That’s what is said in Japan when one returns home.  “I’m back, I’ve been out in the world and I am back.”  ただいま. And that is exactly how I felt this past weekend will leading a workshop in Japan.  This blog is both a bit about my personal journey and my amazing week in Japan.

My relationship with Japan began in 1970.  I “escaped” to Japan when the U.S. invaded Cambodia and the National Guard murdered four students at Kent State University.  I was finishing my Junior year at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, USA and was active in the student movement and the anti-war movement and on the fringes of the civil-rights, womens and environmental movements.  I left the U.S. with a combination of deep anger and deep grief that was characteristic of those times.

About the only thing I knew about Japan was that it was near China.  But once again my guardian angels were on duty and pushed me where I needed to go.  I began my own spiritual journey in Japan in 1970.  The culture and my host family have been part of my life ever since.  I met the grandfather of my heart in Kyoto.  He was 71 and I was 21.  For forty years our families have been intertwined.  His son is the only grandfather my daughter, Annie has ever know and her time with her ogii-chama and obaa-chama are special.  Japan has always been a place of my heart and spirit and I’ve never been inclined to take my work there.  That all has shifted, dramatically.

Last November at the Pegasus Systems Thinking In Action I was amazed to see 25 or so people from Japan.  Normally there are just several.  I wondered:  “what’s happening?”  I discovered that a lot was happening.  Over the last couple of years there has been a tremendous opening, a search for new ways of being in life and in work in the world.  People are working with systems thinking, Presencing, World Cafe, Appreciative Inquiry and a host of other processes to see what else is possible.  They have not only embraced these methodologies, they have created a huge new opening for new ways of thinking and being.  And in Japan, when something begins, it moves quickly!

Conversations quickly evolved into an invitation to The Berkana Institute to put together an Art of Hosting.  My sense was that it would be important to precede this Art of Hosting with a design session which ended up evolving into a workshop which incorporated different elements of Art of Hosting and my own work on the Art of Change.  The two day workshop was followed by an evening of Dialogue Bar which was astounding in its own right.

I was amazed and deeply moved by the two events.

The weekend workshop  with 20 people in a workshop was a combination of Bob, Enspirited Leadership, Art of Hosting Sampler and Art of Change Sampler all rolled into one.  We met in circle and open space and world cafe.  We walked the “two loops” together.  We walked in silent pairs and in dialogue pairs.  We modeled with clay.  And the clay was so loved that it became a part of the rest of the world cafe sessions as well.  By Sunday morning the design and hosting team space was opened and we designed the second day together and much of the hosting was done  by the participants.

Monday night was “Dialogue Bar”.  More than 100 people from all walks of life and all ages came for what ended up being a 4 hour dialogue bar.  The atmosphere was incredible.  I spent 10 minutes speaking (and 10 being translated) to give glimpses of my life until 2000.  We began the first round of World Cafe with a question:  “what social innovation makes enough of a difference to make a difference?”  After 30 minutes, we did a brief harvest, and I spoke for another 20 (plus 20 for translation) about my journey of the last 10 years and about Enspirited Leadership.  Yuya, the organizer asked for my personal story as a weave and context for the World Cafe.  After I spoke a second time, we had two more rounds of cafe.

The response in both events was powerful.

How to explain it?  You know that Japanese know how to be silent with each other.  They know how to listen to each other with their whole bodies and to hear far beyond the words.  They know how to be respectful.  They know how to find questions.  AND, there is an expression in Japan:  “the nail that sticks up is pounded down.” Edward Hall speaks of Japan culture as being the most “high context” culture on the planet.  But what does this mean?  My friend Jeff in Kyoto, who has lived there now for 40 years (longer than any other living foreigner)  points out that even in Japan, high context is translated simply as “high context.”  What does it mean?  It means Japanese take in everything with their listening.  That is the cultural competence.  AND, the nail that sticks up is pounded down.

How does one continue to listen with one’s whole being AND, stick up, stand up, find courage and clarity to offer one’s leadership in a time of immense change?  This is the question that Japan is ready for and it has been cracking wide open for the last two years.  That is why there were 25 people from Japan at the Pegasus Systems Thinking In Action Conference this past November where there have been 4 or 5 in the past.

I’ll be back for some work in May and suspect I will be returning more frequently.  Since I first arrived in Japan in 1970, it has been a place of my heart and spirit.  In the early years, I wondered why I never tried to bring my work there.  Later, in this past decade, I realized it was my “upbringing” in Japan that allowed me to travel into and with other cultures.  Now, it seems that work around the world has left me with something special to offer in Japan and it feels wonderful!

It is a time of change, and I am interested in the parallels to the Meiji Restoration of 1868 when 250 years of rule by the Tokugawa Shogunate came to an end, rapidly.  I did my undergraduate comprehensive project on it 39 years ago.  What I saw happening then was that the underlying mythic structures of the culture were no longer sufficient to interpret daily experience and they were washed away in an almost bloodless revolution.  Extraordinarily different than the French Revolution or the later Russian Revolution.  I suspect a similar thing is beginning to happen now.

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7 thoughts on “Tadaima!”

  1. Hello Bob,
    I was both at your Two Loops workshop at Pegasus
    and the Art of Hosting design team workshop in Japan.
    Thank you for wonderful time!
    I have a very mixed feeling about your comments.
    As you mentioned, something is emerging rapidly,
    and at the same time, there are something else being lost rapidly, too.
    I hope that ‘something emerging’ emerges rapid enough
    so the ‘100th monkey phenomenon’ can happen.
    See you in May!

  2. Hi Kaoru-san!
    I agree completely with what you are saying. The Japan that I fell in love with in 1970 has changed, dramatically. There are many things changing and I feel their loss. What I have not have the privilege to see before is the new that is emerging. In our language at Berkana, we speak of “Systems of Influence.” How do enough changes in enough places combine to create a system of influence which leads to systemic change? We are in a time of substantial change. What will we bring forward from the old? What new will we infuse? Looking forward to May, already!

  3. Thanks for that report. Knew you were there. Wondered how and why. Glad to know. There’s an excitement in your voice, my man. It must’ve felt really good to be in that space. We need to hear more of this new adventure and the learning.

  4. You’ve got it right Steve, lots of excitement. Last year in January I came home to the Cherokee. I don’t know if I have mentioned this before in this blog, but Steve was key in bringing me in for work with the Cherokee Nation, from whom I am descended through my mother. So, I received a deep connection with my ancestors which had led to my being accepted as a member of the tribe. This January, the deep connection is with my roots in Japan. May I learn to walk well in each world!

  5. Thank you Bob for including me in this loop. Your story is very inspiring…and challenging. I look forward to learning more about your current work and new directions.. Liz

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