged students and adults the opportunities they need to build a better future.  Last Friday I sat in as young social entrepreneurs told Bill about their work, then on Saturday I was part of the panel at the Peace Prize Forum which talked about how we create the future now.  Yesterday, Susan Virnig, Alan Briskin and I joined Bill and leaders of the Goi Peace Foundation on a day long visit to Ishinomaki — one the areas of extensive tsunami damage, which I visited first in April (see earlier notes:  It was Bill and Alan’s first visit to Tohoku, Susan’s second and my third.  We each felt overwhelmed.

Both what’s been done and what remains for doing are staggering.  Last April many thousands of people were in shelters; now all the shelters are closed and people are either in temporary housing or have moved in with others.  The long corridors of debris that are visible in the slide show on the home page of this blog have been consolidated into mountains of rubble.  People are discovering how to get on with their lives.  They are just doing what’s  needed.

We were joined by Yamamoto-san, President of Peace Boat Vounteers.  He’s been in the area since April working with as many as 200 Peace Boat volunteers a week who have come to help.  They just show up.  Willing hands needing to help.  They’ve moved tons of rubble and listened, listened, listened as people have shared their grief.  Yamamoto-san has worked all over the world with Peace Boat relief efforts — he’s never seen destruction as extensive as Ishinomaki.

We spent time in the community of Ogatsu.  They now work under a banner of OH GUTS.  And they have guts.  It was both heartbreaking an inspiring to talk with the Junior High Principle.  His school was totally destroyed.  The building stands, but rubble not students populate the corridors.  When the earthquake came, the evacuated the children outside.  It saved their lives.  Had they thought the third floor of the school, a fair distance inland from the ocean would be safe — most would have died.  But when the waters came, they ran into the surrounding hills.  The waters covered the three story school.  It took the Principal eight days to find every child from the school — most of them spent three days in the surrounding hills in freezing temperatures while the waters receded.  He found them all.  They survived.  Miracles do happen.

Now the principal is working closely with two others — a local fisherman and a “U Turn” from Tokyo.  They can’t wait.  They have to rebuild the community now.  If they don’t start now, chances for creating a viable community will diminish each each day.  Many things happening.  One is their own version of “cloud investment.” The local pearl industry was destroyed and will take a several years to rebuild.  But it takes investment.  Starting in September, people all over Japan were invited to invest 10,000 yen — roughly $125 — and their dividend will be a pearl in a couple of years.  Nearly 2000 people have already stepped forward and the re-seeding of the oyster beds has begun.  The big Taiko drums from the school were destroyed — but guess what, duct tape and old tires make good drums.  The sound may not be the same, but the energy of the playing the field of presence they create is.  Kids are making rhythm again.

As we spent the day driving around Ishinomaki, I don’t know how many times Bill said “we got to do something, man.”  He’s a doer.  He attracts energy and gets things done.  Like the people in Ishinomaki, he doesn’t wait for anyone.  He knows that when you pay attention to people, nurture them and respect them, they can get just about anything done.  The people in Tohoku are a lot like Bill.  They’re not going to sit around and talk something to death.  Yes, they will talk and they will listen.  They will grieve.  And then they’ll take the first step.  They’ll get something done.

That’s the energy stepping forward in Ishinomaki, across Tohoku and throughout Japan.  People are just getting on with building communities that work.

It’s a long journey.  As Hiroo Saionji, President of the Goi Peace Foundation, said in his opening remarks:  its time now to create a world that works for everyone.  It’s time now to meet together in peace.  It’s time now to set aside our behaviors that are destroying the planet and diminishing our lives.

It’s time to find and take the first steps towards a new civilization

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