Stepping Into New Possibilities in Japan

In a week I’ll be headed back to my beloved Japan.  What will I find there?  Community.  Friends and family.  Colleagues. Grief.  Destruction. Possibility. Fear. Hope.  All those and more.  My heart quivers some.  I am almost overwhelmed by all the images and stories that have flooded in over the last two weeks since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.  And, I am going to be with my community, with my kindred.  I’m carrying with me learning from the web of The Berkana Institute as I explore questions of what is possible now that was not possible before with my many friends and colleagues.

Over the last two weeks much of my time has been focused on Japan.  Connecting and supporting people, being in many conversations via twitter, facebook, skype, e-mail and even telephone.  Some ideas have been coming into focus that I want to share.  These are written as I see them.  They are based on many conversations and they are still my formulation of what might be helpful.  They are part of my starting point as I go home to Japan.

I see four main domains of work:

Grief and Possibility in the Tohoku Region.  Much has been lost:  25,000 people dead or missing; 500,000 people without homes; businesses, schools  and infrastructure destroyed.

  • This grief must be hosted.  Spaces need to be created which support people in speaking of their grief and loss and disappointment.  A safe space of talking and of listening is needed now.
  • And Tohoku can be re-created, stronger and more resilient than it ever was before.  What is essential is that people in Tohoku are in charge of this re-creation – not government, not NGOs, not well intended forces from outside.  People in Tohoku must come together in new ways to direct this recreation.

A new effort called  Japan Dialog –  is beginning to address these needs and possibilities.

A Wide Field of Possibilities. People around Japan and around the world want to support the people in Tohoku.  Think of this as an eco-system with many parts.  Some have ideas and resources for different community engagement processes.  Others know how to work with the strengths and assets still present in the communities.  Some know of more energy efficient and durable building techniques.  Others know of better ways to grow food sustainably.  These ideas can either be another tsunami that washes over the area, or they can be a rich ecology of possibilities which can support in the rebuilding.  Work is needed which can call this eco-system together.

The work of  Instituto Elos and the Oasis Game from Brazil may provide important tools for working in this area as well as the ABCD approach (Asset Based Community Development).  I’ve assembled some resources for this approach on my Resources Page

A Bridge to the Future. A third domain of work is the work of connecting Tohoku with this wide field of possibilities.  Spaces and places are needed which support this connection between the people in Tohoku and these many possibilities.  This bridge must be wide, solid and flexible, supporting robust dialogue and design which supports people in creating new future possibilities.  The work that the Knowledge Dynamics Initiative at Fuji/Xerox has done to bring Future Centers into Japan will be a foundation for this bridge.


Bridge To Future

Tohoku Tomorrow

New Relationship To Energy. The earthquake came.  The tsunami came.  What stayed was the radiation.  Perhaps there is an opportunity for a new dialogue in Japan about how much energy is needed to live happy lives.  Japan might choose to learn how to live with less.  If that choice were made in Japan, it would be put into action immediately.  Japan might provide critical leadership for the rest of the world on this important issue.  This is a deep dialogue that needs to be hosted well in the coming months.  There are no easy answers – just very important questions.

Who might help?

In many ways Japan is a large country and a very small community.  Over the last year I have had the opportunity to work with many people and organizations who might be, I believe, the key players to work in these four domains.  I know there are many others as well.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing stories from our work together.

And many, many more.  Japan is ripe for change.  Please visit some of my blogs here from November and December, 2010 to get a sense of the possibilities

And please come visit here from time to time.  I arrive in Japan on April 5th and will be there until the first of June.  I’ll be sharing stories and learning here from time to time.  Please also visit for a story about Resilience in Japan from the latest Fieldnotes from ALIA — Authentic Leadership in Action.

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8 thoughts on “Stepping Into New Possibilities in Japan”

  1. Bob, what a deep, rich and rewarding conversation to be having. These are the times and the opportunities that determine what we are really made of and how we will define our future partnership with each other and the earth. I will be following and participating when something arises in me that may be useful to the dialogue. Thank you for helping to create the bridges that offer ways to engage with the breadth of our humanity.

  2. Jeff Vander Clute

    Thank you, Bob! In your email about this post you noted that the media are focused solely on what’s broken, and not on assets, strengths, and possibilities. In other conversations I’ve been in recently, there is energy around cultivating what might be called appreciative journalism. Japan would be an excellent opportunity to pilot appreciative journalism since the world is watching and we could all learn the power of that approach.

    I also want to add that healthy community in the 21st century balances the digital and physical aspect of our lives, since we live so significantly in both. Therefore, if our digital information flows were to stop eroding / start growing our sense of possible positive futures, that could be a trim-tab. Something for Japan Dialog?

    Safe travels! I am with you!

  3. Nomura Takahiko

    Thank you, Bob.

    I read your blog and understood the consistent meaning among your work in South Africa, Art of Hosting, and collaborative activities in Japan. You always believe the resilience of communities, and I completely agree with you. I’m truly pleased your sincere message to our country, and looking forward to hosting a innovative dialog session with you for potential change leaders in multiple sectors in Japan.

    Best wishes,

  4. Julie Mihalisin


    Thank you for sharing your anticipation as well as your resolve to help build a better tomorrow for your family in Japan. I will be holding you all in my thoughts and prayers.


  5. Thank You Bob.
    In the Netherlands early Nineties, there was a flood from the rivers. Although this disaster (2 dead) was nothing compared to Japan, some lessons can be learned. Some villages were covered in water and mud, others weren’t. In some villages people waited for the governement to act or did not succeed in rallying each other to work togheter. They gave up and water invaded their homes. A few villages kept out the water and mud. In these places the villagers gathered themselves and cooperated very well, worked hard together to keep out the flood. You can imagine that the success kept them dry and boosted their self confidence and feeling of community.

    I think for Japan great help might be if the best examples of rebuilding communities are used to shine to all others. Perhaps more than any other help, to see that you can start the work together and make a difference is the most healing solution. A healing that no outsider can bring. Although the war in Lybia is horrible, the way the people in Benghasi organised the resistance and continuation of all public necessities like water and benzine (especially before the fighting began) send out a lot of energy and signal that they were a valid alternative to the regime.

    So what villages have started to act together the clean up, the grieving and the build up. Help them. Make them visible and this might incite many other examples within Japan and perhaps all over the world.

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