Why some of us achieve

The pho­to­graph of Aishol­pan and her eagle on my Twit­ter feed caught my eyes two years ago. I am glad her pho­to­graph caught British jour­nal­ist, Otto Bell’s eyes as well. He will share Aisholpan’s story of becom­ing the first female eagle hunter in 12 gen­er­a­tions in Mon­go­lia. Two years ago, the pho­to­graph of Aisholpan’s solemn yet joy­ful face when she had the eagle perched on her arm fas­ci­nated and enchanted me. But the new BBC arti­cle I just read about the Star War’s “Rey,” Daisy Ridley’s reac­tion to see­ing the film about Aish­oplan affected me even more.

Aisholpan’s father sup­ported Aisholpan’s wish to become an eagle hunter­ess despite 12 gen­er­a­tions of hunters being the only male. Rid­ley says that this reminded of her father staunchly sup­port­ing her wish to become an actress. Then I real­ized that although Aisholpan’s deter­mi­na­tion despite deri­sion by elders deserves all the praise, her father is the one who made Aisholpan’s achieve­ments pos­si­ble. He must have faced incred­i­ble pres­sure from all the direc­tions for dar­ing to break the tra­di­tion, because if he did not sup­port Aishol­pan, she could not even have started. And I thought of my par­ents. Not always, but per­haps for the past ten years or more, I blamed them for not pay­ing for my col­lege edu­ca­tion either inten­tion­ally or unin­ten­tion­ally. As I saw the dif­fer­ence between the well to do women and myself in mid­dle ages, I began to hold grudges against my par­ents for not being like my high achiev­ing friends’ par­ents. I became deter­mined that I will do all I can to sup­port my chil­dren. And although not as fully as I would have liked, I have been help­ing my chil­dren in their jour­ney for self-actualization. But read­ing about Aishol­pan and Ridley’s reac­tion, I real­ized that my par­ents had choices in how to raise me. They chose to give me free­dom, always sup­port­ing me the best they could with what I wanted to do. They paid for my horse­back rid­ing lessons because they real­ized that I loved horses. They bought me a full set of Ency­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­nica that was an extrav­a­gance. They helped me stretch can­vas so that I could paint all I want to sat­isfy my desire to paint. My par­ent had their faults, but they encour­aged me. And if I did not have this deeply rooted con­fi­dence given to me because of the way my par­ents treated me in grow­ing years, I don’t know if I could have been strong enough to sup­port the paths my chil­dren chose.

Each of us has our paths and the moments that we expe­ri­ence epipha­nies. Such moment came to me today in the form of read­ing about Aishol­pan, the first female eagle hunter in 12 gen­er­a­tions, and Daisy Rid­ley, the Star War’s Rey, who under­stood the family’s sup­port behind great achievements.


Why Star Wars’s Daisy Rid­ley joined forces with a teenage Mon­go­lian girl

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 five 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 book about it but tak­ing seven 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 the 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 the 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 three 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 a 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 rapid 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 the 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 than 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 for 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 hoped to join the bas­ket­ball club when he entered high school, but unfor­tu­nately his music acad­emy high school did not have a bas­ket­ball team.  Although I no longer could watch my son play in offi­cial bas­ket­ball games, I chose to go to his junior high bas­ket­ball bud­dies’ games as much as I could, because, to me, they are like my 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 two 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 decides to con­tinue on with the sports, in high school, for addi­tional 2 years, on week­ends, rather than going on an overnight fam­ily trip with their child, moth­ers will attend games held at dif­fer­ent schools in the school dis­trict league. Injuries are not uncom­mon, espe­cially with vig­or­ous con­tact sports like bas­ket­ball. Bloody noses, sprained ankles, frac­tured bones hap­pen. Depend­ing on the coach, the expe­ri­ence for both the child and mother are so starkly dif­fer­ent. Bas­ket­ball is a pop­u­lar sport, espe­cially among boys, so most schools have between 10 to 25 club mem­bers, as there are no try­outs. 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 five 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 a 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 the city of Yoko­hama in Kana­gawa pre­fec­ture alone. This means to get to the nation­als level; a team needs to win over seven 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 three 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, team­mates, girl­friends 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 toward both the play­ers and their moth­ers. How strong, how kind and lov­ing these 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 ded­i­cating them­selves to the sports they chose. They ran a total of 400 miles or more over two years, in un-air con­di­tioned gyms and blis­ter­ing sun in sum­mers and freez­ing cold in win­ters, as they trained for hours and hours each week. They stuck through it all to the end.   Moth­ers are sad for their sons’ loss, but at the same time, they are so, very proud.

As a girl, I so wanted to have this expe­ri­ence of a junior high sports club, because I loved sports, and I wanted to join a 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 United States. 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 they 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 is a tal­ented ath­lete as well as being a spark ignit­ing player that made him fun to watch, my hus­band and I thor­oughly enjoyed his bas­ket­ball life in junior high school. As his team­mates 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 whether they became a start­ing player or not largely depended 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 seven 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 right 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.


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