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Weekend reading: on Tohoku, Myanmar, education and the loneliness of work

At the edge of the weekend, a quick round-up of some online articles I spotted this week.

Three years on

Of course, this selection wouldn’t be complete without a few articles looking back at the past three years since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan on 11 March, 2011.

The Japan Times looks at what happened to the children, and reports rising instances of trauma and stress for children living in Fukushima prefecture dealing with what happened and their uprooted life: Tohoku kids stressed by trauma

Dutch Tokyo-based correspondent Daniel Leussink visited the region and spoke to several people on reconstruction in Tohoku, which you can read about (in Dutch) here: Three years on, an empty coast

Work is lonely

An article that struck a chord this week is from Gianpiero Petriglieri, who I have been following on Twitter for some time for interesting insights on leadership and organisational development. He published a blog for the Harvard Business Review titled Why Work Is Lonely in which he talks about speaking up in organisations and sharing your opinion and about why people don’t. But also, why it is so important to do exactly this: have the courage to speak up.

We keep forgetting that our closest relationships are not those where tension is glossed over but those where it can be aired and worked through safely enough.

This is not only true of professional workplaces of course, but you can apply this – I think – to other organizations as well where people work together and where there is some type of hierarchy, whether intended or not. The challenge is to make everyone feel comfortable enough to actually say what they want to say.

Measuring business & human rights

The past two weeks for me were mostly about learning about how business can respect human rights. I attended a conference on due diligence and spent a few days in a course on implementing the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights.

Michael Addo writes on the LSE-blog about the importance for businesses to work with indicators to be able to measure their progress on respecting human rights: Business and human rights indicators: Opportunities and challenges in measuring corporate respect for human rights

Notwithstanding the great potential of indicators, measuring and comparing respect for human rights by corporations is not an easy task.

He rightly also says this is very difficult to do: how do you measure discrimination? How do you measure whether or not a company-based grievance mechanism is accessible enough for the intended users? Luckily, there are various organisations working on this, including GRI and Shift.

Education in Myanmar

The NY Times highlights the lack of education in Myanmar and what organizations – NGOs but also businesses – are doing to address this. Raising the level of education will be vital for the further development of the country, so it’s good to read about these initiatives which are happening: Education Programs Try to Close Gaps in Myanmar

Sanriku Coast Tohoku

3/11: three years later in Japan

Three years ago this day I was woken up by a text message from a friend.

“Is everyone you know okay?”

Huh?

Still sleepy, at first I didn’t realize what he was talking about, though the first thing that came into my mind was that maybe it could have something to do with Japan. But what?

Unfortunately, I turned out to be right.

The rest of the day I was glued to my TV and computer watching the destruction of the earthquake, tsunami and then the nuclear disaster, the extent of which only became apparent in the course of the following days.

Having lived in Japan for over 2,5 years, it is a place that’s very close to my heart. And seeing the destruction that occurred that day was devastating. Of course, I cannot imagine what it must have been like for people who lived there and had to run from their houses or office to get away from the rushing water and lost everything.

Just over a year after the tsunami, in May 2012, I briefly visited the area: I wanted to support the local economy by being there as a tourist, because part of this coastline is also a natural park so worth a visit for that alone. Nevertheless, I also wanted to see what was happening locally in terms of reconstruction. What I hadn’t expected at all, was that people were so open about their experiences.

Out of nowhere, a restaurant owner or a boatsman would start talking to me about what it was like that March 11th in 2011. These are stories I won’t forget.

This is also why it is so good to be able to see a little bit of the work that continues in this part of Tohoku, Japan. Many grass roots organisations and local governments in the region have embraced, mostly, Facebook as a way to let people see what they are working on.

It is also a way of showing potential tourists that yes, there is a lot to see and do in this part of the Japan, and it it so much worth the visit. I wish travel websites, guidebooks, travel shows – anyone – would share the amazing travel potential of Tohoku more (unlike Lonely Planet, which scrapped this whole part of the country out of its guide published after the tsunami).

Many of these Facebook-pages are in Japanese, though some are in English as well (or German, even!). Have a look at these pages to get an idea of what initiatives are working locally:

  • Tohoku Planning Forum: a platform facilitating collaboration among Japanese and international designers, architects and planners contributing to the long-term revitalisation of Japan’s tsunami-affected Tohoku region.
  • Rikuzen Takata town: a page run by the city of Rikuzen Takata, one of the most heavily hit towns along the coast, sharing events, news, pictures and other interesting bits of information about the city (in Japanese & English)
  • It’s Not Just Mud: INJM is a grass-roots organization which moved into Ishinomaki quickly after the tsunami happened to help locals with clearing debri and slowly start building again. Run by volunteers, they’ve expanded operations to other towns – and even recently to the Philippines after the destructive Typhoon late 2013.
  • DJSF Sanriku Fukkou: a German-Japanese collaboration to support the reconstruction of the Sanriku-region along the coast.

Through these pages there are many many more FB-pages you can click through to from various towns and initiatives.

Pedestrian space: essential to liveable cities?

Walking...
via Flickr/David O

Attractive and well-maintained public pedestrian space is probably essential to a smoothly functioning democratic society, because we are forced to develop and maintain a civic awareness there, our activities are visible and we can meet as equals Lees meer

Weekend reading: Chinese design, MUJI’s local handicraft, crowdsourcing in Malaysia and time-lapse videos

newspapers

What better way to spend a quiet Sunday afternoon than by catching up on this week’s blogs and news. These are some articles that caught my attention this week (admittedly, some are a little older and only found now as I was away travelling – more up to date things next week!)

I’ll start off with a slightly older article, but only spotted Friday, from the Financial Times in March (via China Design Hub) on the developing design market in China, where Chinese designers are struggling to find their place in the domestic market and at the same time gaining attention abroad.

Global Witness has published an interesting post with recommendations on how to get more Chinese companies involved in EITI, the Extractive Industries Transparancy Initiative. I think most of these recommendations are also valuable for other CSR initiatives, especially the point of localisation and clearly showing the (investment) benefits of joining an initiative such as EITI.

Moving on to Japan, I want to share this post by a fellow Japanologist Aike Rots – researching the connection between Shinto and nature – who recently visited the Tohoku region. A year after I visited myself, it is interesting to read his observations on the region, now more than two years after the tsunami hit in 2011. As I found also, despite the destruction around you, there is a strong sense of hope and expectation for things to become better again which is great to see.

And more positive news from Japan, with CSRWire’s publication on MUJI’s decision to join the Business Call to Action initiative by announcing plans to source and produce in Cambodia, Kenya and Kyrgyzstan. In these countries, MUJI will be working with local producers on MUJI designs and materials through the BCtA, which also aims at supporting the local economy in these countries.

From handicrafts to the digital world, with this piece on the development of crowdsourcing in Malaysia – an interesting read on how the government is experimenting with crowdsourcing initiatives as one way of alleviating poverty and give more people access to (micro)finance.

I will leave you with some visuals, enjoy these stunning time-lapse videos from major cities across Asia.

Along the tsunami coast

Kesennuma, Kamaishi, Rikuzentakata, Miyako – two weeks ago I was travelling through a region in Japan where I had only heard of the names of places because of one thing: the tsunami that happened on 11 March 2011.

I only travelled part of this coast though, starting from Miyako in Iwate prefecture and heading north along a coast that is the northern half of the Rikuchu Kaigan National Park: 180 kilometers of stunning and spectacular cliffs, rocks and other natural scenery. I have a feeling this part may be one of the more accessible regions though I don’t know for sure. One reason is that here trains are mostly back up – with a short exception – while I have heard that further south there is much more work still to be done. I guess it’s more remote and some towns there suffered incredible damage.

Miyako is a town which feels good. Yes, there was a lot of damage but in the city centre this is mostly visible when you start noticing how much buildings look very new, or at least the ground floor does. Dinner, for example, was in a very friendly izakaya where the owners renovated for two months before re-opening as the building had been flooded with water 2 meters high. They had been inside during the earthquake and only barely managed to keep themselves standing – and then got the hell out of there to get away as quickly as possible for the expected tsunami.

Most of the ‘visible’ damage in Miyako – the rubble, the collapsed buildings, etc – is gone, with a collapsed Shell gas station as the clear exception. Instead, the city is rebuilding. And you can tell it is: there’s lots of traffic, a lot of people about town, hotels are fully booked, and buildings are being rebuilt where ever you look. The town’s people are positive that when summer is here, so will the tourists.

There’s good reason for the tourists to come to see the dramatic cliffs of the coastal national park. These rocks and cliffs are also again a reminder of the force of nature. They have been here for centuries and still look the same as always: strong, imposing, powerful. Just like the tsunami was.

I’m continuing my journey north by train and for the moment also by bus for a short stretch of railroad which hasn’t been restored yet (the other parts were put back to use only earlier this spring). But like a taxi driver told me “We won’t be beat”, which is even all the more admirable considering that people living here are confronted with what happened every day again – but that only seems to make their conviction to build up their towns and villages even stronger.

A very very impressive start of my 10 days across Tohoku.