After having taken some classes at Harvard and too many other places to be useful, I thought I knew things. But in fact, the more time goes by and the more I study, the more I realize I know very little. Not theoretically, but by experimenting on myself.
Surprisingly, water is one of those basic elements of life for which I knew nothing.
So if you are curious like me, you may enjoy experimenting with the basics of life and questioning what you think you know — even about something as elementary as water you may enjoy this blog entry.
It is said that 72% of your body is water — so it makes sense that if you regulate this important element in your system phenomenal things could happen (by the way 72% of the planet too is water). But regulating that is a different story..
Diet is hard to change, but water in our own bodies is something all of us can do something to improve. There is no need to wait, to ponder, to question if it is a good idea. It is a no-brainer to attend to water in your system: what type of water, how much water, how cold or hot, when to drink it and anything that may change your experience of life.
The advice that I follow about water is primarily from yogis, mostly Sadhguru, but also other health sources that I have experimented and tested on myself for your convenience.
But again, never take someone else’s word for it –get curious. Have fun and begin testing the following simple tips on yourself and seeing if it is true for you. Enjoy!
Here are some ideas and tips to start experimenting :
At home I have some large glass jars where I store water that has been filtered and keep it there prior to use. I keep this area clear of other food materials and smells — except a fresh flower in a crystal glass making the area simple and beautiful.
Simple filters like Brita which I used for a few years are better than nothing, but not enough. For simple filtering, I recommend something more substantial like the system provided by Berkey (more below) that you can use for your drinking water and also cooking water. These are relatively inexpensive compared to bottled water.
You can even add a filter for the Berkey system to remove in addition to all the other substances– fluoride. Fluoride is good to remove if you have cancer or a weak immune system or you want the best water for kids as fluoride in water is known to calcify the pineal glands of our young (which has an impact on hormones and energy levels). According to some recent studies fluoride also reduces IQ tests. You can go to the Berkey site in Singapore Water for Life and see the studies done on Singapore’s water and the Berkey system as well as fluoride.
Below too is a review of this filter system by Chris Wark. Chris helps people recover from cancer and does tons of reasearch: if Berkey is good enough for him– it just may be acceptable to you. Especially, because Chris is the type of person who tests everything on himself. I do too.
And I am very happy with the Berkey system which I have had for over two years — the water tastes better, feels good and the system does not consume electricity like my distiller nor adds to plastic waste on the planet (nor is it stored in a plastic bottle).
4. Containers Matter. As mentioned earlier, if you can use a copper vessel to hold your water it has many additional benefits (especially if you leave it over night).
But you can also use stainless steel, or large glass jugs which are both acceptable. When you are on the go, my kids sometimes prefer to carry water in a plastic container (they are lighter than stainless steel) but you should be aware that storing water in plastic (even BPA free) absorbs other elements from the plastic that can impact our hormones and is not great for us.
Having said this, water in a plastic BPA bottle from home that is filtered properly is perhaps better then drinking unfiltered tap water at school!
5. No ice please. The Chinese and often people in the East know this — you do not drink water with ice (in fact the Chinese often drink warm water) as ice cools your digestive fire and drinking cold ice water can make you more prone to sickness.
Yogis have more stringent rules — you are only to drink water that is 4% difference from your body temperature. But then again yogis are aiming at enlightment. If you are just a student and not looking for transformation, but still need to learn (best to drink water within 8% of your body temperature) and if you are a householder with no need to learn anything you can drink 12%. More than that % change, not advised according the yogi Sadhguru.
6. No sipping water throughout the day. Sipping water throughout the day can confuse your system and cause swelling in the brain — so best when you are thirsty to drink a good amount at one time (your body can eliminate excess easier this way).
You can drink to your quench your thirst and then 10% more says Sadhguru. Also eating fruits which have a high percent of water content is a great way to keep hydrated. Fruits and vegetables often have a higher water content than our bodies and are welcome in our system.
5. Drink water 30 minutes before a meal (it prehydrates and helps digestion and can help lose weight). Simple timing can go a long way. When possible best not to drink too much water during a meal as it can dilute the digestive juices. One hour after the meal is fine. Thirty minutes before the meal helps digestion and just might help you lose weight.
6. Not too much water, nor too much food at meals. It is said that for healthy living you can fill your stomach 1/2 with food (two handfuls is enough to fill the stomach by 1/2), 1/4 liquid, and 1/4 empty (leave the table a little hungry rather than bloated)! Perhaps that’s why Japanese families of four often share the American size one portion meal at restaurants and seem all the better for it.
7. Once a week you may wish to do a 24 hour water fast or at least chose not to eat in between meals (5-6 hours). Since cancer cells exist in all of us and are are far hungrier than other cells, doing a once a week water fast (drinking warm or room temperature water only) will give your system a rest and help you remove toxins. Chosing not to eat between meals will also greatly help.
Most likely, a full day water fast will give you a light headache as purification begins so if you are working this may not feel ideal. A substitute for a full day water fast that is less effective but better than nothing can be to eat a breakfast and a light lunch (helps you get through the day at work) and fast in the evening–skipping breakast the next day. This gives you a 24 hour fast that is do-able. If you get hungry at breakfast just add a few drops of honey to your luke warm water and it will do the trick.
Remember– it is often the mind that calls us to eat. We eat out of habit not hunger. To clean your cells at the cellular level on a regular basis the yogi Sadhguru recomends not to eat for 5-6 hours before your next meal. The French do this regularly — we are known to be slim and despite some extensive meals we don’t tend to gain much weight! We generally eat less than Americans and don’t eat between meals. But that too is changing these days.
8. Balancing water in the body is not just about drinking we absorb water and are influenced by it when we swim, bathe, shower. Floating in water can often have a wonderful relaxing feeling and remind us of when we were in the womb. Showering in water (about body temperature) in the morning or even a bit cooler, just before meditation can facilitate the creation of space in the body. It just might help meditaiton.
We absorb water (and the chemicals in it) so when our immune system is low (such as cancer) we have to be careful about chlorine in pools or swimming too often in salt water (Gerson therapy recemends avoiding chlorine pools and salt water during the phase of healing to help make our bodies more alkanine). Fortunately, filters now come for showers and baths making that water better for you. And if we can’t swim in the salty ocean due to Gerson, at least resting near large bodies of water or taking walks along the waterfront or a river or lake is very good for us.
For yogis, water — both drinking and bathing in it or floating in it– seems to balance the sacral chakra. When I did Gerson, and did not go swimming in the ocean or in a pool for over a year, nor drink much water (due to drinking many juices instead), I felt this water imbalance. Now no longer testing Gerson, I swim with great joy in the ocean (chlorine pools still feel less than great to me and sometimes gives me a headache).
9. Traveling for the summer and worried about water quality? A portable plastic bottle with filter or the Berkey Go Suite (carried in a small bag) will do while you are at your mother-in law’s or visiting people and don’t want to bother them with cooking or drinking with filtered or bottled water.
10. When the Immune system is very weak (such as cancer) or the water quality very bad you may wish to go further than filtering with a system such as Berkey and drink distilled drinking water from a machine such as Waterwise (reverse osmosis) or hydrogen (Kangen) water that reduces the alkanity of the body. Another alternative which is said to be equal to the well known Kangen machine for alkanizing water or better is the HiFlo Water system by the Japanese Dr. Kokichi Hanaoka (again you must research on your own as often one expert says one thing and another the opposite).
Distilled water is known to remove even more impurities than the best Berkey filters including fluoride and is what pharmacists use to make medecine. I drank distilled water from a Waterwise distiller for about two years when I was in Japan and was a bit worried about Fukushima and our water supply. I also had some health concerns and had tested Gerson Therapy on myself (which requires distilled water).
The one thing I would advise you (which I didn’t do but I am doing now) is that if you drink distilled water which removes many bacteria and residues in water, add back minerals to the distilled water after you distill it. A few drops such as ConcenTrace Trace Mineral Drops will make this distilled water taste even smoother and more delicious (better than Evian or Vittel) at a fraction of the cost and replenish minerals removed in the distilling process. (Note: if you use distilled water for enemas in the Gerson therapy, then you don’t add back minerals for the enemas.).
For my parents who had cancer or a tumor, I knew they wouldn’t or couldn’t do juicing regularly and properly (as in Gerson therapy) and probably not be able to change sufficiently their diet (we are from a family of great French chefs and traditions die hard!), so I went the extra mile and brought a system from Japan for Kangen water to the US. Little did I know they have these Kangen systems in the US.
Here is a little extract of why such Kangen or HiFlo systems could be better than juicing or distilled water. But then again, you have to weigh the pros and cons. Distilled water can remove fluoride, most of these water filters Kangen and HiFlo cannot. They do make other claims however — such as create water that is more easily absorbed into the body or alkanize our system.
“Before Kangen water, the only way to accomplish that (de-tox by alkanizing the system) was juicing or vast amounts of fruits and vegetables. Do not be fooled by bottled waters that claim to alkalinize the system—THEY DO NOT! These ‘bottled waters on the market, claiming to alkalinize the system, are gimmick waters that have alkalinizing agents added to them such as Sodium Bicarbonate, Potassium Bicarbonate or Potassium Citrate. These additives do give the blood and urine alkaline readings BUT they do nothing to neutralize the accumulated acidity inside the cell as they do not contain HYDROXYL ions. Again, the only thing that can do that is the Hydroxyl ion mentioned above which these alkalinizing agents clearly do not contain.”
Fortunately, there is nothing that can produce a greater concentration of hydroxyl ions than the Kangen water machine (not even a freshly pressed juice) which is why every single household in the United States must have this unit in their homes. It is the best investment, other than a juicer, that a family can make in its health— hands down! This is why 1 out of every 6 households in Japan has this technology in their homes. It is vital to human health.” — quote from a site promoting also Gerson but is not pure Gerson Therapy.
I am not sure what to make about the above statement of these Kangen machines but they made me think a bit. Naturally, changing your life style, learning to relax and let go, forgiving others, exercising or changing your diet and drinking better water when you have a low immune system makes sense. Going the extra mile and getting one of these machines is up to you. I thought it was worth it for my parents.
In Singapore if you are looking for one of these hydrogen machines, there is an alternate version of Kangen which is said to be better than the traditional Kangen machine which could make your blood too alkanine (and not be good for young babies or elderly) who may not tolerate such high PH. This system which may be better for families with babies is called HiFlo Water and in Singapore can be bought at Nature’s Glory (315 Outram Rd, Tan Boon Liat Building) and also demonstrated to you by a very kind and good team who cares and who drinks the water!
I drank about a liter of their water yesterday and went through a whole demonstration of the system with them. The main difference between this system and the known Kangen system as I understand it is that water can be absorbed better into the cells in HiFlo. The system is on sale now at Nature Glory in Singapore at $2,800 and filters replaced yearly cost $175. More info on the site and go visit in person for a demo. Again, like anything you have to use your common sense. I have drunk Kangen water at my parents when I visited NY and it was strong — and I did feel its effects in a good way, but there are also people who say such Kangen systems are not useful. I nevertheless found it could not hurt my parents given their cancers. Parents are gratefully well right now. No-re occurence of cancer. Your call.
I would suggest that if your immune system is weak and that you have cancer or did and do not have a budget for such advanced water systems or remain hesitant about the proof that they are helpful, at the very least I would get a Berkey Water Filter system or Water Distiller giving my body a good foundation for it to heal. This alone may not be enough to heal you, but it may prevent further toxins and aid healing. It is a base from which to work.
11. Shungite – a stone for radiation and then some. I went up to Fukushima in Japan when we lived in Tokyo for four years and worried at times about radiation. I sometimes had a detector with me in dangerous areas up north (best to avoid radiation as the best defense) but also read about shungite. Shungite is a stone that has the ability to clean water from almost of all organic compounds (including pesticides), metals, bacteria and harmful microorganisms, perhaps even some effects from radiation.
Water from Lake Onega in Russia where shungite is found, can be used for drinking without any prior cleaning! … Shungite removes heavy metals, chlorine, enriches drinking water in potassium. Some even say Russian subs put shungite on the submarines to be less easily detected by radar! Who knows…but when travelling I sometimes take a few of these stones…
12. The last and most useful advice: Gratitude! This is the simplest advice that everyone could or should be grateful for clean good water and will become that way in the future as it becomes more of a rarity. Since our thoughts and emotions have been said to have an impact on our food (just see how you digest when you eat in angry state of mind) and we have also been told that water may have memory (Dr. Masaru Emoto) — it could just be common sense to be grateful for the water we have to drink.
To simply look at the water with a glance of gratitude before we drink it… much like we admire the color of a red wine before savoring it could make all the difference in its taste and perhaps more. A thought of gratitude and the mystery of this incredible substance that keeps us alive, is all it takes to enjoy it fully and (some say) to also change its structure and functioning within our system… Try it and see. This one is free.
When I was a child I looked forward to bed as I did going to the cinema and there was a time when I was rarely disappointed. Where else but in a dream, could I fly? Where else could I enjoy experiences I could not see in the cinema?
And — yes– if you realize it is a dream – and you don’t like it you can always wake up or if you are feeling really bold turn around and talk to that monster chasing you asking it a direct question like, “Excuse me, I think I know you, can I help you with something?” And then suddenly laugh as the monster melts or dissolves much like the witch in Wizard of Oz or better yet becomes someone you know like the kid down the street who is less than kind.
One cinema evening, however, didn’t end well at all for me. I must have been around four years old and I had not yet fully realized that dreams were distinct from waking.
In that dream, I had been given a candy bar. I decided to hold on to the chocolate bar tight enough that it could make its way back with me upon awakening. Ready to be… devoured.
After I awoke, I remember looking everywhere for that candy bar blaming my older brother Ken for stealing it and asking my parents if they had seen the candy bar anywhere. I was in a sour mood and furious…until my mother asked me a few questions on where I had gotten that candy bar and where I had seen it last. She then told me the bad news: dreams are not real. You can’t take things from dreams and bring them back here so easily.
And then I became deeply curious. What were dreams and what were they good for?
Around the age of seven, my experiments lead me to use sleep differently. I would read something at night and then set my alarm very early around 6am and re-read the material I wished to know one more time.
I realized that during the night my mind was working in wonderful ways while I was resting. As I loved sleep, this pleased me immensely. I enjoyed this method so much that as a reward to myself after completing the early morning study ritual in bed, I set up my alarm clock once again – this time for an additional 20 minutes of sleep.
During those 20 minutes of time I would let my body fall asleep but remain slightly aware. Everything during those 20 minutes of “light” sleep became even clearer. Answers to my questions came. Material was effortlessly absorbed. Creative ideas abounded.
And when I awoke after those 20 minutes, I felt incredible as if I had three additional hours of rest. Rest of a different nature.
It is only years later, that I realize that position on my back was shavasana and that the sleep technique was a form of yoga nidra. Had I been more knowledgeable at the time, I would have used my sleep for far better things then just acing tests and being good at academics or coming up with creative ideas.
Had I known…
So, these next entries are for those who are a bit curious.
Perhaps you want to sleep more, perhaps you want to sleep less, perhaps you want to experiment with what is most beautiful within or a new direction in your life. To each his own: I let you choose, but do be curious, test what you think you know (as I did) and experiment with a few. Sleep — less or more of a variant of it– may just change your life.
Sleep is one of my most beloved moments in a day. A serious moment to be reckoned as my husband will surprisingly attest — for when I get sleepy, I become warm as a baby and nothing NOTHING (not even mounds of laundry nor gold scattered on my bed) could stop me from nudging everything aside and letting everything melt away. Hurricane, tsunami, earthquake, it might just not matter at that moment.
Anywhere, under any condition I can sleep–just kindly give me two minutes. As funny as this may sound, the capacity to relax instantly has saved me more than once.
It is not that I was always sleepy, but when I want to sleep, I can. And soundly.
And how about you – what are your strengths with sleep? What are your weaknesses, ambitions and needs regarding sleep?
Take 5 minutes to assess your sleep: Strengths, Weaknesses, Ambition and Needs
Strengths: Are you a good sleeper? Do you wake up well rested and full of energy and ideas? Can you fall asleep easily? Do you need many hours of sleep or just five or so (imagine all you could do if you only needed 5 hours of sleep and felt GREAT)?
Weaknesses: Is it hard to fall asleep? Do you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep? Do you always feel a bit tired as if on empty? Do you have bad dreams that disturb your sleeping hours?
Ambition: What do you want from your sleep? Is it a way of resting? Is it a means to explore? Do you use sleep to get new ideas or absorb information quickly? Do you feel sleep effectively solve conflicts from the day? And how about using sleep as practice for being conscious at the time of the ultimate sleep: your death?
Needs: How many hours of sleep do you need to feel rested? When you are tired can you take a quick nap and recover fully or do naps make you more tired? If you need 8 hours of sleep do you calculate at what time you need to go to bed so you can wake up naturally without an alarm clock? Do you find you need less or more sleep depending on what and when you eat?
Jot down a few ideas. After all many people spend at least 1/3 or more of their lives in bed. Might as well think for five minutes on the value of all this time and make it work towards your health, happiness and well-being.
2. Memory, Learning, Creative Problem Solving
The technique I used for memory and learning during sleep as a child and young adult that helped me do well academically (took classes at Harvard Law, Harvard Undergraduate, Fletcher School, Amherst, Berkeley, HEC business school) was simple enough:
Little did I know that this 20 minutes was the crucial technique that allowed the information to enter effortlessly and remain in my short-term memory.
3. Sleep Well at Night
Usually, I go to bed around 10.30pm and like to wake up without an alarm clock early in the morning (I nevertheless set one just in case). But most days I wake up naturally anytime from 3.30am to 5.00am. Five hours of sleep is usually sufficient for me, but when my body is healing it can be later. I enjoy this early morning time alone immensely as the air is fresh, cool and my mind and spirit are at their best.
Do things without Tension During the Day (Relaxation and Ease is Rest)
Since I do the most important things first thing in the day when everyone is sleeping I am more relaxed the rest of the day as I have done what matters most to me (meditation). During the day, I try to do either things I love or at least do them in a way I love so my body is not tense. Naturally, daily exercise also helps in letting go of physical tension.
Eating Different Foods Creates a Body at Rest & the Need for Less Sleep
I used to need eight hours of sleep. However, my sleeping time dramatically decreased ever since I began to eat differently (became vegetarian and ate a good amount of raw fresh foods & raw organic juices so digestion happens faster and easier).
At one point when I was doing many organic juices and had many vegetables, I only needed four hours of sleep. This made me realize that my body was not working optimally on a “regular French diet” even if I came from a family of great French chefs and ate good quality food. This discovery has made me deeply curious about what foods bring energy and make you feel great.
Digest Well and Cleanse Away the Worries of the Day
Other things that help me sleep well is eating an early dinner around 6.30pm, a shower before sleep and a cup of warm un-homogenized organic milk with a pinch of turmeric 30 minutes just before bed.
Set up a Great Environment and Say Goodbye to the Day
I also like to light a candle in my room prior to sleeping with a little oil as it gives a beautiful glow to the room. As I watch its warm glow, I say a silent prayer (not to disturb my husband) and then usually take 10 or more minutes to write about what was most meaningful during the day; what I learned about myself and how I might do things differently if given a second chance tomorrow. If, as each day is a blessing.
Create Space for the Night for Greater Things to Happen
Just before going to sleep (if I am not already asleep as I usually fall asleep in two minutes) I try to disassociate myself from events or things during the day; creating a little space by reminding myself that I am not my body nor my mind. In other words, I try to disassociate from the many roles I play during the day: mother, wife, yoga teacher, chef, artist, Director of Beyond Our Best, writer or other.
Gratitude and Joy
In the morning, I like to wake up and see the glow from the lamp (sometimes it goes out at night) and smile that I am alive for another day. I like to smile too at my heart and thank it for beating while I was sleeping.
Do What Is Important
Another day is another chance for me to experience something worthwhile with people I love and to do what is important for me. Before I usually practice morning meditative techniques, I put a little ash on my forehead (like Catholics do on Ash Wednesday but I like to do it every day) to remind myself that today could be my last day and if it is I must use it wisely.
This may seem strange to some, but something as simple as a little ash is a reminder for me that I may not be here long. It changes the way I spend my day. And each day adds up quickly to a life. This simple morning ritual, can help me focus on important things such as calling my mother or a friend in need. When you think of your last day; it is not often the large glorious things you think about, but the really important people in your life and what matters most to you.
For more tips, here is a video by a yogi named Sadhguru who explains Good Sleep Rituals
4. Take Power Naps 20 Minutes Equal to Three Hours of Sleep
When and if I get tired during the day, I take a short 10-20 minute nap. After 10 minutes of rest, I can recover completely and seem like a different person. 20 minutes is ideal.
This 20 minutes of sleeping or resting is equivalent to 2-3 hours of sleeping time. For it to be done properly, you need to teach the body to fall asleep but keeps the mind conscious or aware. This practice is best done in the morning when one is not tired or else one tends to fall asleep…
You can use the Brainwave 35 Binaural Programs App to help Train Yourself to do this: Press on this link to download Brainwave 35 Binaural Programs.
It uses two different sounds in each ear so you need to use headphones.
Please note you can put relaxing sounds in the background such as raindrops or choose your favorite song in the background (good for teenagers who may not like elevator music). Some other apps do not allow this function and you get tired of their music.
After you download it, use the Power Nap function and set your alarm for 20 minutes. Put yourself in Shavasana pose (corpse pose) in yoga – lying on your back with your legs and arms spread slightly, palms facing upwards. During the practice try not to move and make sure you will not be disturbed.
Try doing this for at least 48 days until you get comfortable with it and can then do it upon will without falling asleep. When you are conscious or fully relaxed you can also say a “signal word” like — focused relaxation and let it be associated with the moement of intense relaxation you are currently in. Later when you repeat the same word at the beginning of a meditation relaxation should come quickly.
Use “Conscious Sleep” for Preparing the Mind for Meditation
Deep relaxation is key to many things; sleep, memory and meditation.
For those who wish to practice meditation the capacity to relax is the first thing one must learn. To completely let go or relax helps one enter states of meditation.
I practiced conscious sleep (putting the body to sleep and keeping the mind aware) in Shavasana for 6 months for about 40 minutes a day prior to learning sitting meditation.
For those who want to meditate, start with the 20 minute Nap practice in Shavasana.
Remember Conscious Sleep is best practiced when not too tired or you will fall asleep. You can practice it at bedtime if you have a hard time falling asleep and then let yourself sleep! If you are tired during the day try finding the time for a 20 minute power nap as it will deeply re-invigorate you. It is a must for people with long or intense working days or who may work night shifts. Flight attendants can use the practice during their “rest period” travelling, taxi drivers can practice it at night in their cabs when on “rest.”
Some Tools for Meditation that Give the Benefits of Restful Sleep & Far More
Brainwave 35 Binaural Programs App (Power Nap do 20 minutes)
Yoga Nida (Beginners from Bihar School excellent 30 minute)
Yoga Nidra (Intermediate from Bihar School excellent 40 minute)
Shoonya (Taught by the yogi Sadhguru)
Centering Prayer as taught by Monks such as Father Keating
Try one that seems right for you. The first three are easy to use and you can begin with the video or the app. Shoonya needs to be taught. There are books on Centering prayer.
Wishing you great sleep, good power naps, great memory and a deep centered awareness throughout your day and night.
Re-inventing Ourselves Silently
Nations do not change, only individuals. We are all called to be artists, creators of change within ourselves and around us. To create something entirely new, to go beyond our best as individuals, we need to draw on our inner capabilities.
One such path is through meditation. Meditation is not something we do, it is a state we enter when our body, mind and spirit are ready. Certain meditative techniques or practices help make meditative states be experienced sooner than others. As such it can not be taught, but only experienced by those willing and open to experiment on themselves and disciplined enough to create the right body, mind and spirit.
There are many paths that lead to “meditation,” chose one that fits you and begin today.
Nirmal was trained in Raja yoga in Nepal as of age nine, practiced Ayurveda as of eleven and is fluent in Japanese. We recommend you meditating with him (on Tuesday at noon — check schedule in case it changed), or his private Ayurvedic Counseling or Pranyama class (Thursday nights) at Nirmal Yoga. Contact Nirmal Gyawali Yoga Studio (Shirokanedai) email@example.com to create a new group of meditators or to practice one on one or for for individual ayurvedic counseling. Nirmal also has a teacher training course.
For those interested, we recommend Zen at Senkakuji Temple with Chudo Yamamoto (Japanese/English). Many other temples in Japan have Za-zen, you need to call and find out when it is available to the public. Most in Japanese! Zen is a full life-style that includes the way you walk, sleep, eat, so if you think by sitting one or two hours a day will be enough for a full transformation, you need to re-think your whole lifestyle.
YOGA TREE (Hiroo, Japan). We recommend for hatha yoga Michael Glenn’s studio (English/Japanese) at Yoga Tree in Hiroo, Tokyo. There is something about Michael’s intensity and focus that makes practicing there an incredible experience that harmonizes the body, mind and spirit. The Japanese teachers are excellent too.
YOGA in SYNC (Outram Park, Singapore). For those in Singapore, we recommend hatha yoga with Vikram at Yoga in Sync (hard to find a yogi who knows the body better). For advanced students, health challenges and athletes, we recommend his private sessions.
NIKAM YOGA. For cleansing techniques that prepare the body for meditation we recommend doing yoga with Nikam Yoga. Nikam Yoga includes pranyama and is free of charge, but only available in certain countries like India and Singapore where former students become teachers devoting their time and expertise freely. It is a course, with each class building on the other and regular practice, so committed members only.
We recommend Qigong with Shu Seika (Chinese/Japanese) Friday mornings at 8am in Arisugawa park (near the statue on the side of Library) Hiroo. Mr. Zhou or Shu Seika began his training at age 9 and has helped people with cancer and other illnesses in Japan for many years. He has given workshops that rejuvenate health at the cellular level and treats individuals. Speaks Japanese and Chinese fluently. Tel: 0363289606.
YOGA (From Comfort of your Home with most Effective Yogic Techniques)
For those who do not have an individual teacher, who wish to learn at their own pace or from the comfort of their own home, we recommend the effective techniques of Sadhguru, an Indian yogi. The best place to begin is his online Isha Kriya or his on-line Inner Engineering Course (download his app). Sadhguru gives more advanced trainings in countries where there are enough volunteers to assist follow up trainings. The US, India, Singapore, Malaysia, UK are amongst a few. Then perhaps to India!
For those with limited time but desiring effective techniques–this is it. Naturally as this yogi is Indian, in the West one must be open to that which we do not know (not the best trait of the French nor the Japanese according to a Franco-Japanese!).
Sadhguru is a yogi full of joy, he is profound, his technique combines all forms of yoga even if he himself is probably a kriya yogi. He has talked at the UN, taught the Kennedy brothers, spoken at MIT, Harvard, Yale, trained CEOs and does whatever is needed to bring a small element of spirituality to this world. You may not understand everything he does (nor do I), but his techniques I have tested. They work!
Download Sadhguru App (itunes Version) or search for the one adopted for your phone. For simple 5 minute practices select Yoga on the app and press “Yoga Tools” Learn Now. Apps available on isha website.
For those who wish to do a short 15 minute meditation try ishakriya meditation on the app. Do it daily for 90 days or 2x a day for 48 days for maxium benefit without missing a day. It works..
For those with health issues download the health meditation chit shakti meditation online or use the app. There is also a meditation on love, success and peace.
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM there is a Tibetain Buddhism center in Saint Gilles called Kagyu Samye Dzong, located at 33 rue Capouillet who follow the Karmapa line of Buddhism which is in line with the Dalai Lama. I walked in one weekend to do my first seated 20 and 40 minute meditation with a formidable meditator and Lama named Yeshe who has meditated in seclusion for many years in the forest and also more than once for 25 or so days in a dark enclosed box (most humans go crazy after a few days).
I later returned once again to the center to learn briefly from and meet his elder brother who was a great lama and doctor, named Akong Rinpoche. Both brothers started the first Tibetain monestery in Europe in Scotland. Lama Rinchen Palmo, a French lama at the center also kindly helped me to contact a Zen master as I was leaving for Japan to work with the Japanese. Ken Holmes and his wife Katia are a formidable team of scholars who I met there and give an 3 year on-line course on Tibetan Buddhism that is impossible to find elsewhere. I could only complete two due to my schedule, but recommend it highly.
The Kagyu line also have a monestery in the Catskills, New York which I discovered when a monk I met in the train back from NYC wished to bring me there! Although a novice myself on Tibetain Buddhism, all the people I met at this center were inspiring.
SILENCE AND THE SISTERS OF BETHLEHEM
Christianity has its own set of practices that are meditative in nature and a tradition of silence. The monastery of the sisters of Bethlehem in the Catskill Mountains (Livingston manor), two and a half hours from New York City, is home to this silence, to great love and to the joy of solitude. This is a sacred place and Sr. Amena, the head of the monastery, and the nuns who practice there have a beautiful presence which make each moment spent there sacred.
I had the good fortune of going there once a year for the last few years and staying in a wood cabin for a few days of silence in the forest. It was divine and the small chapel with the chants of the sisters early in the morning lift one’s prayers and meditation.
See if you can book a place Livingston Manor for a silent retreat, contribute for your stay a donation to the sisters (as they live on what they earn with their art) and return re-invigorated. Each sister here is special, each one wants to remain nameless. Each one feels like my sister. Each one has prayed for our family countless times.
Silence is rare these days. And yet, Jesus went into the desert to meditate. There is in Christianity a tradition handed down by mystics and later by the Carmelite tradition exemplified by Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux and Thomas Merton amongst others for silence. One of the techniques used, centering prayer, is much like the techniques I have found in the other traditions above. It is contemplative prayer and it has been renewed with Father Thomas Keating’s work at St. Benedict’s Monastery.
Learn to enter deeper states of relaxation, strengthen your meditation practice, experience the art of well-being or discover a new level of being far beyond a previous best, as you transform yourself and us with your creations and your life.
With gratitude and joy to all artists, all creators,
A blog to go Beyond our Best in body, mind and spirit
Beyond Our Best: Creators Uplifting Japan Collective Ideas
Can the 2020 Olympics be an Occasion to Better Protect Japanese Citizens and Tokyo from Climate Change (Water Suge, Typhoons, Rising Water Levels in Asia) and Natural Disasters?
Idea Stage Proposal
Problem: According to a May 2013 Asian Development bank report on climate change, rising water levels in Asia including Japan will create important problems for farmers and others in the next 40 years calling for the re-enforcement of ports and large adaptation costs. On March 17, 2014 the Japanese Environment Ministry also estimated that in the next 100 years Japan may lose as much as 85% of its beaches and triple the cost of flooding damage.
Tsunamis, typhoons and rising water levels call the Japanese and others in the world to innovate on new structures that can better protect its citizens, farmers and its coast. Climate adaptation cannot wait for a gridlocked climate mitigation agreements that have sustainable development goals for all nations.
Opportunity: In 2020, the same year that the Kyoto protocol has been extended through, the Japanese will host the Olympics in Tokyo Bay area. Can the Japanese use the Olympics as an opportunity to propose and possibly demonstrate new innovative structures to better protect Tokyo Bay and Japanese citizens from future storm surges, typhoons, tsunamis and rising water levels as well as inspire the world to follow or emulate?
Our focus is not the Olympics, but innovation on structures and ideas that can save lives and be used in Japan and elsewhere. We hope to help imagine new ways to stop, slow down or deviate water surge and waves other than the simple rock structures currently used on coastlines of Japan which have proven inadequate and are a blight to the coastal view.
Let us Imagine:
We believe that Japanese artists (architects and others) can work together to elevate, inspire, build and test new structures for Tokyo Bay that better protect Japanese citizens in Tokyo and elsewhere from climate change, all in time for some inaugurations before 2020.
During this process we hope to create more environmentally friendly Olympic games that contribute to the welfare of local citizens far after the games are over.
To do so we must be flexible, we must work with the Olympics and with scientists, governments, farmers and countless others to imagine innovations that can save lives and facilitate recovery. We must realize that some will work and others not. We must begin together now.
Architects and Climate Change, Crisis and Innovation
We appeal to Japanese architects to use their imagination to design new ways to combat environmental threats. We envision an interdisciplinary environment where architects exchange ideas with physicists, mathematicians, engineers and astronomers to think in revolutionary new ways.
We believe that the combination of Japanese architectural ingenuity and ideas from different fields of science would yield ingenious new solutions not only for protecting against tsunamis, but also for addressing rising water levels, earthquakes and other related environmental threats. In the future, we see the type of forum we develop becoming international and some programs even being implemented under the auspices of the United Nations.
If sufficient interest is shown, we will find a way to organize informal gatherings of architects and other interested persons to jumpstart this program.
Please contact us to get involved. We need to work with the team making decisions for the Olympic Games, with Architects, Farmers, Astronomers, Landscape Engineers, Golf Course Architects and other Scientists. Together.
Nathalie Leiko Ishizuka
Director, Beyond Our Best : Creators Uplifting Japan
USEFUL LINKS :
UN and Resilient Design
Asian Development Bank Report in Asia (and Japan) on Climate Change Challenges
The Rockefeller Foundation Grant to Resilient Cities http://100resilientcities.rockefellerfoundation.org/pages/about-the-challenge
Challenge for Architects and Scientists:
Innovative Japanese Landscape Architects Explore Alternative Solutions to Seawalls http://issuu.com/thehiddentokyo/docs/shibitachi_project_brief_01
Nuclear Power Plants at Risk from Tsunamis Around the World
Suggested Studies to Explore
FIELD SURVEY OF THE 2011 TOHOKU EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI IN MIYAGI AND FUKUSHIMA PREFECTURES, TAKAHITO MIKAMI∗, TOMOYA SHIBAYAMA† and MIGUEL ESTEBAN‡
Coastal Engineering Journal, Vol. 54, No. 1 (2012) 1250011 (26 pages)
⃝c World Scientific Publishing Company and Japan Society of Civil Engineers DOI: 10.1142/S0578563412500118
Japanese Version of Letter Below (scroll down)
French Version of Letter Below (scroll down)
Emerging Above Natural and Man-Made Crisis
A letter to Japanese friends contains a poetic vision of how artists, citizens and decision makers could together define a new Japan.
Today is the third anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami. Let us move forward together. Fukushima could one day be a name associated not with disaster, but a springboard for national and international change. Everything is still possible.
Please circulate this Letter to Japanese Friends, discuss it, click “like” to encourage Japan. Join us to work with other artists and citizens who inspire. Link to Beyond Our Best: Creators Uplifting Japan so we can work creatively together.
This letter has been published in 2012 both in English and Japanese by the chief editor of Sogensha in Osaka Japan in 日本語臨床フォーラム, a web journal dealing with psychology psychotherapy and art. It has also been since re-published in Belgium in 2013 in the philosophy and theology journal Acta Comparanda XXIV, FVG, Faculty for Comparative Study of Religions, pp. 137-138, 2610 Antwerpen Belgium.
For other venues interested in publishing it, please Contact Us.
A Letter to Japanese Friends
Leiko Ishizuka, MBA, MALD, Keio University exchange, a Franco-Japanese from New York
Paul Briot, Ph.D. in Philosophy, Professor at the Antwerp Faculty of Comparative Religion
understanding, heart of sun,
Nations, just like individuals, often ask crucial questions in times of crisis. It is only when things become really difficult that we have the courage to consider transformational change. After the 2011 tragedy, Japan set about recovering with a dignity and courage that moved the world. Just as in 1945, the Japanese will recover and rebuild. The question is: can a new Japan emerge?
Some Japanese realize that in the face of increasing natural and man-made disasters, the country has to equip itself with a new moral drive that enlightens and inspires. To rebuild an old Japan in the current international context is not enough. To write a glorious page of its history, Japan will need to emerge from this crisis far beyond its previous best.
Let us imagine how Japan can conceive and bring about a sublime nobility, a beauty capable of projecting its inhabitants beyond what they ever were, even at the height of their culture and past.
Japan needs This, a moral drive rich in comprehension and compassion. The country requires an enlightened spirit of fraternity, open to all those in the world who in this period of adversity have shown their sympathy and respect for Japan’s courage, dignity and solidarity.
In order to mold a new heart for themselves, a heart of sun, one that ignites the sparks that live within them, the Japanese launch into the sky the arrows of their imagination. In a country that experiences a tremendous range of human emotions and feelings, poets suggest a Japanese This, an element of value and meaning that resides in the very spirit of the Japanese people.
Painters, sculptors, architects and all artists envision faces that gradually rise towards This, a moral sun that is stronger and undoubtedly nobler than unbridled nature.
Intellectuals, historians, writers, journalists, major broadcasters evoke the past. Throughout its history Japan has been influenced at times by China at times by the West. But today those lands are also in search of meaning, of their own existential journey. Fortunately, Japan itself can devise its own audacious future.
The spiritual, the wise and those who meditate propose their experience. This will signify according to each individual: spiritual faith, moral force or beauty. These three aspects are indeed compatible. Imagining meanings, choosing one’s own specificity, committing oneself to the essential Adventure.
Individual citizens ask important questions of themselves and of their country. They move, they engage, they act to rebuild Japan from within.
Finally an appeal is launched, a solemn appeal to those in charge, including leaders and decision-makers, to contribute to a new Japan.
The Japanese envisage the sun in full freedom, as their inspiration dictates. They question it in all possible ways. They imagine poetically its responses, its enigmas, its allusions. Meaning starts to live, it deepens, it spreads freely. Value blossoms, sparkles, becomes light, a measureless light that sublimates all things.
The Japanese are capable of This and the world context requires nothing less: comprehension, compassion, liberation, realization.
understanding, heart of sun,
Nathalie Leiko Ishizuka（ナタリー 玲子 石塚） パリHECでMBA、慶応大学に留学、「ベストを超えて：日本を元気にするクリエーター達」ディレクター
Paul Briot（ポール・ブリオ） 哲学博士、アントワープ比較宗教学講座教授
個人と同様に、国家も、危機に直面すると重要な問いを発するものです。本当に困難な状況に陥ったときに初めて、根本的な変化へと踏み出そうとする勇 気が出 てきます。2011年3月の悲劇的な災害から、日本は尊厳と勇気を持って復興への道を歩みだし、世界を感動させました。第二次世界大戦から復興したときと 同じように、日本はまた復興と再建を成し遂げることでしょう。問題は、「日本は新しく生まれ変われるのだろうか？」ということです。
自然 と人為、二種類の災害の頻度がますます高まっている昨今、日本人の中にも、道を照らし、人々を勇気づけるような新しい精神力を身につける必要があることに 気付きはじめた人々がいます。現代の国際情勢においては、以前と同じ日本をもう一度再建するだけでは十分ではありません。日本がこの苦難の時を乗り越えた とき、これまでの日本をはるかに上回る素晴らしい国として生まれ変わった姿を示すことができれば、その歴史に輝かしい1ページを書き加えることができるで しょう。
日本の人々は、新しい心、すなわち内なる輝きに火をともす太陽の心をかたち作っていくために、想像力の矢を空高く放ちます。詩人たちは、数えきれな いほど さまざまな感情や思いを今まさに経験しているこの国において、日本人本来の精神性の中にもともと備わっているこの価値観、この意味を訴えかけます。
知識人、歴史家、作家、ジャーナリスト、ニュースキャスターなどは、過去の歴史を呼び起こさせます。日本はその歴史上、中国から、そしてまた西洋か らも影 響を受け続けてきました。しかし今日では、それらの国々もまた意味を求め、自らの存在を問い直す旅のなかにあります。幸いなことに日本は今、自分たちの未 来を自らの手で大胆につくり出していくことができるのです。
宗教家や賢人、瞑想家たちは、自らの経験を言葉にして伝えます。信仰、精神 力、そして美――これが日本人ひとりひとりにとって重要な意味を持ちます。これら3つは共存可能です。意味を想像すること、自分だけの特質を自ら選び取る こと、そして意義深い「冒険」へと踏み出していくこと。
霊感の指し示すところにしたがって、日本人はその心の中に自由に太陽を描き出します。日本人は可能な限りのあらゆる方法で太陽に問いを投げかけま す。太陽 が返す答え、太陽がかける謎、太陽が暗示するものを、日本人は詩的に想像します。意味が命を得て、深まり、そして自由に広がっていきます。価値は花開き、 輝き、光となります。それは、すべての存在を至高の高みへと導く、計り知れない光です。
ポール・ブリオは哲学博士、アントワープ（ベルギー）の比較宗教学講座教授。危機の活用、誠実さ、芸術的創造、目標の明確化などをテーマとした詩的随想や記事、著書を発表。近著（Le rayonnant…un art vers l’Infini…? 2004, Editions Caractères, Collections : Cahiers & Cahiers）では、すべてを超越し、人々を高みへと導く内なる芸術について論じている。
ナタリー 玲子 石塚
石 塚ナタリー玲子は慶応大学で日本語を学び、フレッチャー法律外交大学院でMALD（法律と外交に関する修士号、ハーバード大学との共同学位）を、パリの HECではMBAを取得。学位論文では1946年に制定された日本国憲法と国連平和維持活動について論じ、憲法起草者の一人から称賛の手紙が贈られた。危 機を国家や個人を変革するためのチャンスとして捉えることをテーマに執筆活動を行っており、「日本の友人への手紙」に、日本の昔話「鶴の恩返し」を重ね合 せた寓話「きずな（KIZUNA）」を発表している。
LETTRE A DES AMIS JAPONAIS
Leiko Ishizuka, M.B.A. HEC, M.A.L.D. Fletcher School, a Franco-Japanese from New York
Paul Briot, Docteur en philosophie, Professeur à la Faculté des religions comparées d’Anvers
comprendre, cœur de soleil,
En 1945, les Japonais ont réparé les dommages de la guerre et développé une économie particulièrement brillante. Après le drame de 2011, ils se redressent une fois encore avec une dignité et un courage qui touchent le monde entier. Mais certains Japonais comprennent que, face à des désastres naturels et d’autres créés par l’homme, le pays doit se doter maintenant d’une force morale qui éclaire l’existence et l’inspire. De cette crise actuelle le Japon peut écrire une page glorieuse de son histoire.
Imaginons comment le pays conçoit et réalise une noblesse, une beauté qui projette ses habitants au delà de ce qu’ils étaient avant cette épreuve terrible.
Il faut au Japon Ceci, une force morale riche de compréhension et de compassion. Il faut au pays un esprit éclairé, fraternel, ouvert à tous ses amis du monde qui, dans cette épreuve, ont manifesté au pays sympathie et respect pour son courage, sa dignité, l’aide que chacun a apportée aux autres.
Pour se forger un nouveau cœur, un cœur de soleil, pour faire jaillir ces étincelles qui déjà vivent en eux, les Japonais lancent vers les hauts les flèches de leur imagination. Dans ce pays qui a reconnu l’immense gamme des émotions et des sentiments humains, les poètes suggèrent ce quelque chose qui vaut, ce quelque chose lourd de sens qui réside dans l’esprit même du peuple.
Peintres, sculpteurs, architectes, tous les artistes imaginent des visages qui peu à peu s’élèvent vers Ceci, soleil moral plus fort en fin de compte, plus noble assurément que la nature déchaînée.
Compositeurs et chorégraphes évoquent une sagesse où volonté et courage s’unissent à l’amour.
Penseurs, historiens, écrivains, journalistes, grands diffuseurs évoquent le passé. Au cours de son histoire, le Japon fut influencé tantôt par la Chine, tantôt par l’Occident. Mais aujourd’hui ces lieux se trouvent eux aussi à la recherche d’un sens, d’une formule d’existence. Par bonheur, le Japon lui-même peut concevoir des plans d’audace, un Ceci japonais.
Les spirituels, les sages, ceux qui méditent proposent leur expérience. Ceci signifiera selon chacun destinée spirituelle, force morale ou encore beauté, ces trois aspects étant, bien entendu, compatibles. Imaginer des sens, choisir un sens particulier, s’engager dans l’Aventure essentielle.
Enfin un appel est lancé, un appel solennel qui s’adresse aux responsables, aux dirigeants, aux décideurs pour apporter leur aide à un nouveau Japon.
Les Japonais considèrent le soleil librement, selon leur inspiration. Ils le questionnent de toutes les manières. Ils imaginent poétiquement ses réponses, ses énigmes, ses allusions. Du sens se met à vivre, il se creuse, s’étend librement. La valeur s’épanouit, lance des feux, devient lumière, lumière immense qui sublime toutes choses.
comprendre, cœur de soleil,
Dear Friends and Supporters of Beyond Our Best : Creators Uplifting Japan
Happy New Year 2014 and thank you for your creativity, service, kindness and support to creators in Japan in 2013.
Nothing could be done without your friendship, ideas, input, introductions, creativity, generosity and great spirit. As we are all creators, Beyond Our Best: Creators Uplifting Japan simply facilitates the work of many who inspire.
This year we worked on meaning: what it means for creators to uplift Japan. As I tend to think in images and my Japanese is poor, this has been no easy task.
Dr. Paul Briot, a Belgian philosopher Ph.D. and Professor of Comparative Religion, and I work together on using natural and man-made crisis for change. Together we wrote a poetic Letter to Japanese Friends translated and published it thanks to Dr. Masayoshi Morioka in Japan in 2012 and later in a journal in Belgium in 2013. A new translated version now exists thanks to Peter Macmillan.
KIZUNA FABLE : Knowledge and Comprehension in 2014
To help convey the Letter to Japanese Friends to the general public, I re-wrote and illustrated the letter in 2014 into the adapted fable The Japanese Crane Wife (鶴の恩返し). The fable was translated in Japanese just in time for it to be produced as a dance on January 6th 2014 by a talented Japanese Nihon Buyo artist in front of some of her peers.
She believes others could interpret the story in opera, movie, manga, music or other forms of art and in the future aspires to create and perform the dance in Tohoku (the region devastated by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear).
Should other artists wish to have a copy of KIZUNA and interpret the story in an original manner please contact us.
We welcome publishing contacts for the illustrated Japanese fable.
2014 and Beyond : Lectures, Workshops and Guests
Due to high demand we welcome again in 2014 two inter-disciplinary guests who have helped artists and leaders in different disciplines balance high levels of self, intimacy and achievement: Dr. Yukio Ishizuka, a Japanese Harvard-Keio trained psychiatrist, who developed a model of health, happiness and balance and Frederic Bosendorf, D.O., osteopath, physiotherapist and practitioner of Chinese medicine. Let us know if you would like to book Dr. Yukio Ishizuka on a talk for happiness, health and creativity or for an appointment for Frederic.
Dr. Yukio Ishizuka Dates Japan: April 22 – May 14th 2014
Frederic Bosendorf, D.O. Dates Japan: Early June
Many thanks to all of you and in particular to Dr. Paul Briot who inspired me to come to Japan to work with Japanese artists and who has been working with me throughout.
Let this be a year of greater knowledge, compassion, freedom and realization.
With much to learn from each of you,
Nathalie Leiko Ishizuka
Aside from working with individual artists on using knowledge or compassion in Tohoku and Japan at large, in 2014 some collective propositions include:
2014 and Beyond: Architects and Climate Change, Crisis and Innovation
In 2014 and beyond we wish to imagine together with interested Japanese architects and inter-disciplinary scientists and experts innovative new structures that better resist environmental challenges such as tsunamis, earthquakes, rising levels of the sea and climate change. We will be organizing informal gatherings to jump start this program. Please contact us to get involved.
2014 and Beyond: Japanese Youth, Artists & Social Movement
In 2014 and beyond we wish to develop a compassion application on the mobile to engage the Japanese youth and others to reduce suicides and show the power of compassion in Japan and abroad. This would be building on the central message of KIZUNA, the bonds between people, to show how through simple actions we can create bonds of compassion in Japan and extend them in Asia without any political messages attached.
2014 and Beyond: Innovative and Resourceful Children
There are 30,000 children in orphanages in Japan, most have at least one parent. We hope to work with one orphanage, the Seibi Home and with innovative social workers develop and test pilot programs which can if successful be used in other orphanages and in education at large. We are thinking of developing a series of three advanced workshops one after the other : 1) survival skills 2) emotional/life skills 3) crisis and creativity skills and welcome experts, sponsors and support .
What we realize of course depends on the talents, interests and opportunities of individuals in a position to initiate, support and create change.
WE THANK many countless individuals in 2013 who are the important bonds amongst us who make things happen.
Our activities were numerous in 2013 including contacts with individuals who do great things for orphanages and prisoners, farmers throughout Japan and nuclear safety. Throughout all of our activities we strove to re-imagine with experts in each sector, using crisis and setbacks to create together.
Each individual who is thanked is not responsible for the views of others nor does he or she agree on different societal challenges nor is necessarily part of any organization with a common purpose. And yet, each mentioned stirred our imagination to greater knowledge or compassion.
We wish to thank countless artists, creative individuals and volunteers who have each inspired us, including:
ARCHITECTS AND RELATED PROJECTS
Special thanks to the architect Toyo Ito, who received the Pritzer Prize in architecture in 2013 and continues to use his understanding of “間” or space to conceive architecture as a skin — a space that opens a door for long forgotten relationships amongst people.
We thank the talented Mr. Kobayashi, his chief architect as well as Ms. Miki Uono who coordinated with countless mails meaningful exchanges. We thank too Ronald Choi, a remarkable investment banker from JP Morgan, who is raising funds for Toyo Ito’s Fukushima park for children as well as Hiroko Kano, Yoko Amau, and Shingo Oshima for their volunteer translations for our meetings. We thank Naomi Pollock for her advice on architects in Japan. We thank Roland Hagenberg for his inspirational presentation at the Austrian Embassy on a farm village in Europe revived by Japanese architects and hope the Japanese can do something similar in Tohoku. We thank the professor and scientist Sahraoui Chaieb who we first met at MIT and helped us with holograms and implications for new structures in architecture.
JA-ZENCHU (Agricultural LOBBY)
We thank from JA-ZENCHU Kato Jun and Oota Yousuke for brainstorming on how to revive Japanese farming beyond a previous best and how artists may contribute to reviving spirits in Tohoku. We look forward to future work together facilitating the work of architects and other artists in Japan to lift the spirits of farmers. This could include imagining ways with architects to better protect coastal areas against tsunamis or rising water levels or helping to revive a village with architects and designers.
ARTISTS and TOHOKU
We thank Naoto Nakagawa who completed his 1,000 portraits of hope sketches of people from Tohoku, bringing good luck and inspiration to all. I thank Naoto for taking me to Fukushima with his friend Robin Rabin.
I learned much from the generosity of the people of Fukushima particularly Masako Koyano and Mr. and Mrs. Yamaguchi whose Taxi service drove us to Aizuwakamatsu and got us around Koriyama city as well as meeting children from the Okuma Kindergarten, teens from Japan’s number one youth badminton team (who once practiced near the Dai-itchi nuclear plant) and elders from the temporary housing unit. We also thank Caroline Press for helping to make such beautiful work possible.
We thank too TIS for inspiring us with their work with Ishinomaki and Kesenuma and for their work with the Playground of Hope and It’s not Just Mudd. We thank particularly Bita Alu and Tracey Odea. We thank Gaetano Totaro and Michael Anop for what they have done for Tohoku.
We thank the Google team including Reirui Ri, Charlie Hale and William Echickson for all they have done for Tohoku and Marie Onga for brainstorming with us on further projects with artists.
NIHON BUYO and KIZUNA
We thank Wakayagi Sensei in Nihon Buyo for her support and interpretation of the fable KIZUNA in a dance in front of a few of her peers. Many people were involved in this creation and its development was a great adventure that began with many friendships starting with Mrs. Reiko Nagura who introduced me to her talented teacher Wakayagi Sensei and offered me a Kimono and Obi.
Mrs. Sara Hitchens, a talented counselor in health and psychology, helped in more ways than one including kindly introducing me to the poet and composer Lady Bouchier author of The Japanese Crane: Bird of Happiness and the poet and artist Peter Macmillan who was instrumental in helping the fable KIZUNA be translated in Japanese just in time for it to be produced as a dance on January 6th 2014.
We thank Lady Bouchier who solved a year long puzzle on Hokusai‘s Cranes which lead all the way to Kushiro in Hokkaido…and to the talented photographer of cranes Tsuneo Hayashida.
We thank warmly Kimete Basha for recent help with publishing contacts.
We thank Satoshi Kamata, a Japanese journalist who has written over 200 books for his courageous work in many fields including social causes and the Fukushima disaster. I first met Mr. Kamata in Paris when he came with Kenzaburo Oe.
We thank too Mark Willacy’s (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation News) informative book FUKUSHIMA as it pointed out important human error. We also thank many NHK journalists and others whom we met or corresponded with in 2013 who do great work on many societal issues including on the important work of artists, happiness and social change. We leave out your names as you get enough press ;).
OPTIMAL WELL-BEING, HEALTH & CREATIVITY
We thank our two specialists who came from New York and Brussels who work with Japanese artists and others on health and happiness on going beyond our best, Dr. Yukio Ishizuka and Frederic Bosendorf.
Dr. Yukio Ishizuka a Japanese Harvard trained psychiatrist and Keio medical school graduate gave countless lectures including at the British Embassy, the EU embassy, Keio University, Lutheran University and individual groups such as that headed by my gifted friend Rosanna Kubotera, as well as Yoko Amau and Yasuko Amau who we all thank for countless introductions.
We thank Frederic Bosendorf who helped many individuals who had intense workloads and who do much for others. We thank Ingrid Davis for providing Frederic Bosendorf with an osteopathic table and Mrs. Eri Ogawa for teaching both Frederic an I about Seitai. We thank Colette Ishizuka who supported Dr. Ishizuka’s schedule and allowed me to work during the summer.
We thank former Ambassador and Mrs. Petree and Ambassador and Mrs. Terusuke Terada for helping our transition to Japan as well as Kenji Kuratomi of the Embassy of Japan in Belgium.
We thank the EU Embassy Ambassador and Mrs. Schweisgut, Rudie Filon on hosting a talk at the EU on Suicide Prevention Best Practices : EUROPE, JAPAN, US in 2013, as well as on Happiness and we congratulate the movie and work of Rene Duignan on Suicide Prevention in Japan, we thank the British Embassy for sponsoring a talk on Happiness including Ambassador and Mrs. Hitchens.
We thank Marie-Claire Joyce for her talent, creativity and friendship which lifts us. We thank the Austrian Embassy particularly Ambassador and Mrs. Zimberg for work with the Seibi orphanage as well as inviting us to talks by artists.
We thank Embassies working to facilitate visits to foreign prisoners in Japan with the FCC under Frances Moyer’s beautiful efforts, Ambassadors who have offered to host art exhibits and Ambassadors who have aspirations to do work on climate change with artists. We look forward to future work together as Japan works with many other countries for needed change.
We thank the Seibi orphanage and its staff, particularly Kudo Yoshi. We thank the Austrian Ambassador and his wife Rashmi Zimburg for bringing song to children for the Christmas holidays, Peter Storer from the Austrian Embassy for making the event possible, the talented designer and psychologist Andrea Strohmeier for her friendship and interesting insights on many topics.
We thank Stephanie Johnson head of FCC orphanages, Patrick Newell, head of Living Dreams an NPO that helps orphanages, Maki-Mori, an American trained Japanese social worker and Zoe Davis-Rizutto for her support. We thank Shinobu Yoshida for his work on survival workshops that we are developing for orphanages. We welcome and seek new social workers including those who can speak Japanese and thank Shikibu Oishi for contacts including with Maurice Rabb and his work with children in difficulty. We thank Adele Marcis and FIFA’s donation for Jacky’s Japanese team soccer shirt : a wish made true for an orphan bound for the soccer field!
We thank from BST Brian Christian, Kirsten O’Connor and Ben Stainer for setting up a community service with the Seibi Home Orphanage.
PROFESSIONAL CREATIVE WRITERS, POETS, DESIGN
We thank our many professional writers who have worked for some of the best ad agencies or created their own and volunteered their time especially Michael Glen of CREATIVE (firstname.lastname@example.org) for his critical help defining the name of our organization, our core activities succinctly, translating those into Japanese, editing a proposal on a mobile application, editing a proposal on architects and climate change and creative insight on many matters. Michael you are a great teacher, a formidable writer and generous friend.
We warmly thank Rosanna Kubodera and Yoshi Kubodera from CONNECT Inc. for helping us define our name in Japanese and for creative insights on our meishi.
We thank Emine Karali, a talented designer in Belgium for working late into the nights on the print design of the book KIZUNA.
We thank Nori Katano for his advice and knowledge of the internet, mobile and web. We also thank Sarah Breen for her high tech advice and ideas.
We thank Peter Macmillan’s translation services who gave us a generous discount and provided us with his most talented translator so that the book KIZUNA could be danced by Wakayagi Sensei on January 6th 2014. Peter’s excellent translation services also just did exceptional work on a Letter to Japanese Friends which we hope to publish at the same time as the book KIZUNA.
We highly recommend their services to others and thank them for their generous time, talent, ideas and support.
We thank all our volunteer translators especially Hiroko Kano and Makiko Sephardi who helped us on many of our undertakings including tight deadlines, phone calls and many aspects of our daily work. Much of our work could not have been possible without them. We admire all our expert as well as youth translators. Special thanks to Yoko Amau, Hiroko Sasaki, Shingo Oshima, Satomi Kanaya, Akemi Shuto for volunteer translations in meetings with artists and people who inspire.
We thank Dr. Oliver Williamson from Berkeley, Dr. Joel Trachtman from The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Dr. Ray Moore from Amherst College, Dr. Donald Robinson from Smith College, Dr. James Sutterlin, former Director of the Executive Office of the U.N. Secretary General, Dr. Mikako Le Lay, Senior Fellow at Industry Research on Environment and Energy at Ernst & Young Institute and Dr. Masayoshi Morioka from Kobe University.
BELGIUM, FRANCE, USA
We thank our initial team in Japan which included the help of Michiko Nakazawa, Hiroyuki Akahori, Dr. Mikako Le Lay, Caroline Giraud, the poet Isabelle Balot, Osaka Wataru, Shinji Ioka and Frederic Donck. We are happy to welcome Hiroyuki and Mikako to Tokyo ! We thank Guillaume Brouard and Olivier Kahwati from France for their high tech wisdom. We thank Barbara De Frondeville and Bertrand De Frondeville for their work on many projects, including climate change.
We thank countless artists such as Keiko Courdy for inspiring us with her web documentary on Fukushima, the talented designer and artist Mai Miyake for her interesting work and expositions, Suiko Ohta for her demonstration of Sumie and many artist friends, including Mimi Oka, who introduced us to people in Japan and made our initial stay a happy one. We thank Mr. and Mrs. Arikawa as well as Miyuki Arikawa.
We especially thank Mrs. Reiko Nagura who taught me much about traditional arts in Japan, intrigued me with in depth conversations on Jung and was one of the first to introduce us to artists including Wakayagi Sensei in Nihon Buyo and her cousin Yoko Ono amongst others.
I thank my friend Carol Randell who drove my children to school and my friend Melanie Borisoff, my helper and friend Sally Reyes and especially my husband Bruno and children Dimitri and Leiko for their patience with a mother who often does too little and too much.
I am sure I have forgotten vital friends but as it is the last day I can send you a happy New Year card in January — you will forgive me and I will thank you in person.
I am grateful for such friends and moved at all you have done. Much good has come from your work, generosity and creativity.
Kesennuma, Changing Japan from Kid to Kid and Beyond (a visit on March 13, 2013)
Kesennuma, located in the northeast of Miyagi Precture, Japan, was deeply affected in Japan’s quake disaster. This leading fishing town in Japan is of great beauty and its people of great strength. Having said that, the strong need help and two years after the disaster there is still much that can be done.
Kesennuma Hit Hard by Tsunami
When faced with national crisis many of us feel useless. Our first response is what can I do? And yet, it is often the smallest acts, many of which seemingly go unnoticed, which make a fundamental difference.
For instance, Emi Satomi and a group of nursery teachers from Kesenumma whose jobs were eliminated by the catastrophe, weren’t sure what to do. They made a makeshift day care center in a warehouse up on a hill. Despite Emi’s fear to take on something she felt was beyond her, she forged ahead and named the new nursery Ohisama, meaning “sun” (more on her by Japan Times). And sun it brought.
Today, the Japanese have done a great job in cleaning up Kesennuma. And yet, it is not clean streets alone that are sufficient in raising the human spirit. It is people like Emi Satomi and small acts which change lives. Acts that tell people we are with them.
TIS (Tokyo International School) Kids, Parents and Michael Anop’s Play Ground of Hope
On March 13 2013, a group from TIS (Tokyo International School) of dedicated and inspiring parents — including Bita Alu and Tracey Odea — as well as the head of the school, Des Hurst, and the entrepreneur Michael Anop (founder of the Play Ground of Hope) went up to Kessennuma together with a mission. The purpose of the visit: to send a message from the kids of TIS (Tokyo International school) to the kids of Ohisama that they are not forgotten.
In kids talk, this means it is time to play and to smile. The kids at TIS saved their money and through their own fundraising as well as of their parents offered a playground of hope to a nursery school in Kesennuma. The idea was to provide a smile to kids up north and some relief to the brave nursery teachers who through their giving and effort helped many families in difficulty.
These kids from TIS (Tokyo International School) are wiser than most of us. They know that is only when smiles return that real reconstruction begins. Let me share with you a few of those pictures as the moment was a happy one!
The boy with the red cap kept hugging us.
I speak about the wisdom of children, but I also speak with some noted exceptions of great adults. Michael Anop, who is himself a parent and knows well the benefit of outdoor play for kids has started a great project of hope for kids (and their parents) in Tohoku. As the housing situation is difficult in the north with temporary housing now constructed, but with no room for kids to play — a solution had to be found.
Given that local authorities remain busy with the basics of housing and employment, it is private initiatives like the Playground of Hope that make the difference. Michael, determined to help children and their parents in Tohoku, found a way to make playgrounds affordable. He did something that even the local Japanese constructors thought impossible: build a sturdy affordable playground designed to last.
As he has worked on project after project in Tohoku, he has merited the confidence and trust of local authorities and even the makers of playgrounds are now approaching him with some admiration. It is my hope that new playgrounds can be created for children who have no place to play. For this to continue efforts in financing Playground of Hope are helpful by schools and individuals.
We also need the media in the north to make the project of hope visible so that new communities in need of playgrounds will initiate requests to Michael.
They are waving to their new friends at TIS. Bita Alu lugged up a large suitcase of presents for each one of them, to be given after the snack…
Financing Socially Aware Projects in Tohoku Creates Smiles
People such as Ronald Choi, a Korean investment banker for JP Morgan in Tokyo and also a parent at TIS, is now working to help finance the Playground of Hope and other projects. He and others are aware that the real work in re-construction starts now. That is : it is only after people have struggled to physically survive, that comes the more difficult task of re-building one’s life and creating daily meaning in difficult circumstances.
Ron Choi is raising additional money for the Playground of Hope and other projects up north with the organization NADIA.
I first met Mr. Choi on a bus on the way to Ishinomaki when TIS donated a large playground and many excited children and parents rode up together with Lorraine Izzard (the new head of TIS as of July 2013). On the bus, I was struck by Mr. Choi’s great spirit, modesty and generosity. Here was an investment banker who took his own vacation time (vacation is rare in investment banking) to physically do hard labor to help re-build homes up north. I only met him for a few moments, but was moved by him and his giving family as well as the way he spoke to his own children and to others.
Helping Communities Now and Japanese Architects
Projects such as Michael’s are important as they underline the necessity of people up north to re-create links and find a place to see old friends and build relationships. This naturally happens around children. Socially aware projects like Michael’s enable communities to unite and re-build from within.
As most housing units up north have been randomly assigned to people in temporary housing, people often do not know each other. Until (and even after) permanent housing and new relationships are created, playgrounds and places where adults can come together are needed.
Another such notable project that merits attention due to its social awareness is by the reknown architect Toyo Ito. He has designed a “house for all,” as shown in Keiko Courdy’s web documentary Yonaoshi. Her stunning documentary talks about a New Japan emerging from the disaster, a Japan better than before. Perhaps, when we look at this house, we begin to understand the spirit of this new Japan.
In the video interview of Toyo Ito, Keiko Courdy shows a prototype of a house by Ito that builds on a new spirit of community. The wooden house has a place to sit outside where people can naturally greet passing neighbors and a place to gather to cook together a simple meal inside or to have tea together.
Other Japanese architects too, like Shigeru Ban, have created new structures for people up north often without help from local governments nor outside funding nor support. These architects remind us of our responsibility in crisis to think about the people within the houses, about their hearts, minds and desire to be together with loved ones.
The experience of these Japanese architects remind us of the courage necessary to break away from bureaucracy and let a new Japan emerge. Some Japanese bureaucrats have been courageous to do so and have allowed talented Japanese architects to realize new structures. However, more needs to be done to help Japanese architects build and innovate according to needs of people who have lost their homes and often all hope.
It could be our role to link Japanese architects, courageous mayors and bureaucrats who are willing to take a chance, bankers like Ronald Choi and daring social entrepreneurs like Michael Anop to help make the daily life of our citizens livable.
Building a New Japan : A Role for Artists
The well known ship that was left stranded shows a stark contrast to the one in the earlier picture of this blog. And yet, there was also a feeling of great sadness. A feeling of isolation that is hard to describe as there was an emptiness about the streets.
With unemployment in the Tohoku area important, houses with a new community spirit and playgrounds brought by the private sector can do much to help reduce stress and growing domestic violence, drinking and suicide in Tohoku.
Playgrounds and community houses may seem like little acts of creation, but in the day to day life of stressed out parents who can easily tire, they bring back a moment of peace or even a smile. That smile was best communicated to us by the children we met at Kesennuma. When we first met them, they were all hard at work happily building something in the sand around the playground.
When I asked them what they were building, I had expected a “castle,” or something of the sort, but instead heard “I am building a store, a house, a road and shops.” And so they were. I leave you, Japanese architects, bureaucrats and financial investors with their hopes and with the beautiful sunset I saw on the way back passing Fukushima. I am sure you will not disappoint them.
Thoughts on the movie Saving 10,000: Winning a War on Suicide in Japan
Last night I was invited to a well attended Diet screening for Rene Duignan’s much talked about film (see Asahi Shimbun 1/22/2013, Yomiuri Shimbun 125/2013 amongst others). The presentation, opened by MP Hosono, and closed by MP Renho, who is the former minister in charge of suicide prevention in Japan, had an important following.
Over 100 Diet members were invited. Murata Nobuyuki moderated the event and Professor Hidetoshi Nakamura, Deputy Director of EU Institute of Japan at Waseda University gave remarks. Saito Yukio, Nakashita Daiki and Rene Duignan were on the panel.
Rene Duignan and Saving 10,000
Rene Duignan, who works for the European Union Delegation in Tokyo, is by training an economist.
A man of great spirit and focus, he spent many late nights and countless weekends over the three last years wanting to make a difference about one issue: suicide in Japan. Interviewing countless experts he made a film which examines why so many Japanese people take their own lives in Japan. The result is tremendous.
The film is released today free on the internet in order to reach the greatest number. Saving 10,000: Winning a War on Suicide in Japan, is going to make an impact. It will make you think about what you can do to save a life.
Statistics on Japan’s Suicide Rate
The movie raises many questions about why Japan’s suicide rate is so high despite a declining population. A few figures stuck out: the suicide rate in Japan is 2x that of the United States, in the last 10 or so years 300,000 people committed suicide in Japan — a figure about equal to the population of Iceland.
Most notably, of the 30,000 who take their lives each year from suicide, 10,000 have been in a mental hospital and 1/3 are over 60. Having said this, to suggest that the thought of suicide only crosses the mind of the weak or aging in Japan would be wrong. Another study shows that 40% of University Students in Japan have considered suicide.
I will allow you to view the film or see the reviews. I will just make a comment on a possible answer to suicide.
The Best Suicide Prevention: Stronger Intimate Relationships and Existential Meaning
For me the opposite of death is life. This means that the best suicide prevention is to help people live healthier happier lives full of meaning.
It can also come on the existential level, with a sense of life purpose or meaning that has a spiritual element be it a strong morale, an appreciation of beauty or the capacity to use our life to help others.
On an existential level this can be experienced as beauty, as oneness with nature, or for some the experience of being one with the universe or with God.
Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
On the individual level, given the Japanese statistics, Japanese psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers can play a role by helping the Japanese balance their inner lives, despite outward difficulties which in our world today only seem to be growing.
For this reason, Rene will also be giving up a follow-up event of the EU’s screening of his film on March 27th 2013 at the EU Delegation to Japan with Dr. Yukio Ishizuka, a Japanese Harvard trained psychiatrist who founded the Japan International Medical Student Association (JIMSA) with the support of Dr. Taro Takemi—the long-standing President of the Japanese Medical Association and a well-respected physician and nuclear physicist.
Using Crisis to Make A Breakthrough in Life
Dr. Yukio Ishizuka will talk about how a failed suicide attempt can be an opportunity to breakthrough beyond a previous best level in one’s sense of self, intimacy and achievements.
The talk will address our threshold for individual stress, the subjective factor, suffering and happiness. Rene and other experts will be on a panel.
Suicide a Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem
As Rene points out in his film, just one of us can do a lot. The patrol man Shige-san who along with his volunteers has sucessfully stopped 297 from jumping off Tojimbo Cliff, has had an impact. Most notably of those 297 who were determined to take their lives at that moment, only 4 later committed suicide. That means, that 293 of the 297 found it possible to overcome the terrible circumstance that once made life seem impossible.
Societal Factors that Play a Role Should be Addressed
But as Durkheim, the French sociologist, pointed out the causes of suicide can be found in social factors and not just individual personalities. When a society faces disintegration in the family structure, in politics and religion (or meaning), then suicide increases. That may be true not just of Japan, but of the world. However, there are national specificities in life insurance packages, in gambling, alcohol, mental health, bullying and how we view death and suffering through our culture, literature and history that also play a role. In this aspect, the film examines some important issues.
Japanese Artists Have a Positive Role to Play
As far as Japanese artists goes, there is also much that can be done. Henry Scott Stokes, a personal friend of Yukio Mishima — the Japanese renown author who took his life in gruesome circumstances– has much to say on the matter. The death of Mishima is a great loss to the world.
In the film Saving 10,000 lives Mr. Stokes states, “The suicide tendency among Japanese authors has been extremely high. And if you just list them going through the decades there are many who took their lives and the pattern is totally out of shape with the rest of the world. There is no where else where the suicide of novelists is so prevalent.”
Henry Scott Stokes regrets dearly Mishima’s decision and states, “Those of us who knew he had suicidal tendencies should have stepped forward, should have found a way to enable him to continue to live.”
Because artists are often sensitive to the beauty of life, they also feel deeply the pain. The challenge for Japanese artists in the future may be to help the Japanese experience the fullness of life without the fascination for death.
While life and death are inseparable, all of us can overcome. We can express the ugliness of despair and the beauty of finding one’s own way. Through art, including literature, Japanese artists can inspire the Japanese to new heights, to the experience of greater beauty and meaning– to a dignity that will move us all.
There is a spiritual value in art that touches our core and in this Japanese artists have a profound opportunity to touch far more than 10,000.
Art will always express what words cannot.
Fundamental Individual & National Change in Crisis
As difficult as crisis can be, it may be an ideal opportunity for fundamental change in the individual as stated by Dr. Yukio Ishizuka and seen in the graph above or (as Dr. Paul Briot, a Belgian philosopher and writer) has pointed out poignently — in a nation.
In a letter addressed to Japanese friends published in English and Japanese by the chief editor of Sogensha in Osaka, dealing with psychology psychotherapy and art, Dr. Paul Briot and I write:
“Nations, just like individuals, often ask crucial questions in times of crisis. It is only when things become really difficult that we have the courage to consider transformational change. After the 2011 tragedy, Japan set about recovering with a dignity and courage that moved the world. Just as in 1945, the Japanese will recover and rebuild. The question is: can a new Japan emerge?”
It is often only when we have reached our worst, that we can ask fundamental questions and create something new beyond a previous best. After March 11, 2011 the time may have come.
Japan Can Use Crisis to Breakthrough
Japan can do much to reduce the suicide rate and help create a society of meaning. We all have a role to play in this. It starts by taking time to notice how we impact others and how we can help those in difficulty. We can start by making changes first in ourselves and then in the world around us.
On a national level, it also takes bonds, but of a more profound and fundamental nature. By calming our emotion, by using our reason and focusing on knowledge and compassion, we can begin to make important changes in our country and in this world.
Please contribute to the campaign and pass on the link to those who can make a difference. That is: all of us!
Some Useful Links:
Film Trailer Saving 10,000: winning a War on Suicide in Japan http://www.saving10000.com/
Hotline in Japan on Suicide: Tell Suicide Prevention
For more on Health, Happiness and Optimal Adjustment
A Franco-Japanese at Home in Tokyo
I am now living in Minatoku, Tokyo, Japan since August 2012 and there is too much to tell. I have not even informed my friends abroad (nor many in Japan) of an address in Tokyo for the next four years nor of my presence, let alone had time to write or formally study Japanese. I hope you will forgive me.
Forgive me for this absence. It has taken me time to get settled and I have much to learn.
I begin again on the spirit or soul of the Japanese with Ishinomaki, in Miyagi Prefecture (Tohoku). I write about artists who through their work bring joy. They are many.
The town was devastated by the tsunami on March 11th. NHK has mentioned that the water overcame 46 percent of the city’s land which is not difficult to imagine when one watches this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBtRIRiTJqA .
An article in the Huffington Post co-authored by Tokyo based Robert Michael Poole states that more than 3,000 residents died and about that many remain missing as of a year ago.
We went up to Ishinomaki with my six-year-old daughter and many families from her school, TIS (Tokyo International School) as they had donated a Playground of Hope for the residents in a housing project. We took the Shinkansen past Fukushima (the stop at Fukushima seemed a bit odd – a deserted feel) and continued up north to Sendai. From there we took a 1 ½ hour bus ride.
Thanks to a year of fundraising by TIS (Tokyo International School) students, teachers and parents, Bita Alu, a parent and friend, had selected the NGO It’s Not Just Mud and been in contact with Michael Anop and Jamie El-Banna. The NGO is involved in several projects including building playgrounds, which bring a dash of color to temporary housing residences. The NGO is efficient, and no frills attached.
When Temporary is Childhood
Jamie from It’s Not Just Mud explained to me that it was difficult for the parents in this temporary residence as there were no places for children to play and often local or national organizations have not responded thinking it not a necessity to build a playground as the housing is temporary.
And yet, temporary housing here is estimated to be five years—a good part of youth for a child.
A Playground for Kids or Adults?
Jamie pointed out to me an old man with his grandson who had watched the playground being built since the beginning of the week. “He’s been here since the beginning,” Jamie says smiling. “I keep telling the man, ‘It’s for the kids!’ but he always returns!”
Black and White with a Touch of Yellow
When we got off the bus, the cold wind (strong enough to blow off a door of a car if left open according to one resident) added to a feeling that there was no natural warmth here. The trees which all had been destroyed by the tsunami created no front against the most chilling wind.
So when we approached the playground (and could only hear the cries and laughter of children) playing, the contrast with the scenery struck. The black and white photo suddenly had a small dab of yellow.
My daughter was a bit shy at first. She clung to me and even the clown, Supa Gajin, had a little difficulty initially warming her up (although after he had great success). And just as I was wondering what to do, a Japanese man from the town with the most expressive eyes came forward with his little dog, and suddenly the scenery had changed for her. The little dog, this Japanese man, and my daughter became friends. After a short while, my daughter played with the children in the playground.
I stood by and envied how children do not need to speak the same language.
A Place to Play
One resident told me that the children all went to different schools, and that to get to their schools they take different buses. So the children, despite they live in the same housing unit, never play together. Now they have a place to play and can make new friends. Now the parents can sleep a bit better at night in rooms too small for play.
A Place for Everyone
Another old woman told me she felt useless. That she could no longer clean clothes nor read given her age. I told her I felt lucky when I was with older people. There is a wisdom in age, that is more meaningful than any task we can accomplish.
A young man in his early twenties seemed lost and disoriented with nothing to do. I saw he had lost all his teeth and wondered how that happened. I went up to him and we spoke a bit. I gave him some models I brought. Something to occupy, one was of a Japanese temple — and that was the one he wanted. Perhaps he was telling me discreetly that we have succeeded in building houses, but forgotten the human spirit.
Just Like Us
There was a very nice father smiling with his child. A man with deep eyes, smart, and a feeling of warmth about him. He was watching the clown Supra Gajin with his child in his lap. He was just like us. But his wife was not with him and he lived here.
A Smile One Can Not Forget
There was a man who I did not speak to, but whose smile lit up the whole playground and miles around. I am told his name is Yamakami Katuyoshi, and he is the head of the housing association we visited.
He works freely and given his work is a full time job I wondered how he managed to feed himself or his family. Yamakumi’s smile was infectious, it never came off his face, not once.
Men with a spirit like this can change Japan.
When A Smile Lasts
There was a man, a clown, who I met, an artist by the name of Gaetano Totaro, who is known as SupaGaijin the smile ambassador. I had heard of him before from my son’s school BST (through Helen O’Brien who runs BTT Bridge to Tohoku) and has done wonders with children.
BTT has supported the smile ambassador’s work in Tohoku by helping him pay expenses (he gives his own time freely). Unlike many others who first came to this region, Gaetano returned over and over building a relationship with children – a lasting smile.
A Clown who Doesn’t Clown Around
This clown who was trained at Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey’s Clown College had a way of bridging barriers amongst children. By using familiar objects such as an umbrella, which could be found even in temporary housing, he encouraged children to use their imagination and to begin a road to recovery.
I thought, I want to do something with this clown, this artist of great imagination.
When we departed, my daughter had made a new Japanese friend — a girl with the greatest smile. The two girls didn’t want to separate. As soon as my daughter got in the bus, she opened the window. The Japanese girl ran to the bus and through that small window, the two girls held hands. Surely, they were not saying goodbye.
There is nothing Fun about surviving and yet Joy
I am told that there is a difference in Japan between “tanoshimu” and “yorokobu.” The laughter–a deep kind– that lasts—is of the latter. It is caused not by fleeting entertainment, but by the deep smile of a Mr. Yamakami and by true friendship offered to us so freely by the Japanese we met in Ishinomaki. We have much to learn from you.
Thank you. We will return.
A VIDEO OF OUR VISIT ISHINOMAKI