Design of Densho and Joucho – narrating Japanese wisdom and emotions: Masahiro Kawatei at TEDxTohoku

Hello everyone.

My name is Masahiro Kawatei. Today, I hope we could share the feeling of “being grateful to be raised up in Japan”, and also share the idea of us taking on the important role, as someone who grew up in this country.  So I would like to start off with introducing myself. This is me, 50 years ago. Anyone, even a middle-aged man like me, has his childhood days of course. It’s somewhat embarrassing to show this photo in front of you, but I will start off with this.  This is a photo of my parents, 50 years ago. My father passed away this summer. His death made me realize how much I owe what I am today to him. In that sense, this year was my turning point. Now, why am I here, talking in front of you? I will explain why, one by one. There are two experiences I want to share with you. The first is my experience as a photographer. I was on a journey of self-discovery, taking photos of my hometown, Ashiya city. I was walking around, recalling my childhood days when encountering little boys on the street. However, on January 17th, 1995. In seconds, my hometown became a town of debris. I was underneath the fallen wardrobe. What exactly is “photograph”? What am I taking for? The true meaning of “recording” ? No idea. With no clear answer, I was walking around this city. Then, someone hit me from behind. “What’re you doin’ here? That’s my house you’re talking photos of!” “Wait, I am also the victim of this earthquake. I must record this somehow!” …obviously, we’re not getting anywhere. I was completely helpless, at a loss for what to do. After that, at a sunset road, seeing water and clean sand bursting out of the water pipe, I was trying to take a photo, conveying my emotion then. Something similar happened. I heard someone’s voice from behind. Perhaps he was there because he was temporarily dispatched; he was walking with his household goods in his hands. I looked around, and saw a man: at a glance, he doesn’t seem to be a nice, kind of person. I might be rude to say that. He said: “What you’re doing is significant, and meaningful. Please continue, and stick with it.” I was already in tears when I stood up, saying “Thank you!” Then, it came to me. Photographs are meaningful, as long as someone even a single person could find value in them. Yet, I was still heart-broken. Later, I came across a pine grove in the park where I often played in. This photo was taken there. It’s a root of a pine tree. I stared at it. Pure nature. I understood what it is to be healed, and empowered by nature. Then I came up with something. It’s sakura, cherry blossom. “Right, we see quite a lot of sakura trees in Ashiya…” In the year when the earthquake occurred, I was too obsessed with doing other things that I did not have time to see Sakura. I decided to take photos of the sakura a year later. Japanese people like sakura. Sakura might be one’s turning point, or someone might be resting in peace under a sakura tree. I can feel the “joucho” (emotional feel of the atmosphere) inside, and its underlying narrative. I thought “Perhaps I can find an answer to my question”, and took photos of it. Sakura, blooming on a town of debris. Sakura, blooming on a plain field. I think I received countless stories and messages from them. At first, photographs were means of recording. But from them, I received a story, a narrative. This experience led me to publish a photo collection titled “Sakura, Blooms One Year After”. That was my first experience. The second is, my experience at the international conference held in Nagoya, Japan. Well, honestly speaking, I cannot speak English at all. Therefore, I made up my mind to go to an English conversation school for two months, translated my proposal paper with my English teacher, and earned the opportunity to make a speech there. As a result, I succeeded in being involved in the final resolution. However, I somehow felt out of place, as if I am in the opponent’s home ground. But it’s Nagoya. In the conference, indigenous people and tribes from all over the world were also participating. They were claiming that “It is our wisdom, that can protect the earth’s resources”. This is it. Why don’t Japanese people speak out such opinion on this occasion? This feeling of “doing one’s best on making a speech, but failing to grab people’s attention”. Japanese people should know that themselves, of course. But this international conference was facilitated in a western-style. This awkwardness, might be the reason why I felt out of place. I believe, that every human is a citizen of this planet earth. We are equal. We just happened to be born in a place, which just happened to be under a certain country’s administration. That’s why we have a certain nationality, and speak in that country’s language. But the fact that we are using the earth’s resources is the same. The wisdom ought to be nurtured in each region. It’s only that, the language they speak is different. We are devoting ourselves too much, to overcome that language barrier, and to understand and share language with different cultural backgrounds.  It hit me that, we might be too obsessed with such language conversion. That was my second experience. My two experiences might be too unique, but I believe these became the foundation of what I am today. By chance, we live in this island country. It is an archipelago of small islands, with rich mother nature. From ice floes to coral reef; something truly distinctive to Japan.  And in such an environment, we are raised by mother nature. Of course there might be people who were not born in this country, but were allured with it, and came to live here. Perhaps they might know more about Japan than others who were actually born in this country. In this way, Japan is a fascinating country. “Densho” (narrative of traditional wisdom), wisdom, language, dialect and many others which were fostered in Japan, should be the coolest, and something extremely fascinating on earth. However, due to the influx of various words from other countries in international conferences and in business fields, we are concentrating too much on translating them, and trying to understand the concept; given that it’s something completely new. Hard-working, and very diligent people. But I have come to think now, “why not treasure the Japanese language a little more?” Perhaps that same wisdom or concept might be expressed in a better and rich way through Japanese language. I want to stop and think that, there are many other expressions that are unique to Japan. I read this book, “Last Speakers”. This book tells us that, the languages spoken by indigenous people around the globe are disappearing, as the elderly speaker of the language dies. Not only language, but also its wisdom -wisdom to utilize the earth’s resources also vanish. The book showed the author’s effort to preserve them. Having over hundred million speakers of Japanese, we might not need to fear Japanese language extinction. I guess this language, originated here in Japan, is very traditional in one way, but at the same time, it’s a deep language: meaning, flexible enough to accept words from foreign languages. Therefore, I think various wisdom are included in our Japanese language. Not only one, but wide varieties of them. At least, this language is part of the important “densho” in the world. Based on that, I would like to give thought to three key words:  “Biodiversity”, “CSR”, and “resilience”. I personally think, these are words brought here from foreign language. Biodiversity is short for “Biological Diversity”. “Biological diversity” was commonly used in the scientific field. Then, in 1980s, the contracted form “biodiversity” was coined by an American scientist. Again, the term was widely used basically in scientific field. Even in English, this word took time until it achieved widespread use. But thanks to the nuance of “biodiversity”, people deeply understood that all living creatures are supporting each other on this dynamic planet. In Japanese, the direct translation of “biodiversity” is being used. It sounds like a proper noun, like a word that shows relatively new, unfamiliar concept. But actually Japan has “the Basic Act on biodiversity”. Let’s look at the preamble of this paper. Human beings are living through enjoying benefits from biodiversity. Biodiversity thus serves as a basis of the survival of human beings.   In addition, and in fact it’s the important part: biodiversity, as the particular assets of each region,also supports the diversity of unique regional culture. Very well explained. This means, our lifestyle, festivals, traditional events, and clothings are part of biodiversity: the process of all creatures supporting one another. We learn, gain wisdom, and enjoy benefits from them, to add color to our life. Therefore, biodiversity in Japan might be something that adds spice to people’s lifestyle. Moreover, it might be the basis of Japanese people’s spirit. In other words, I might put it in a rather abstract way, that biodiversity is merely the “experience” and “imagination” for people like us, whom live in Japan.  For example, there is a phrase in Japanese that acknowledges the living organisms’ lives before having a meal. Yes, it’s “itadakimasu”. This phrase is to express gratitude for life, and for the nature that nurtured life. Another gratitude for all people’s labour of cultivating, delivering, and cooking, and for their wisdom. What’s more, eating together with your families and friends will make your meal even more tasty and enjoyable. So the final gratitude goes to families and friends around you. With just a single phrase of “itadakimasu”, we can expand our imagination. Something very unique to Japanese. Personally, I guess I can sum up this sophisticated concept by saying: it’s the “design of densho and joucho”.  The next is CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility. The first version of CSR was about coping with pollution. Then, it moved on to the version 2.0 focusing on marketing strategy. The next version 3.0 focused on contributing to the society while securing profit in their business field.  Now, it is the era of “Creating shared value”, or CSV. The current aim is to create value that can be shared with the society. It’s a term originally from the United States. But my logic is this: “No no, Japanese people have been advocating this since 100 years ago.” This man is Eiichi Shibusawa, an industrialist from Meiji era, who was actively involved in founding many companies. In his book, he advocated “the principle of harmony between morality and economy”. His main idea is this: “What makes the origin of wealth is humanity and ethics;  the wealth without righteous reason could not be eternal.” What I am trying to say here is, that his idea is about sustainability, and about CSV. Thus, I believe Japanese language has been adding color to people’s lifestyle with deep, rich expressions.  Same can be said for companies. The meaning of CSR might not be about specific division, or about business area, but rather about ethics and morals as a businessperson. It’s something that’s already in our mindset. I want to state that, the concept of CSR3.0 and CSV is, the standard equipment for businessperson. Finally, “resilience”. Examples of resilience might be, the ability of nature, society, computer software to bounce back. I think the time period needed for recovery and resistance or durability are also included in this concept. It has been said that the word “sustainability” is strongly connected with natural environment on earth, but some says it imposes an image of “development”. So it’s currently being said that, the word “resilience” is much more important for the earth. I want to think about this word, together with the reconstruction support of Tohoku. I am now involved in the Tohoku University Green Renaissance Project. Professors of Tohoku University Ecosystem Adaptability Global COE are the core contributor, supported by Ministry of Environment, municipalities and organizations. In this project, we are not just aiming to retrieve our long-held memories of our hometown, but we want to rebuild the region’s economy by utilizing technologies and wisdom of tomorrow, so that people can get a job and live a happy, rich life. We are discussing how to design such society.  Recently, the Reconstruction Agency designated this project as the New Tohoku Leading Model Project. Now that we got the national budget reserved for us, we can put our plans and projects forward. What we are treasuring the most is to face the nature from the front, and learn from each other. Tsunami, for example, crashes and stirs up the current nature, but actually creates a new chain of life and new ecosystems. To tell the truth, people of Tohoku knew that from the past. They accepted the fact, and decided to live there. Not dividing the nature and living by constructing a huge seawall, rather, people have always been together with nature, as living things. Lifestyle unique to Tohoku, elegant way of life, elegance of Japanese language. I believe these embodies the idea of resilience. CSR, biodiversity, resilience. These words imported from abroad might be giving us an opportunity to recall something we have forgotten during the period of high economic growth. We might be able to cast our view to the future, with the wisdom fostered in Japan. That is “densho of today”. Your experience of hearing stories from your grandpa or grandma, the good-old origami-lessons from them might be part of the “densho of today”, and the process of picking up what we have left behind from the era of high economic growth. Then let’s think: What is “densho of tomorrow”, or the narratives taking part in the future? Through “densho of today”, we became aware of many, and now we should be moving forward to narrating the wisdom to protect nature of the world, of the mother earth. I strongly believe that today, the cry for our narratives nurtured with our experiences and imaginations can be heard from all over the world. Especially, Tohoku is like a treasure box, filled with sparkling stories inside individual people’s heart. We want to narrate them to the world, but we will not be able to get across our messages in Japanese. Therefore, “translation skill” from Japanese to English, and “communication competence” to make ourselves heard will be highly valued. Just like “eitaiwa” (English communication competence), as opposed to “eikaiwa” (English conversation), we must think of how we should hand down the wisdom of Tohoku. And my main message is, I want everybody here to treasure your OWN unique story inside your heart.  What I have shared with you is MY personal story. Similarly, if every one of you could narrate your story, I think we can foster a great amount of happiness. In the company where I work, our motto is to each treasure our individuality, rather than to each be the same.  We believe that each person’s effort will become a seed for happiness, and will grow to become a rich and large society. Everyone raised up in Japan, is the narrator of tomorrow. That is what I think. Design of “densho” and “joucho”, the important role we have as being Japanese.  Rather, we might have the responsibility as being Japanese. That is, utilizing the wisdom fostered in such global, local, Japanese local, and Tohoku local society. The cry for new changes in our social system are being heard for decades. Yet, nothing has changed. Why? Perhaps the society, or the earth is waiting for you to take action. I believe in that. I believe that there are much more to do. Japan, is a developed country. It is an economic giant, with outstanding technology of high reputation. But at the same time, Japan is a country with a myriad of spiritual forces and creatures, it is a polytheism country, and a country of “densho”. There are more that can be done from this country, which is filled with wide varieties of wisdom, distinctive to each people. That is exactly what I mean by “design of densho and joucho”: my core message I shared with you today.

Thank you.

Veröffentlicht am 27.10.2013

(English follows Japanese)




Masahiro Kawatei
CSR Manager, Public Relations Office, Hakuhodo Inc.

Born in Ashiya city, Hyogo in 1963. Representative of CEPA Japan, member of the Japanese Committee of COP10, PR chairman of Global Compact Japan Network, society member of Tohoku University Ecosystem Adaptability GCOE „Green Renaissance Project“, and much more.
Mr. Kawatei entered Hakuhodo Inc. in 1986. He was one of the founding members of a popular TV documentary program „Jonetsu Tairiku“, and was in charge of the media contents for „Team Minus 6%“: a national campaign against global warming. In 2008, he established the Environmental Communication Department in Hakuhodo Inc., and has been working at his current position as a CSR manager since 2012. Mr. Kawatei also successfully made a proposal at the Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 10) Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA) discussion as the member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Commission on Education and Communication (IUCN-CEC). He is also a professional photographer and is a member of Japan Professional Photographers Society (JPPS).