My week in Japan was gratifying in so many ways, most of all the experience of being a participant in the ongoing process of organizing the young generation of Japanese teacher educators and psychology researchers. (A close second was the wonderful taste and visual pleasure of every meal I was served!)
Thanks to three Japanese colleagues—Professors Yuji Moro from Tsukuba University, Masayoshi Morioka from Kobe University, and Takashi Ito from Hokkaido University, I was given the opportunity to speak about and create developmental learning environments with nearly 200 faculty, graduate students and teachers. During my time in Japan, I traveled from Kobe to Sapporo to the small village of Urakawa. I gave a keynote speech at the Japanese Association for Educational Psychology conference, participated in a symposium series on Reconceptualizing Development, led two workshops on play, performance and social therapeutics, and spent a day with the people of the unique therapeutic community of Bethel House (more about this in a future post). My two marvelous translators, Chikako Toma and Iwata Michiru, as well as Japanese translations of all my materials, made it possible for all of us to create some meaning (and laughter) together.
Some of the people I worked and performed with were familiar with my work, with Fred Newman, with social therapeutics, performance activism, and the organizations and activities of our development community—from my prior visit to Japan in 2012, participating in Performing the World in 2012 or 2014, visiting the East Side Institute and All Stars Project, or reading my book Vygotsky at Work and Play (in English or Japanese). Others were brand new, hearing about and participating in “the psychology of becoming” for the first time. They were amazed and I was touched by the ease with which an initial “introduction game” catalyzed the transformation of their performance from that of individualized and intellectualized academics into emotionally open and curious developmental learners. My goal for the week was to not merely tell them of what has been discovered about “the how of play” (the topic of my keynote speech), but to create with them environments for— and, simultaneously, of—play as how we do things, not what we do. Together, we succeeded.
Among the comments I received in emails after returning home are these:
Performance is so encouraging for me. I want to evolve without being shy about knowing nothing like the baby.
I found many new personalities of my old friends and colleagues and discovered various potentialities of my graduate students to create something brand new.
I couldn’t sleep for a while last night thinking about all the things I’ve come to realize through the workshop. Now I realize that I’ve been careful to not step out from the footsteps of myself so I wouldn’t start doing something outside of my “specialty”. Thank you for giving me the chance to realize that I can practically do whatever I want to do and it’s okay to fail at something, because that’s not failing; it’s playing and learning!
Japanese teachers and researchers are struggling with an outmoded educational system that isn’t meeting the needs of children and youth. What’s more, the outside of school activities for most elementary and secondary school students is more school-like study. Most of them have no time for social relationships, creative endeavors or play. University life sounds no better, judging from the students I spoke with. As far as clinical psychology goes, investigating and challenging the conception of diagnosis, its history, and the practices of mental health treatment that follow a diagnostic approach—well, that was really eye-opening for everyone.
So many people I met have felt trapped by the Japanese tradition, bureaucracy and long-standing economic stagnation. The desire to break out and try some new things is strong. I feel that I was able to support the people I was with to break through their collective despair and help them see the possibility of possibilities they could create. I couldn’t ask for more.