Category Archives for health

Water: Can How You Drink it Change your Life?

November 6, 2018

Water Basics for Health and Transformation

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 :

  1. If you must Drink Tap Water (straight from the pipe)  let it sit for at least 20-40 minutes in a brass, copper or glass container before drinking.  The molecular structure of water changes after it turns through a pipe 40 or so times, even if the chemical structure does not.  It is said by yogis that drinking straight from the tap without letting the water sit a bit is not good for you.

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.

  1. Drink Clean Water, Less Chemicals  (a good filter these days is no longer a luxury even for the healthiest of us and a good filter may be helpful if your immune system is weak).   If you can, drink water with a good filter (today’s water has many chemicals and also includes residual medicine and other substances that has seeped into our drinking water  — including “add ins” in certain countries that are marketed as something good for us like fluoride).

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.

Berkey System

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).

Sipping water all day is not good, better to drink in one go so the body can get rid of excess.

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.



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.

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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) 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.


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,
Nathalie Ishizuka

A blog to go Beyond our Best in body, mind and spirit

Kesennuma Making a Difference from Kid to Kid

Kesennuma, Changing Japan from Kid to Kid and Beyond (a visit on March 13, 2013)

kesennuma-before March 11 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

kesennuma after march 11When we compare the images of before and after the disaster, the contrast helps us realize how difficult re-construction can be and how much help is still needed.

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.

Kesennuma boat chaosFor 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.

fullplaygroundIn 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!

happy kid kesennuma playground of hopedownslidehappyredcap

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.

kesennuma playground of hope peaceGiven 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.

snack2snack1Here the kids are having a snack after playing in the playground.

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.

copy-nadiahpheaderRon 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

what future KesennumaProjects 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.

Toyo ItoIn 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

fukushima stationAs we returned home and passed through Fukushima, I looked out of my window and felt like we have only just begun.  That the real work starts now.

boatKesennuma upon our return shows considerable progress in cleaning up the streets.

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.

sunset Fukushima

Saving 10,000 : Winning a War on Suicide in Japan

March 7, 2013

Thoughts on the movie Saving 10,000: Winning a War on Suicide in Japan

rene duignanLast 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.

View Movie Trailer Saving 10,000 Winning a War on Suicide in Japan

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 Saving 10 000Rene 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.

Saving 10,000:  Winning a War on Suicide in Japan

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

suicide statistics japanThe 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.

Life Track Three SpheresMeaning can come on individual level with close relationships, with a sense of self and of achievement.

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.

Yukio IshizukaFor 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

Yukio Ishizuka 5 Alternatives at threshold of stress

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 and Mishima

Stokes and Mishima

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.

Crisis and Opportunity for Fundamental Change

overcoming crisis Yukio Ishizuka

Lifetrack Therapy: Using Setbacks to Breakthrough and Experience Happiness

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

View the Full Film Saving 10,000: Winning a War on Suicide in Japan

Hotline in Japan on Suicide: Tell Suicide Prevention

For more on Health, Happiness and Optimal Adjustment

For more on Stress, Overcoming Fear, Stress Types, Stress Techniques, and Five Alternatives at the Threshold of Stress

The Art of Joy

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.

Perhaps all this to say that I am deeply moved and grateful to be here.

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.

Ishinomaki, Tohoku

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 .

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.

Not so Far Up North

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.

TIS and the Playground of Hope

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 El-Banna, Bita Alu, Yamakami Katuyoshi

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.

Language Barriers

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

Katuyoshi Yamakami

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.

Kids watching Gaetano Totaro Supagaijin Ishinomaki

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.








Nuclear Energy

Addressing Nuclear Energy with Greater Comprehension

nuclear energyAs a Franco-Japanese from New York, I realize that after Hiroshima, Nagasaki and now the “accident” of Fukushima, we must comprehend.

To learn something from our past is to embrace the need for a new consciousness.

In a country which experiences important earthquakes and tsunamis (and where there is a prediction of a 70% chance of a major earthquake to occur in the next four years), nuclear energy may be efficient and economic, but not “ethical” in that such “accidents” may present risks for the Japanese and for the planet.

Although I would like to believe that it takes a great tsunami, the likes of which we hope to never see again, to create such a disaster, I fear this is wishful thinking.  What opened my eyes to graver dangers were two documentaries on the crisis by Arte and the BBC.  In these documentaries we see that the reality on the ground is quite different from realities in headquarters miles away.

In one of the Most Industrialized Countries in the World what role did technology play on constraining the Nuclear crisis on the ground?

Experts interviewed by the French channel Arte  (Arte Enquete sur une supercatastrophe nucleaire) present an eye opening view to ground realities in a nuclear crisis.  Similarly,  (BBC This World 2012 Inside the Meltdown) presented me with a disturbing realization: our safety in one of the most industrialized and efficient countries in the world was in part in the hands of car batteries used to reboot electricity in a nuclear plant, manual maneuvers and men with courage.

What would this crisis have looked like elsewhere?

What we see in the documentary is that the rescue team on the ground used simple car batteries taken from their own cars to reboot electricity in a room at a nuclear power plant.  They had to resort to manually turn valves to release hydrogen (given that no one envisioned the possibility of an electric outage).  We see a small core staff from TEPCO and also firemen who cooled an explosive situation with simple hoses and make-shift maneuvers.  These men and their families are the true heroes, but we should not let their effort and gift of their own health and lives fail to teach us something important.

For me, the most important lesson is not nuclear energy nor a debate on whether it is 100% safe, but our actual state of human consciousness.

That we can do no better than use our intelligence to create bombs capable of eliminating much of humanity is a reflection of the current poverty of our consciousness.  That we have not yet focused on developing energy that is both safe and whose waste does not pollute our ecosystem for thousands of years is another statement for our era.

When the problem is defined as such, the solution is not the immediate elimination of all nuclear energy (although in some circumstances such as countries with high risks of earthquakes or natural disasters this can be common sense), but the creation of a much more vast human consciousness defined in positive terms.  This solution has to encompass a greater vision for man, for technology and for progress itself.

When we fight against Something We give it Power

The distinction may not seem important.   However, in the field of positive mental health in which I have worked with Dr. Yukio Ishizuka, we have found that when we fight against something, we give it power.  To fight against a depression is to give it importance and strength.  To create a war against nuclear energy will also create a strong backlash by powerful forces.

Succeeding in Saying “Goodbye to Nuclear” requires stating Vision in Positive Terms

Rather than defining success in Japan solely as “goodbye to nuclear” and facing formidable resistance by the government and industry, I believe Japan could define success in positive terms so that both the wise generation and the youth will rally behind such a movement and go much further.  I think defining success in positive terms will enable Mr. Kenzaburo Oe and Mr. Satoshi Kamata and others to provide a real and important alternative to the Japanese should they decide to shut down all reactors and create an alternative route to nuclear.

Success in Nuclear Defined in Positive Terms

Japan could demonstrate by example to the whole world that green and renewable energy is not only a “moral” choice in a country visited by earthquakes and tsunamis, but a viable choice for an industrialized nation. 

Through breakthroughs in technology and innovation Japan can lead the world in renewable energy and establish a new relationship with nature.  It can do so in a humane manner that respects the liberty of individuals.

Learning from Crisis

To achieve the above goal defined in positive terms will require tremendous will power, courage and focus.  It is likely to involve national and international cooperation and the will of a nation of great minds to make important breakthroughs in renewable energy and innovative technologies.   It will also necessitate a nation to make strategic decisions and create innovative funding structures capable of unifying industry with a common aim through an economic downturn.  And most importantly, it will require a compassionate Japan that considers and respects the dignity and liberty of all individuals.

Japan will need to create an alternative that currently does not exist. Given the current national and international context, it may well be, the Japanese, who could be amongst the first to succeed.

Fundamental change in a Nation does not start nor end with Nuclear issues

In a world where crisis is mounting and where our will is constantly tested, we need to define our future in clear positive terms.  The real problem or challenge is a change in consciousness.   This consciousness must embrace greater comprehension, compassion, liberation and realization both at the individual and national level.   Anything short of this is not success.

By creating a new Japan that uses its imagination to inspire, and rise above crisis, the Japanese may not only save themselves from the worst, but can provide an inspiring model for the rest of the world.  Through greater comprehension, compassion, liberation and realization, we may be able to overcome other disasters in the future, be they nuclear, global warming, rising nationalism, poverty, unjust and unhealthy working conditions or other.

I believe that the Japanese can and will succeed.


Petition for Japan to become a leader in Natural Energy (anyone in any country can participate). Please print out the PDF, sign, send.

Original site with petitions in various languages:

Petition for the Realization of Denuclearization and a Society focused on Natural Energy 

The petition deadline has been extended to the end of May 2012. We ask for your further support!

English petition form(pdf)
■About the Petition Form■

In Japan, a personally signed petition is still more forceful than an Internet-based signature. Therefore, please print out the English petition form (pdf file) and send it to us by postal mail.

Here are some instructions:
1. The petition consists of two pages which have to be submitted together. Please staple the 1st page with the petition text and the 2nd page with your signatures together.

2. The English petition is addressed to the present Japanese Prime Minister. It is valid even in case the Prime Minister changes. When our organization will submit the petitions, we make sure that the legal requirements for a valid petition are observed.

3. Please send the petition by postal mail (fax is not valid) to the following address:
Citizens’ Committee for the 10 Million People’s Petition to say Goodbye to Nuclear Power Plants
c/o Gensuikin, 1F 3-2-11 Kanda Surugadai, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0062, JAPAN

4. The final deadline of this petition is February 28, 2012. However, we have set two intermediary deadlines: September 10, 2011 and December 20, 2011.

5. Some further notes:
 You can write your name and address in your native language.

 Petitions from foreign citizens living outside Japan are valid as long as the petition is addressed to the Japanese Prime Minister. In case the petition is addressed to the National Diet (House of Representatives) or the Upper House, petitions from foreigners living outside Japan are not valid.

 There is no age limit. Signatures from children are also valid.

 In principle, a petition has to be signed personally. In case of children or disabled persons, it is accepted if someone signs the petition on the person’s behalf.

Use Crisis

February 16, 2012

Crisis Both Danger and Opportunity

Crisis can move artists and individuals in a positive direction.  In the future, we wish to post here interviews with key individuals in Japanese art, culture, and society who wish to discuss a positive vision for Japan and incite both the old and young to act with greater comprehension, compassion, liberation or realization.

Yukio Ishizuka 5 Alternatives at threshold of stress

We will also post articles for individual Japanese citizens to use the crisis as a means for greater comprehension, compassion, liberation and realization.  These articles will include a psychology of health, balance and  building meaning in our everyday lives despite difficulty.