Book alert in 2 years advance: Aesthetics of Joy by Ingrid Fetell Lee

Cliches are unfor­tu­nate.  They paint a pic­ture of the impor­tant slice of life, but because they have been quoted so much, that peo­ple ignore them. More time I spend in my life, every­thing seems to be able to be expressed in cliches.

But because I have come down to these words after much liv­ing and expe­ri­enc­ing, I will con­tinue to repeat these cliches here.

For the past three years, my work con­tin­ued to expand more and more, and for the past 5 months, I have been  over stretched. It was a phase of tran­si­tion too, that I have been for­tu­nate and found won­der­ful part­ners who are excel­lent in what they do, and are up to par with Japan­ese as well as global stan­dard of busi­ness prac­tices. My deep­est respect and appre­ci­a­tion to Naoko Okuizumi, Akiko Naka­jima and Patrick Pem­ler, and Shinji Suda,

I have been for­tu­nate in being invited and tak­ing part in many, many fan­tas­tic design research projects as inter­view simul­ta­ne­ous inter­preter, inter­view mod­er­a­tor, researcher, and research coor­di­na­tor.  I have not been able to reflect on each project as I would like, but this time, I have the time to do so.

Ear­lier this week, I have inter­preted for Ingrid Fetell Lee. She is on sab­bat­i­cal leave from IDEO New York, and she  has come to Tokyo to do research for writ­ing her book about the Aes­thet­ics of Joy.  Every research project gives me a new way to see and feel the world, but help­ing her through inter­pret­ing and lis­ten­ing to her pri­vate story about find­ing joy healed me.

Find­ing your life part­ner after years of being in the rela­tion­ship that you know was not right. Know­ing that you want to write a a book about it but tak­ing 7 years before you actu­ally com­mit to it. Find­ing joy in many things that you do, not just one. To Ingrid, writ­ing is the true joy of her life, but she found act of draw­ing and other things joy­ful too, with the sense of flow described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Events in life hap­pen in order, and we do not know which phase we are in until after the fact. Then again, as we expe­ri­ence var­i­ous events in our lives, phases seems to change in mean­ing, depend­ing on where we are stand­ing and view­ing the life at that point. Right now, although I was out and about tak­ing part in many projects that required me to be with peo­ple of dif­fer­ent cul­ture in dif­fer­ent coun­tries and regions my life seemed to have been in cocoon­ing phase for the past 3 years.  I seemed to have been tight in my belief of ful­fill­ing life oblig­a­tions.  I feel this way because as the cherry blos­som bloomed over the past two weeks and my sons, my friends and col­leagues entered new phase of their life stage, so did mine. I am find­ing time to do things that are just for me, espe­cially my bachelor’s degree pur­suit which has taken me for so many years is rapidly near­ing its destination.

When I was talk­ing to Nagao-san at Twiggy’s yes­ter­day, she told me that this was the first time in many years that the cherry blos­som was bloom­ing at the peak dur­ing the start of school and busi­ness year in April. Ingrid wrote about this cherry blos­som in her blog. Her book will be out in spring of 2018. I look for­ward to read­ing about her per­cep­tion of the joy­ful expe­ri­ences in Japan in the real form of book then.

louder, freer, kinder

This month marks the tenth year anniver­sary of my lit­tle com­pany, Project Kobo. I’ve always had the ten­dency to become too seri­ous with any­thing, and over the past ten years, maybe I have taken myself and the world too seriously.

I need to start act­ing my age, and be louder, freer, kinder. My theme for the next ten years of Project Kobo.

2Cellos (Luka Šulić + Stjepan Hauser) cer­tainly are louder and freer per­haps than any cel­list of the world today.  Perfect!

The Rights of Passage in Japan: Junior High, High School Club Sports


Less then a minute left to go at the end of the 4th quar­ter of the game, and  the team is los­ing by 20 points. It’s the sud­den death game of spring bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment, and the moth­ers of the los­ing high school’s seniors cheer on fran­ti­cally, but they real­ize that this is going to be the last time they will watch their sons play at com­pet­i­tive bas­ket­ball game. I am cheer­ing on my team at the top of my lung.  My son belonged to his junior high school bas­ket­ball club the entire term, which is from the first month of 7th grade until the end of spring of their 9th grade. He wanted to join the bas­ket­ball club when he entered high school, but unfor­tu­nately his music acad­emy did not have a bas­ket­ball team.  But I have gone to his junior high bas­ket­ball bud­dies’ games as much as I could, because to me, they are like an adopted sons.

From my obser­va­tion, I think one of the rights of pas­sage in Japan for the past 50 years have been junior high and high school sports club. For a mother, it comes as a shock when their first child joins school sports club and find out they prac­tice 6 to 7 days a week for over 2 years, since they join the club until the day they “retire” at the end of the spring tour­na­ment. After that, their chil­dren start study­ing for high school or col­lege entrance exams in earnest. The stu­dents often will have early morn­ing prac­tice dur­ing the week­days, which means their moth­ers need to get up at 4:30 in the morn­ing to pack lunch, pre­pare a quart or more of bar­ley tea or sports drinks on hot sum­mer days. For a lit­tle over 2 years dur­ing junior high school, and if the child decide to con­tinue on with the sports, in high school, for addi­tional 2 years, on week­ends, rather than going on an over night fam­ily trip with their child, moth­ers would attend games held at dif­fer­ent schools in the school dis­trict league. Injuries are not uncom­mon, espe­cially with vig­or­ous con­tact sports like bas­ket­ball. Bloody nose, sprained ankle, frac­tured bones hap­pen. Depend­ing on the coach, the expe­ri­ence for both the child and mother are so starkly dif­fer­ent. Bas­ket­ball is a pop­u­lar sports, espe­cially among boys, so most schools have between 10 to 25 club mem­bers, as there is no try outs. Any­body will be wel­comed into the team. No mat­ter if they have ath­letic abil­ity or not, they had just bet­ter work very, very hard once they join the team. With bas­ket­ball, only 5 will be the start­ing team mem­bers. High per­cent­age of team mem­bers may play only in a few games, but they are expected to come to all the prac­tice and games on time, and cheer for the team dur­ing the games. The team mem­bers develop very spe­cial bond dur­ing these years. The coach is a dic­ta­tor, and chil­dren learn to obey the dic­ta­tor. If the coach is a good one, then the child will have glo­ri­ous teenage years. If the coach is a bad one, teenage years is likely to be worse. Whichever way, belong­ing to school sports club, espe­cially team sports, will give them huge advan­tage when they enter job mar­ket. With cul­ture of fol­low­ing order of their supe­rior and work­ing very hard in tough sched­ule, day in and day out, play­ing their role , work­ing within a team, never quit­ting, even when things get tough, are just the char­ac­ter­is­tics Japan­ese employ­ers want.

And those char­ac­ter­is­tics that are of prime impor­tance to the moth­ers of chil­dren who choose team sports for their teenage school years too. All these hard work chil­dren, moth­ers and coaches put in, for the chil­dren and moth­ers, it all ends at the game they lose in the spring of senior year. This year, there are 56 high schools just in city of Yoko­hama in Kana­gawa pre­fec­ture alone. This means to get to the nation­als level, a team needs to win over 7 straight weeks in a row unless they are seeded. With pres­sure to study for mid-term, senior trip, and to start study­ing for col­lege entrance exam, indeed only teams with excel­lent guid­ance from their coaches and clear rea­sons to win will make it past after 3 weeks.

When a team real­ize that they are going to lose their spring tour­na­ment game, just about all seniors begin to cry. You must under­stand. These are young men who have not cried in front of their moth­ers for prob­a­bly a dozen years or more.  After the game, the team will line up and tak­ing a bow in front of their sup­port­ers who came and cheered for their game, seniors in tears. Some player will run up to their mother In front of their coach, team mates, girl friends and other teams, they break down and say, I am sorry, I lost. I am so sorry. For some, words do not come out. Moth­ers are already cry­ing. They will com­fort their sons say­ing, you did your best. You did well.  Watch­ing it filled me with admi­ra­tion both to the player and their moth­ers. How strong, how kind and lov­ing their moth­ers must have been to have their sons act this way at the end of their jour­ney, their rights of pas­sage. It is bit­ter sweet.  The sons gave their teenage years ded­i­cated them­selves to the sports they chose. They prob­a­bly ran a total of 400 miles or more over 2 years, in un-air con­di­tioned gyms and blis­ter­ing sun dur­ing sum­mer times and in freez­ing cold, they trained for hours and hours each week. They stuck to the end.  The moth­ers are sad for their son’s loss, but at the same time, they are so proud.

As a girl, I so wanted this expe­ri­ence of junior high sports club, because I loved sports, and I wanted to join vol­ley­ball club when I became a 7th grader. I heard about grue­some prac­tice, but it seemed excit­ing, and I was deter­mined to make it through.  But it was not meant to be for me.  My mother re-married an Amer­i­can, and just before my junior high school years started, we moved to Europe, then to the U.S. I was so dis­ap­pointed. With hope, I played vol­ley­ball and ten­nis for var­sity teams in junior high school, then in high school until I had a back oper­a­tion in my junior year, but it never ful­filled me. When I came back to Japan as an adult, and when my first son attended junior high school in Japan, I had all but for­got­ten about my ado­les­cence dream. I did not think much of it when my old­est one quit his junior high sports club. My sec­ond son loved junior high soc­cer club. With my third son who had high ath­letic abil­ity as well as some spark that made him fun to watch, my hus­band and I thor­oughly enjoyed his bas­ket­ball life in junior high school. As his team mates and prac­tice bud­dies from his school and neigh­bor­ing junior high school came over to our house often, they became dear to us, and we became friends with many of their parents.

In the past three weeks, I had wit­nessed three teams with the boys I had known go through this last rit­ual of the last game. Some may have been more gifted than the oth­ers, but it seems to me whether they became a start­ing player or not largely depended equally on their will to play and the abil­ity of their coaches. Whether they played in the last game or not, they are all beau­ti­ful in their efforts in doing the best they can. Some have grown enor­mously from con­quer­ing uncon­trol­lable events that hap­pened to them through play­ing basketball.

I would like to rec­og­nize peo­ple who has given me so much joy and hap­pi­ness for the past 7 years. Kaito, you are my inspi­ra­tion. Yuuma, you have real­ized your poten­tial. Ryuno­suke, Keisuke, Abec­chi, Yuuki, Riku, Yusuke, Wataru, Tama, you’ve worked so hard and become so strong. Your time will come again. Shugo, you made it to the next level. Kanta, Kenzo, Shinji, I am deeply thank­ful to you for giv­ing me so much joy and hap­pi­ness. I am so proud of you all! But I must not for­get the par­ents of those chil­dren who became dear friends to me, and the coaches and bas­ket­ball asso­ci­a­tion and school sys­tem that con­tin­ues to enable this rights of pas­sage. It is not a per­fect sys­tem, but our fam­ily had received great ben­e­fit from it. A sin­cere thank you to all.

Work that impact lives in positive ways

I have been attend­ing Penn State Uni­ver­sity World Cam­pus as a part time under­grad­u­ate stu­dent for a lit­tle over 3 years now. I started as a junior stand­ing stu­dent, and if I attended as a full time stu­dent, I will have grad­u­ated with Bach­e­lor of Arts degree in Psy­chol­ogy in 2 years. I never thought I would have the patience to take 1 to 2 courses per semes­ter for over 4 years, but that’s what I will have done when I earn my Bachelor’s degree at the end of next year. After that, I hope to go right into grad­u­ate school to study Adult Edu­ca­tion. It will likely take me 4 more years to earn a Master’s degree, but that is alright. I can’t imag­ine my life with­out focused aca­d­e­mic learn­ing any­more, because much my per­cep­tion about the world has changed for the better,and I have bet­ter sense of the kind of work that I want to do that impact the lives of peo­ple in pos­i­tive ways.

This week’s les­son in my Neu­ro­log­i­cal Bases of Human Behav­ior course intro­duced me to two videos that tells the story of how applied sci­ence help to improve people’s lives in dra­matic way. When I say dra­matic, it does not mean things hap­pen sud­denly, but the over­all impact being dra­matic from long term work in apply­ing the sci­en­tific knowl­edge in prac­ti­cal ways.

How ther­a­pist helped this young girl who could not walk at age 8 to grad­u­ally improve so that by age 13 she was able to run and live phys­i­cally active life is truly inspir­ing. As a mother of dyslexic son, I couldn’t help but think, there’s so much more we can do to help dyslexic peo­ple with proper therapy.

And this ground break­ing work by Dr. Ramachan­dra how pain can be con­structed from our brain’s per­cep­tion rather than the sign of ongo­ing dam­age to the actual body part stunned me. Based on this find­ings, it seems there is so much more we can do to help some peo­ple who has emo­tional dif­fi­cul­ties such as depres­sion with mea­sure­ment of brain area that are active or inac­tive when hav­ing fits of depression.

Defending Wrong Acts

What is right and what is wrong? Every­one must have asked this ques­tion on eth­i­cal mat­ters. Because of my involve­ment with sus­tain­able seafood  project over the pas 3 years, I have asked myself at least a thou­sand times, what is the right thing to do? The answer to such ques­tion all depends on agenda of the per­son ask­ing the ques­tion, even if sci­en­tific evi­dence from wider per­spec­tive points otherwise.

I have often been reminded of a pas­sage on, Con­tact, a novel by Carl Sagan.  The pro­tag­o­nist, Ellie Arroway, tries to explain about the mes­sage com­ing from the space in sci­en­tific way, but the oppos­ing party,  Billy Jo Rankin, has no inter­est but to explain the mes­sage from the space in his own frame­work, Christianity.

Ever since the  Wedge mag­a­zine pub­lished an arti­cle “Japan­ese Catch Fish Till All Gone”, the fight back from small band of peo­ple who pro­moted and defended the “Japan­ese Way” of fish­ery has been escalating.  These peo­ple talk of sci­en­tific evi­dence that does not appear sci­en­tific to sci­en­tists in other field or in other countries.

With the past 3 years of involve­ment in this trou­bling issue that is tied to human con­trol of envi­ron­men­tal tied directly to what pop­u­la­tion of human inhab­i­tants can remain on this earth, I real­ize that there are so many inde­pen­dent fac­tors that affect the result. But although I am no closer to find­ing out the answer in how to resolve the seafood sus­tain­abil­ity sit­u­a­tion, I have become thor­oughly fas­ci­nated with human behav­ior of defend­ing what one believes in, even if it becomes com­mon knowl­edge that that person’s belief is wrong in sci­en­tific way.  I did such thing in the past, and I am not sure that I might still not be doing it. Well known his­tor­i­cal things are like earth rotat­ing around the sun.  Like notion of one race being supe­rior to another. There were peo­ple who defended the wrong ideas, some killing peo­ple who believed oth­er­wise even after their idea has sci­en­tif­i­cally been proven wrong.

As much as I have been for­mally study­ing Psy­chol­ogy over the past 2 years, I still have not dis­cov­ered rea­sons why peo­ple would defend their ideas in the way that would harm great num­ber of peo­ple in long term.  What Mahatma Gandhi achieved in resolv­ing con­flicts in his days was mar­velous and won­der­ful. Will his method work today in resolv­ing how some Japan­ese lob­by­ists and gov­ern­ment offi­cials guard the old way of uncon­trolled fish­ing rules?

It would be great to unlock this behav­ioral trait process and cause from  angles of psy­chol­ogy and bio-psychology.  And to see its affect from over­all human history.  As deeply ingrained as we are in this behav­ior of defend­ing what is wrong, there must have been strong ben­e­fit to this, even if it may no longer be valid.


Maybe dyslexic people succeed because of their difficulty

Through Hard Talk on BBC fea­tur­ing Henry Win­kler talk­ing about dyslexia, I ended up watch­ing Hard Talk with Brian May, which was so, very super inspiring!!!

At 6:40 “No, I don’t go for money. No, you wouldn’t. Why would you? If you don’t do it because you love it, it would have died quickly, because pople would have realized.”

At 9:13 “Yeah, I’ve got really, really depressed. I’ve got really depressed a cou­ple of times in my life. If you are really depressed, you’d cut both your legs off to get rid of that feel­ing. Funny thing is, it can be the mak­ing of you. If you man­age to crawl your way out of that hole, you have to rebuild. It’s a strange thing to say, but I think I am bet­ter for it.”

Being dyslexic means automatic, unimag­in­able dif­fi­culty in your life that non-dyslexic peo­ple would not experience. Non-malicious and mali­cious “God, you ARE stu­pid!” expres­sion is hurled at you often. You’ve got to learn to live with feel­ing of infe­ri­or­ity, no mat­ter how suc­cess­ful you become. This inevitably leads to feel­ing of depres­sion in a dif­fer­ent degree. It’s not just dyslexic peo­ple who have dif­fi­culty in life. If you drew uncar­ing parents, were born in a coun­try in war, were raped, or what­ever, you will have “to crawl your way out of that hole“ to come out okay, and going through it all makes you strong, “make you bet­ter for it” as Brian May describes.

BBC HARDtalk — Brian May (Pt1) 22 Sept 2010

Ramblings about workplace culture, life in Japan, and then some.