Newman / Holzman’s “psychology of becoming” (social therapeutics) is alive and well in Japan – and according to this report from Carrie Lobman, impacting the day-to-day practice of educators, psychologists and community organizers. Many, such as Yuji Moro, Norifumo ‘Riff’ Arimoto, Natsumi Gunji, are ongoing collaborators in expanding the influence of social therapeutics – Japanese style! Carrie Lobman recently returned from Tokyo after presenting at Kokushikan and Tsukuba Universities.
My first day, I led a workshop with 50 educators and improvisers at Kokushikan University, organized by Natsumi Gunji a lecturer who’s done some very interesting work in sex education at Kokushikan, and ‘Riff’ Arimoto, a good friend of the Institute’s and professor in the College of Education at Yokohama National University.
Riff and Natsumi, by the way, led the effort to translate my book, Unscripted Learning: Using improv activities across the K-8 curriculum, into Japanese. Almost everyone in the workshop had not only read the book, but were actively using it.
We began with some standard improv “yes-and” exercises. Everyone seemed to be having fun, but I didn’t see the ‘tension’ that comes when people are taking risks and doing something new together. I talked to Chikako, a fellow cultural-historical scholar, who told me that she thought that the issue was that many Japanese people have no trouble saying ‘yes,’ but were very uncomfortable with disagreement and creating with disagreement. They just keep agreeing, but the conversation doesn’t go anywhere!
I brought this insight back to the group. I asked them if they wanted to help me make the workshop more challenging for them, and that’s what we decided to do. We played with complaining (a form of disagreement) by creating a choral “gripe orchestra” — but with a twist: As each person added their complaint to the chorus they had to begin by saying why their complaint was worse than everyone else’s. (They loved it!)
We then embarked on an exploration of curiosity with the game Curiosity Coach. We did an exercise to explore some subjects of heated debate in Japan right now, such as nuclear energy. The group dug in and worked hard to explore being creative with disagreements. It was not easy for them.
On day two, I was the keynote speaker at a conference titled, Performance Psychology and Living Together, at Tokyo’s Tsukuba University, organized by our good friend and professor of psychology and provost of human sciences, Yuji Moro, attended by about 45 academics and community organizers, including some young people from Japan All Stars, the eastern outpost of the All Stars Alliance, launched in 2015 by Dr. Moro.
In my talk, The Politics of Play in a Culture of Fear, I introduced play as a critical life activity in times of crisis. I shared the work of Institute colleagues such as Elena Boukouvala and her Play is Hope project that works with displaced persons across Europe, and the All Stars’ Operation Conversation: Cops and Kids. There were wonderful questions about how to look for and create with opportunities in moments of chaos and destabilization.
Several other faculty and students shared their work, which has been informed by Newman and Holzman’s performance methodology and reinvented for the Japanse stage.