TED Prize City 2.0: A question worth asking from a Japanese national

This year’s TED Prize is not for a person but an idea: City 2.0.

At TEDxSummit in Doha, I shared “a question worth asking”, instead of an idea worth spreading, with the TED global community.

I have freaking no clue. No idea worth spreading… I simply wanted to toss my question to the world as Japan needs help devastatedly.

I and most of Japanese just do whatever they can right now. Even if we envision something for the better future in a positive manner and create strategies, everything is uncertain.

The issues in Japan truly throw a philosophical question to us.

“What do we live for?”

Is it really important to rebuild the city 2.0 or 3.0 whatsoever in the Tohoku region that will always be affected by tsunami and quake every hundreds years AND is being damaged by radiation? (note: as long as we live on this planet, natural threats occur to us anywhere in any cases. I believe each of us can choose where to live, from the coastal area to high mountains to the desert.)

Does it really matter to increase job opportunities and revitalize economy for us humans to live happily?

Isn’t there REALLY a way of living besides what we do now with money, education system, food chain, etc…?

Nevertheless, we do what we can do for Tohoku and our country, building new communities, inspiring each other, launching new projects.

That’s life. I’m optimistic, but facing the question.

Youth Community Leader Dialog

Since last August, I’ve been involved in a Tohoku restration project, “Youth Community Leader Dialog (YCLD).” This initiative is taken the lead by NPO Miratuku (meaning “Emerging Future”), the Berkana Institute, and KEEP Foundation as a result of 311.

YCLD aims to offer an opportunity for us who reside in Japan facing the gigantic crisis to co-create resilient community where we can lean to each other for today and tomorrow. We specifically focus on nurturing youth (but not excluded) leaders who are to take the initiative on the current challenges. Nonetheless, interestingly enough, a wide variety of generations gather to support the younger generations and mentorship is generated.

YCLD is a three-day workshop held in Kiyosato, Yamanashi Prefecture, the foot of Mt. Fuji. Our facilitator team (we call it a “hosting team”) consists of Japanese as well as foreigners. Amazingly, the foreign hosts fly all the way from the States, Latin America, Oceania, or Europe to Japan just for this workshop! Therefore, the workshop is conducted bilingual with excellent interpreters.

Participants have a series of intensive dialog that rarely happen in our busy daily life, revisit their fundamental values, become aware of who they are and how they are connected to society, and discover an elegant minimum action step to take from now on. We strongly believe that conscientious and deliberate communication is the core competence that today’s leaders must have because the leaders are required to form the new teams, organizations, and systems to respond to rapid social, economic and political changes. The workshop is designed in a way that the participants experience deep dialog to open up themselves and develop trustworthy and lasting relationships with others. It is stunning to witness how much we are able to accomplish and build rapport with strangers for merely three days. As long as we know how to liberate ourselves just a bit from our old nutshell and accept the way we are, others come closer to us automatically.

We, the hosting team, has very very intense meetings during the workshop because we improvise and decide what we do with the participants along the way. We roughly design the program (how the workshop flows throughout three days) in advance (the day before!) but continue to make adjustments and sometimes major changes as we listen to the participants’ voices. This design process isn’t a piece of cake, but enables me to develop an active listening skill and refine an ability to sense “ba.” A phenomenon arises and passes by at each and every moment. We can never anticipate things perfectly. Even if we design a beautiful program of three days, it might not simply fit the participants’ needs or particular situations where we happen to be. Therefore, we create a few plans, carry out one of them, sense the space (ba) to see if that works or not, and persistently revise it.

Another remarkable characteristic of the design process is that we use dialog as a method of planning. In general, dialog is considered to be unpractical so that time is wasted while nothing is decided. It’s true in many occasions. Nevertheless, once you learn how to get rid of your attachment to your “good” ideas but tap into your honest thoughts based on your intuition, dialog can be a powerful way to stimulate ideas and make a decision.

Many participants reach to striking realization of self and go through significant shifts in their mind and heart. Positive impact that the participants get seems to be much bigger than I imagine, even when I feel that I could have done differently. This makes me more humble, and more cautious about my behavior and words because I can’t expect how and when I possibly influence others’ life and because I can’t control whether influence is positive or negative. That’s all up to recipients.

We have hosted the workshop four times in 2011 (I missed the first one, though) and the fifth one is upcoming in March. I’m excited to plunge into the new community that will be presenting itself.

Dive into Your Deep Ocean

In Tokyo, Japan, I throw a workshop called, “Visualize Your Process.” It consists of three weekday evening classes. Each has three hours. In total 9 hours.

In my practice, “Communication Process Design,” it’s essential to explore deep inside of self and find out how one communicates with others as well as within oneself. In order to discover it, visualization is one of the powerful methods. The term “visualization” might remind you of drawing and painting. Yet, in my opinion, visualization includes simple thinking, as long as it’s consciously processed. Visualization could mean story-telling while imagining its scenes in your mind. Visualization could refer to verbalizing unclear emotions through sounds and onomatopoeia. Visualization could be somatic movements.

The “Visualize Your Process” workshop allows participants to free up their “in-the-box” thinking and tap into their creativity by self-reflection, pair interview, group dialog, and Graphic Facilitation. As the final deliverable, every participant designs and creates one visual mapping.

In July 2011, I facilitated the third season of VYP, and specially focused on the impact of 311 on individuals. I added a sub line to the title, “Dive into Your Deep Ocean.”

Four months had already passed since the historical crisis in Japan at that time. We crawled and stumbled everyday to tackle the outrageous situation. We were too preoccupied to try to run the political, economic, and social system. We didn’t have time and space to take a pause, chew, and diget what had happened and were still happening to us. There were urgent yet covert demands for “time for processing” arising.

So, I redesigned the VYP workshop to meet these demands. I hoped that my workshop gives people an opportunity to revisit their value systems and touch their true emotions.

Participants learned the basic skill of Graphic Facilitation while spending the decent amount of time for his/her-own to think through the past, feel the present, recall the past, recapture the present, and imagine the future.

On the first night, the participants did pair-interview based on the four questions: “What brought you here?” “What emotions are behind it?” “What happened to you on 311?” and “How do you feel now?” Then, they made a reflection map to illustrate their short history between 311 and now.

On the second night, the participants picked up a few points from the map that most affected them. Besides, they added new factors that the map had missed out. Then, I asked them to describe these significant elements by means of emotions, forms, shapes, colors, sounds, smells, and mental images. At the end, they “rephrased” these abstract words into concrete key words and clear visuals.

With all these parts prepared, on the third night, they drew visual maps to show where they stand at the very moment.

Some of the participants had never heard of or seen Graphic Facilitation. Most of them felt intimidated about drawing. Nonetheless, the only three evening classes quickly enabled them to visually understand and express themselves amazingly. Moreover, it became an eye-opening experience for the participants to take time for the active self-reflection. They realized how important and influential it is to communicate within oneself, and share the inner journey with others.

To survive, we must keep on moving forward. We have to maintain our everyday life while striving to address the problems. More and more fatal issues swallow us like tsunami and we are almost drawn. Nevertheless, at times, I believe that we need to pause for a moment, looking back, looking around on our sides, looking down to the earth, and looking up to the sky. It definitely makes us feel secure and safe to “ping” our current position on the map of uncertainty, even though we are ever-changing.

Finally, this is my mind image that greatly influenced who I am right now: The scenery of the Himalayan in Dharamsala, India.

311 and me

On March 11th,  I was in the foot of Himalayan mountains in Dehradun, India.

How come? I was undertaking a 10 day course of Vipassana Meditation from March 1st. Vipassana is the way of meditation that Buddha applied in his entering into Enlightenment. Meditators of the course live in a Vipassana meditation center for 12 days and simply sit for 10 days. They are not allowed to carry out any type of communication (verbal, non-verbal, even making a sound). They are prohibited to write, draw, read, run, exercise, practice other meditation techniques, and conduct religious or spiritual rituals. Noble silence must be kept. They share a room with another participant, but they may not communicate with each other at any level. Everyday, we looked down on the floor and soil or looked up to the ceiling or sky to avoid eye contact. In the dining room, nothing but little cracking sounds of cutlery and dishes resonated.

I got the tragic news of my country on the final day of the Vipassana. On Day 10, in order for meditators to gradually go back to normal society, the noble silence ends and they are allowed to look into the others’ eyes and talk in limited areas. During a lunch break, I retrieved my valuables from the reception and turned on my mobile just because I wanted to make sure that “nothing had happened to my family” for the 10 days. As soon as the mobile was on, one text message was delivered from an Indian friend of mine who used to live in Tokyo.

“M9.0 earthquake hit Yokohama.”

The very first information from the world after such intense 10 days of inner exploration was this.

What the fxxk.




Looking back, I probably learned about the crisis right after it had actually occurred. Time difference between Japan and India is 3.5 hours. The morning meditation session finished at 11am and the lunch break lasted until 1pm.

The shock I got was incredibly amplified due to the Vipassana effect. I was terrified by the fact that my intuition of “emergency” was right. While shaking, I barely managed to make a phone call to my mom and assured her and my bro’s safety. I was almost resolved to fly back to Japan immediately as thinking of the worst case scenario for my family (luckily that wasn’t the case). When merciless incidents occur in my life, I’m always abroad. I’m used to jumping in an airplane and rushing to my family. Good lord.

On the very last day of the course, this tragedy happened to my beautiful country. This coincidence makes me ponder, what role is given to me?

Threads of life were intertwined and woven strikingly. At the end, my life took me to Dharamsala, the sacred village for both Indian and Tibetan. I led a everyday life there for three weeks. Then I flew back to Tokyo on April 12th.

Despite people’s curiosity of how I coped with being back in Tokyo that drastically changed, I should say that nothing affected me. Regardless of 311, I had been going through transformation during the journey in India (to be precise, it had set about since 2010). I was fully transformed and arrived at Narita with the new senses. Therefore, I could naturally accept the world of Japan as it was.

It’s been almost two months since my return. Japan, especially the northern part of Tokyo and Kanagawa (my city) upward, is facing tremendous danger. The disaster areas are beyond description. Moreover, the nuc plants are miserably severely damaged. Now, three of Fukushima plants are in complete meltdown. (not merely Daiichi). Our gov. is so fxxked up that no information and data is reliably released.

I admit my responsibility that I have been dependent on the Japanese energy system and economic/political policy as a national, and a risk of potential life hazard such as cancer at early age or impairment of pregnancy. Needless to say, I try my best and hardest to protect my healthy body as well as family, friends and people. Nonetheless, in reality, we don’t have the right solution to escape from invisible radiation. We are and will be exposed to it to some degree anyway. I’m scared.

But, I’m a part of it.

Going back to my question that arose on the 10th day of vipassana. What is my role here?

I came to a conclusion towards the end of my trip in India: I’m meant to be there for those who are in need to let their emotions and feelings out as well as support them in thinking through what their life really is. I would come and listen to them only when they ask me so. This year, my focal point is to be shifted to the more individual level.

A few of my friends share with me an intriguing aspect: People residing in the Tokyo Metropolitan area are reluctant to acknowledge that they are also victims of the 311 disaster because “real” victims up in north suffer so devastatingly that Tokyo people feel guilty to consider themselves as victims. Relativism of misfortune. But, we know that we can’t compare the quality of happiness and misfortune with those of others. We individuals are only able to experience what each of us experiences.

And my friends continue like this: Naho is not a victim since she was in India. Having this different angle of looking at Japan as a non-victim Japanese is beneficial. For, thoughts and actions of Tokyo people who went through the 311 are confined, which hinders them from seeing things from a wider perspective. Besides, I could be of help to release their hidden tension and anxiety that they are unwilling to express because of a sense of guilt.

It appears to me that my awareness and my friends’ awareness of my role are in synch.

What makes life fascinating is that inquiries started to come to me soon after I was settled back in Tokyo. It flows naturally.