November 5th ~ Bob Stilger’s Notes on Japan #21:Finding the Starting Line

Two remarkable meetings today in Tokyo that I’d like to share with you.

The first was with my friend Tamio Nakano and his friend Makoto, who developed the Junbun-ko process I described in my last note, and Kathleen Sullivan and Hazuki Yasuhara whose work is with, bringing the stories of survivors of Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb to the world.  Earlier this year Tamio and I and another good friend, Hide Enomoto, had been talking about wanting to bring Joanna Macy to Japan.  It seemed to us that her work with grief and despair could be especially important in Tohoku right now.  All three of us have worked with Joanna before and consider her a dear friend.  When I talked with Joanna I discovered she’s decided to limit her travel to North America.  A new plan started to emerge when she pointed to Kathleen as someone she had full confidence in to bring The Work That Reconnects to Japan at this time.  Things moved quickly when I discovered that Kathleen and I would be here at the same time.  This morning’s meeting emerged.

Makoto, who lives in Fukushima, talked about what a rare and hard time it is.  People want things to be normal, he says, even though they know it is not. It’s hard for people who are normally quiet and reserved to open their emotions even to themselves.  One of the reasons he and Tamio have been doing workings with Junbun-ko is because it feels like one way to help people let their pain out so they can begin to go beyond it.  We talked about how their are many people hosting dialog in Tohoku now.  Not as much as is potentially needed, but many see that conversation and other forms of process work are essential now.  An idea began to emerge.  Not all dialogues need to be able to host grief and despair — but there are a number of facilitators who could use more skill, tools and experience in working with grief.  So we’ve begun talking about how we might work with and through our various networks to organize a training workshop next spring for dialog hosts and facilitators on ways of working with grief and despair.  This feels like a really important step.

The second was a half-day gathering of people who have been to one or more of the Youth Community Leader Dialogs we’ve been doing at the KEEP at Kiyosato since May.  Three have been held, with about 150 participants and fourth is scheduled in a little more than a week.  The purpose of these dialogs has been to create a space to connect youth and their allies from across Japan who want to understand how their lives have been changed since 3.11 and how they now want to live their lives.  The dialogs have become a combination of personal exploration to discover calling and a time to collectively consider what’s needed now, not only in Tohoku but across Japan.

A little more than 30 came to this afternoon’s gathering to be with each other and to talk about what they’ve been up to and where they’re going since their time at Kiyosato. There was high energy in the room as some people reunited and as others met for the first time.  One of my frustrations in work here is that my limited Japanese means I only know a little of the content of what’s going on.  I can sense the energy and get the high points — but sometimes I’m clueless in terms of what’s happening.  I can tell you about two things that give a “sense of the room:”

I’m trying to organize a story collecting project which would surface the stories of new ways in which people in communities are working with what they have to improve their collective lives.  I hope that collecting the stories, itself, will be a deep witnessing process and that the stories will be inspirational both in Japan and in other parts of the world.  We plan to offer an English version of the stories on the website.  A woman whose worked with me as a translator got excited about this.  She started expanding the idea.  Coming up, for example, with the idea that we could put together a team of people where people who speak Japanese and some English could work with people who speak English and some Japanese to do the translations.  I immediately saw an outlet of work for the English speakers here who have been asking me how they could help.  It made me realize, once again, how what’s important is we find simple beginning points — like story collecting — and they will be magnets for energy of others.

Towards the end of the afternoon, we tried something new.  Naho Iguchi, who’s been one of the organizers of the Youth Dialogs is also one of the founding members of TEDxTokyo.  She described a bit of the TEDx process and the power of learning how to express important messages in short time frames.  She asked for volunteers to create a 3 minute presentation in the next 20 minutes.  When 7 people volunteered, she asked people to self-organize in support teams around them and then offered some simple guidelines for creating a powerful presentation quickly.  I think all 7 were both nervous and very brave.  But they had things they wanted to say and they saw the benefit of getting coaching from those present.  There was a fair amount of trust in the room, and people moved ahead.  Seven wonderful 3 minute presentations emerged.  I didn’t understand what they said (no one was translating for me today), but I could feel the power as could the group.

So we’re finding starting points.  Finding the way forward.  Step by step.

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