Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Heroic Imagination and Stories

I was reading about Professor Phil Zimbardo's "Heroic Imagination Project"  when I reread an email from my friend Bruce in Japan. While talking with his class and Professor Allen-Tamai's classes the week before I had told some the story, "Boys Wear Pink" and  students had responded with some important, heartfelt stories of their own.  Here is a page from Professor Zimbardo's web site...

Lesson-3: Take Action

Last lesson’s Hero Challenge asked you to build your courage to face challenges in the moment. Reacting to a bad situation is one half of being a hero. The other is becoming proactive! This week is about building a life of heroism, making your journey through life a “hero’s journey.”

Now watch this video: Of course your life is not a movie, and none of us can jump from skyscraper to skyscraper in one fell swoop. In real life, heroism is about what’s inside your mind.

What would you do in this arena if you could do anything? Is there a social issue about which you are passionate?
Following is a video which describes the work of Dan Wallrath, a social activist who is building and donating homes to military veterans.

Now watch this video:

Becoming a proactive hero means connecting your head, heart, and guts. Things that you care about deeply and authentically are the key. At the end of this page, we’ll ask you to make a commitment to act in an area where you feel a need for change. Will you commit to use your compassion, courage and wisdom to make a positive difference? Just remember, as you continue along your heroic path, there are bound to be hurdles to clear. To clear them, use your courage, and persistence.

Before you start, remember:

Knowing that practice makes your everyday heroism improve means that there are no failures, just feedback, so try, try again to do the right thing. You are not given a particular allocation of heroic capabilities at birth that you can never increase — you can always increase your ability to act heroically through your effort.
People who bounce back from set-backs use a positive explanatory style: they recognize their power to influence their world, they see setbacks as temporary, and they keep things in perspective – a bad outcome in one area of life or at one moment doesn’t sour their entire outlook.

Call to Action - So what will you do?

What specific action will you take this week to make this change in the world? Opportunities are all around you. Good luck!
Prof Zimbardo's project was inspiring.  Then I saw that Bruce had written  this:
"I was just talking with Prof. Saito, reminiscing on your talk and meeting, and she added another interesting story to the pink shirts, red dress, bullying story theme.  It too is a true story--one that I hadn't heard--about Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), who is perhaps my favorite modern Japanese story writer-poet : see for example his short story "Restaurant of Many Orders" Translations & Such: The Restaurant of Many Orders [Miyazawa Kenji].     When he was in school, there was a very poor boy in his class. The boy's mother had only some red cloth from which to make his underwear (probably the good old "fundoshi"--or perhaps it included some larger undershirt) So he went to school and a bully spotted the red underwear, and as bullies do, he proceeded to bully and punch the boy because of this. When Kenji heard of this he found some red cloth (he too was dirt poor) and made himself some red underwear and wore it to school the next day. He walked up to the bully and said,  "So if you're punching him, I guess you'll have to punch me too".  Kenji was never big, or robust of health, but the bully backed down and gave up bullying the other boy.    Kenji went on to become one of the world's best, most beloved storytellers. "

The Restaurant of Many Orders [Miyazawa Kenji]
Once there were two young gentlemen deep in the mountains, among the dry leaves. They were dressed just like British soldiers and carried shiny guns. With them were two dogs that looked like polar bears. One of them said something like this:

“What’s wrong with these mountains? We haven’t seen a single bird nor beast! I wish something would show up so that I could shoot it. Bang! Baang!”
“Wouldn’t it be nice to put a couple of bullets into the yellow belly of a deer about now! To watch it spin about a couple of times before it fell down dead!”

They were deep in the mountains. So deep, in fact, that even their hunter guide had gotten lost and wandered off. So deep, in fact, that even those dogs that looked like polar bears both got dizzy, and howled, and foamed at the mouth, and dropped dead.

“Well there goes 2,400 yen!” said one of the men, peeling back his dog’s eyelid.
“Well mine was 2,800 yen!” said the other man, his head lowered in regret.

The first gentleman went pale, and he carefully watched the other gentleman’s expression as he said, “I think we should head back.”
“I think we should head back, too. The weather has gotten cold, and I’ve gotten hungry.”
“Well then let’s call it quits. On the way back, we can stop by that inn we stayed at yesterday and buy some game birds.”

Miyazawa Kenji died at 36 of pneumonia
“They had rabbit, too, didn’t they? It’ll be just as if we hunted them ourselves. Well, let’s get going, then.”

But wouldn’t you know, they had no idea which direction would get them back. The wind howled, the grass rustled, the leaves whispered, the trees creaked.

“I’m so hungry! I’ve had a pain in my side since a while back.”
“Me, too. I hope we don’t have to walk much further.”
“I hope so, too. Oh, what shall we do? I really want something to eat!”
“I really want something to eat, too!”

The two gentlemen carried on like that as they walked through the rustling grass.
Glancing behind, one of them saw an impressive Western-style house. At its entrance was a sign:


“This is perfect! There’s a place to eat right here! Let’s go in!”
“Well now, I wonder what a restaurant is doing in a place like this? But I guess they serve food here...”
“Of course they do! That’s what the sign says!”
“Well then, let’s go in. I’m so hungry I could faint.”

The two of them stood at the entranceway. It was quite impressive, made of white porcelain bricks. There was also a glass door with gold writing that said:

All are welcome. Please come in for a free meal.

The two hunters were overjoyed, and said:

“Well do you see that? What a wonderful place the world is. We had a bad time earlier today, but now look how lucky we are! Not only did we find a restaurant, but one with free food!”

“That’s right! The sign says that they’ll make us a free meal!”

They pushed open the door and went inside, entering a hallway. On the other side of the glass door was written:

We especially welcome our fat and young customers.

The two were thrilled to be especially welcomed.

“Hey! We’re doubly welcome!”
“That’s right! We’re both fat and young!”

Marching down the hallway, they next came to a door painted blue.

“What an odd house. I wonder why it has so many doors?”
“This is the Russian style. All houses in cold places or in the mountains are built like this.”

As they began to open the door, they noticed something written in yellow above them:

This is a restaurant with many orders. Please be patient.

“They’re that busy, all the way up here in the mountains?”
“Well, sure. Even down in Tokyo, none of the big restaurants are on the main streets!”

As they were talking they opened the door. On the other side was written:

We really have many orders. Please be patient with each one.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Japan in under 7 days

Day Six  Wednesday, NOV 16,   2011
Being immersed in Japanese culture, even for so short a time,  was like meeting an old friend and starting up a warm friendship right where we left off 30 something years ago. This was not the starry eyed admiration of a 23 year old who was so disappointed in her US plastic-TV 'culture'  Back then and even now I feel this exchange mirrors my deepest misgivings about our young 'culture'-

Reporter: "Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of Western civilization?"
Gandhi: "I think it would be a very good idea."   Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

Now, I know the US has some fine traditions and that Japanese culture also has a dark side. Still, there are so many norms of civil society in Japan and so many Japanese people are so very kind and is remarkable. Some concrete examples I noticed:  Water in the subway, to drink and to fill bottles. Water in fountains at public parks - with faucets that stay on unless turned off. Think about it -where in the US do we still have that? Lights in a subway station with chain pulls that are easily reached by any passerby. Public places in airports and train stations are clean, bright and comfortable.  Tourist places and train stations are filled with people to help you find your way.

I got up, had one last breakfast with Bruce and Mitsue, who have cooked for me and taken care of my every comfort. As much as I missed my family, I was sad to leave because I had felt so at home in Japan and we never see enough of our dear friends who work so hard and live so far away. I said goodbye to Bruce who went off to work first and then answered some emails. Mitsue left an hour or so later and I  had a few free hours on a lovely sunny day to wander and shop for souvenirs.  I went to the mall that was attached to the amusement park and bought some random things and then hurried home to see if all my stuff could be packed into one bag. Took some doing but I did it. I locked up and hopped into a cab that I directed to the correct Ueno station for the train to Narita. Phew. What a trip.

at the onsen, eating a multi-course dinner
Day Five  Tuesday, NOV 15,  2011
First thing this am, we tried to get Mituse's iPad working to download movies. She showed me a delightful story of a tandem telling of "Jack in The Beanstalk" by a two year old and his aunt. Then it was time to hit the road to meet Bruce at Seisen University in Gotanda area of Tokyo. We took three trains and walked a ways too. Poor Mitsue had to do all that and more to get to her work. Seisen Univesrity is a small and beautiful Catholic college. Also an all girls college, the main building is from the 1850s and  the grounds are lush with trees and vegetation - right in the center of Tokyo. Everyone at Seisen was extraordinarily friendly and engaging. Bruce considers himself very lucky.

Day Four  Monday, NOV 14,  2011

Got up really early - around 6AM and walked from Yugawara, Ohnoya onsen,  to the main street and back - almost in time for breakfast.  meet with Kris Kondo, an old friend from Boston/Kaji Aso Studio days. She had so many gifts for me! See them in the slide show below; jewelry, poetry, painted rocks, robes! An amazing treasure trove.

Day Three  Sunday, NOV 13,  2011

We took a taxi to the next talk, which felt as if it was just down the street. has published Mitsue's book and CD. they gathered together nearly 60 teachers of English who were as lively and engaged a group of educators as I have ever met. We had a blast working together. And then it was time for a trip to the Ohnoya onsen and an overnight at a traditional tatami-floored, shoji-doored ryokan. This  feature of Japanese life had been the highlight of my first trip to Japan and I was not disappointed my second time around.  The small town of Yuguwara ( I think I am not remembering the name correctly, will have to check this)  was very charming, more beautiful than 'cute' and we walked around alot. At the inn we exchanged modern western clothes for Japanese yukata and ate and slept on the sweet smelling tatami floor. I was told we even had a small earthquake to round out the authentic cultural experience. I slept right through it because at dinner the sake flowed and the fish dishes just kept on coming. Heavenly!

Day 2 Nov 12, 2011

This was the big day, the day of presentation for the Japanese government grant that Mistue wrote to bring me to Tokyo. Mitsue went off early to get ready.  I was felling a bit better prepared for my 2nd talk to teachers of English and education students.  Bruce and I  traveled together as he had a free day and Mitsue's students met us at her office where I made final adjustments to a program for people who operated in English on a wide variety of levels.

I was very worried that I would get excited and talk too fast. Before the talk I needed to use the bathroom so I hurried down the hall and walked into...a traditional bathroom in the floor. I jumped back and rushed out thinking I had gone into a men's room by mistake. Checking the sign I realized that I had not. The day before when I used that room I had used a stall with a Western style toilet. Culture shock was settling in and my gaffe made me laugh.  Finally the presentation.  My talk seemed to go well at least the teachers laughed at the funny places so I knew we were, at some points at least,  on the same wavelength.

Aoyama Lecture Hall - from  Sasaki,Yuta's blog
The most astounding thing happened during the break.  Mitsue was very eager to introduce me to a young man,  who turned out to be none other than Sasaki-san, the kamishibai guy! He had read the emails we sent the night before at 8 AM and there he was at 10:30AM - come all the way from Kuni-tachi ( a fairly distant part of Tokyo).  I invited him to perform as a slam-dunk finish to the nearly 90+ minute program and he "brought down the house" with his 3 minute story.  Just the day before, two Japanese grad students had told me after hearing me tell stories that I was "lucky to speak English" because there "was no Japanese storytelling".  These students looked very unconvinced when I tried to tell them storytelling exists everywhere and must be alive and well in Japan, too. Sasaki-san and his mother and I had lunch together in Mitsue's office along with Bruce who acted as a translator. We talked for hours ! How lucky we were to have such a devoted translator. It seems the Japanese government has forbidden street performance and this, along with TV, has nearly killed the art form in Japan. Sasaki-san is determined to bring it back!

Sasaki-san performs kamishibai w/iPad
It turns out that years ago, Bruce had told me about Sasaki-san's sensei. Sasaki,Yuta began studying the art of kamishibai in 2006 under the late Masao Morishita, who performed in Tokyo to great acclaim for more than 50 years before his death in 2008.  Years after Bruce told me the story,  I had often repeated to other performers, the moving story of a man who had lost his voice but had recorded his stories so he could continue to perform. Sasaki, is the only '"deshi" ( student/apprentice who trains under and assists a sensei on a committed basis) this master left behind. Sasaki-san showed me one of  Morishita sensei's kamishibai paintings. He has inherited his master's wooden theater and cards and uses them in the tradintional manner in his neighborhood. only there may he practice the art in its natural habitat - the street. I felt so honored but even more, it felt magical somehow, to meet Sasaki and his mother.  We know that we share the same passion for the art of storytelling. Now I feel that somehow I need to take his story and his storytelling, to the US.

Bruce had said that jet lag would hit me around 4PM but around 3 PM I started to have uncontrollable yawns and my eyes started to droop. With deep regrets and promises to see how I could to help promote kamishibai, I said goodbye to Sasaki-san and his mother. We took the train home and I crashed. Poor Mitsue had another full afternoon of presentation to sit through. But when we were reunited we reflected and marveled over the serendipity of the day, as we ate delicious sukiyaki that Mitsue made for us.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dazed- Day One JAPAN Fri NOV 11 2011

Balcony in Bunkyo-ku
Where did Thursday go anyway? That pesky international date line! I slept like a baby for over 12 hours and awoke at 6am. Like a little kid at Xmas, I got up before anyone else was awake and padded around to the front of the house to look out and see where I was. I was so excited! Not only were my hosts dear friends who never see enough even though they have been visiting us in Boston, every year since the 80s - but,  I thought I would never live long enough to save enough money to see them in Japan. And yet, here I was in their apartment, in the center of one of the many 'centers' of Tokyo, in Japan.  I was so excited!

At the front of the condo their 6th floor balcony looks out at a music school like Berkley College on one side and a tiny pocket neighborhood of single family homes and is just a block from a six lane Haksan-Dori or White Mountain Ave. On this a main thoroughfare, there is a high rise with a roller coaster and huge ferris wheel. It was like Mass Ave or Boylston Street.  But comparison is hard because Tokyo is so huge it could put all of down-town Boston in it's watch-pocket. And Haksan-Dori  is not even the largest or busiest street. In Tokyo, even tho' the streets and sidewalks are full of traffic  ( loads of bicycles ridden by people of all ages) most of the action is below ground in the incredible subway system.

After working the entire 13 hour flight from Toronto I was feeling almost prepared for my 1st talk of four.  And I still needed to create and decide about handouts for a 90 minute lecture and workshop for Mituse's undergraduates at Aoyama Unversity. My presentation had a lot of new material that was not yet formatted for ppt. and was mixed with some existing material. I was really frustrated that I  had not  prioritizing my time better to make life a bit easier for myself.

So I ate breakfast and got right to work. First, I checked my email. I noticed that I had comment on my blog about kamishibai and there was also link from Tim Ereneta in CA about a young kamishibai storyteller, Yuta Sasaki in Tokyo who uses an iPad in his work and who had vowed, with his sensei to make "kamishibai storytelling a normal part of everyday life again." [ Cannot thank Tim enough for being the kind of 'social connecter' that we admire and try to emulate] 

Forgetting my functional illiteracy, I immediately started looking for this young man, Yuta Sasaki's  contact info on google. He had a ton of blogs, loads of video,  great graphics and pictures.  But contact? Oops! All my google and Firefox controls were now in Japanese, including ones that might say "switch language" so  I asked Bruce, who was my guide for the day, to help me. I  knew I had to at least try to contact Sasaki-san after I  read his vow. He was likely a kindred spirit in "promoting the art of storytelling in the 21st century". 

We did not have enough time to find him so I put that on hold and finished the talk, slides and handouts and dressed in time to head out by subway to Aoyama ( Blue Mountain University) via train. Bruce and Mitsue's station,  Kasuga ( spring sun ) is a 2 minute walk from the front door of their apartment building.  The talk went well. After sharing background and a bit of theory I told the students my fave story - Molly O'Donahugh. I asked them to think of their stories and ran the short Everybody Has a Story workshop for ELL students a first time for me. I was excited but too tired to be nervous and basically enjoyed my time with the students so much that we missed the bell.
Next was Mitsue's graduate class where most students were English Lit majors. Professor Allen led a discussion of orality and "versions of stories" and I was invited to tell the Rough Faced Girl by Rafe Martin as an example of a Cinderella story.  Mitsue had a few senior students who were helping us in all aspects from video to making flyers.  Mai, Yu and Shunsuke had just been accepted into the graduate school of Aoyama U so we went out for superb coffee and extraordinary pastries to celebrate. Each student told us an extraordinary personal story, in English. It was a lovely end to the school day. We had a fine dinner, prepared at home by Mitsue. She also found the email for Sasaki-san and I wrote to him in English and she in Japanese, inviting him to meet and/or come to the talk tomorrow. As I still needed to create and decide about handouts for a 90 minute lecture and then the private workshop for teachers the next day, I was up most of  the night again.   The next day I realized, to my chagrin, that all my formatting struggles were fruitless. The use  Japanese use A4 - which is a quite a bit longer and I needn't have gone crazy working to have each story to fit on one page!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tokyo - Nov 11, 2011

Whooeeee! It is Friday already and I can hardly believe I am here! Plane journey was relatively easy (considering how much I hate it) and without complications. I liked Air Canada and Toronto Airport has a ton of lovely public art.  But mama mia, I am a long way from home. Below is a youtube of some pictures - a little backwards look at my journey which did take the better part of a day.

I fell asleep at 6:30PM Tokyo time, for a little nap.  And woke up 12 hours later.  Very rested and totally excited to be in Japan. On the way from Ueno station to Bunkyo-ku I noticed aka-chochin ( red lantern bars that stay open late for food and beer) loads of bicycles and vending machines on the street which I remembered from 35 years ago.  I looked out from the sixth floor of the appahto, where I am staying and listened to early morning bird songs and watched people walk to work under umbrellas, looking just like Hakusai- Edo period block prints. Sugoi desu neh? Now to work! First talk is at 1PM today, to undergraduates at Aoyama University on the importance of storytelling. And I am looking into the work of this modern day Japanese performer that Tim Erenata told me about.

Waku-waku, suru! Very excited. Matta, neh?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kamishibai and Why I love Powerpoints: Insight from wikipedia

Kamishibai and Why I  love Powerpoints: Insight from wikipedia
Tokyo kamishibai with a mic
Looking at pictures and talking about them must be in my DNA. I love making and working with Powerpoints and digital projectors. Perhaps, many, many years ago a distant relative or ancestor was a "cantastoria" who told stories with i giuglliari di piazza or the "jesters of the square"

Cantastoria (also spelled cantastorie, canta storia or canta historia) comes from Italian for "sung story" or "singing history" and is known by many other names around the world. It is a theatrical form where a performer tells or sings a story while gesturing to a series of images. These images can be painted, printed or drawn on any sort of material.  Picture stories were also popular in Asia. In 6th century India religious tales called Saubhikas were performed by traveling storytellers who carried banners painted with images of gods from house to house. Another form called Yamapapaka featured vertical cloth scrolls accompanied by sung stories of the afterlife. In Tibet this was known as ma-ni-pa and in China this was known as pien or transformation story.

In Indonesia the scroll was made horizontal and became the wayang beber and employed four performers: A man who sings the story, two men who operate the rolling of the scroll, and a woman who holds a lamp to illuminate particular pictures featured in the story. Other Indonesian theater forms such as wayang kulit shadow play and wayang golek rod puppet shows developed around the same time and are still performed today. In Japan cantastoria appears as "etoki" or "emaki" in the form of hanging scrolls divided into separate panels, foreshadowing the immensely popular manga, or Japanese comics.

Surrounded by children
Etoki sometimes took the shape of little booklets, or even displays of dolls posed on the roadside with backgrounds behind them. In the 20th century, Japanese canndymen would bicycle around with serial shows called kamishibai where the story was told to a series of changing pictures that slid in and out of an open-framed box.

In aboriginal Australia storytellers paint story sequences on tree bark and also on themselves for the purposes of performing the tale.

In the 19th century giant scrolling moving panorama performances were performed throughout the United Kingdom and United States. The 20th century has seen cantastoria employed by the radical art, theater and puppetry movements to tell stories from perspectives outside of the mainstream media, especially by the Bread and Puppet Theater. Elements of picture storytelling can also be seen in the portable mural-posters of the Beehive Collective.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Getting ready...

hiragana chart
I have been been listening to Japanese language podcasts all this week. Finally worked out why my downloads were not coming in and now I have 100s of podcasts on all kinds of situations. It has been a little bit fun to see how much I can cram into my head and what was left from 30 years ago. And I think I wold have learned a lot had there been these kinds of tools when I was studying. The truth of my still being able to speak Japanese is like this old joke:
A doctor has come to see one of his patients in a hospital. The patient has had major surgery to both of his hands.

"Doctor," says the man excitedly and dramatically holds up his heavily bandaged hands. "Will I be able to play the piano when these bandages come off?"

"I don't see why not," replies the doctor.

"Wonderful," says the man. "I  always wanted to be able to play!"
1978, signing a painting
I never was able to speak Japanese. But 35 years ago I did have nearly 200  words and phrases - all not very useful conversational vocabulary gleaned from studying haiku and Japanese calligraphy as an art student and as an associate of a very eccentric artist who taught us all some seriously naughty to downright vulgar things to say. Last time, I listened, a lot in Japan. And every time I ventured to say something,  I found my foot in my mouth because I had managed to be very offensive - even when avoiding all the crazy things I had been told to say. My gaffes were mainly due to creative use of a limited vocabulary and even more limited grammar niether of which covered the words needed in formal and informal situations.

So, I loved the discipline of sho-do where my mistakes were quieter.  Wikipedia says, "Japanese calligraphy was influenced by, and influenced, Zen thought. For any particular piece of paper, the calligrapher has but one chance to create with the brush. The brush strokes cannot be corrected and even a lack of confidence will show up in the work. The calligrapher must concentrate and be fluid in execution. The brush writes a statement about the calligrapher at a moment in time (-Hitsuzendo, the Zen way of the brush)." I liked the high stakes, no going back process. My favorite poem and possbily the only one I had memorized well was by Basho:
Old pond ya
frog jumps in
the sound of water.
The calligraphy sample below of the poem is from this website:  I studied calligraphy at Kaji Aso Studio, where, very long ago, I was a founding member. Their catalogue lists Calligraphy like this:
Introduction to Japanese Calligraphy  “ The Art of the Brush” Japanese calligraphy is presented not just as an art form and an exercise, but as a unified aestheticism and life enriching practice. Enjoy the simplicity of this art form that is so close to dance in its expression.

Fire by Kaji Aso
Above is sample of Mr.(as he preferred to be called) Aso's  work, Fire, sumi on rice paper. I do remember the practice of calligraphy fondly. 35 years later,  I am reduced to copying out hiragana like a kindergartner as I prepare to travel in a land where I will be functionally illiterate the minute I step off the plane.

Luckily,  I am not going to  Japan to write or recite haiku. I will be talking about storytelling and how it is a powerful, underutilized tool to promote literacy and help ELL learners gain proficiency. And I am presenting my talk in English. Phew!  It is my hope that it will also foster an enthusiasm for English in Japanese youth for it is a required subject from the time they are five. Wish me luck.
poem, Basho