Jimotogaku: Rediscovering One's Own Community

Dear Friends,

I just have a few more days in Japan this trip.  I'll be back several more times this year.  Most attention is still focused on emergency and initial stages of recovery here.  Soon, attention will turn to how might the Tohoku -- as well as all of Japan -- be created anew.  And it is this work of re-creation that I and my many colleagues here are waiting to begin.  One of the things that many here feel strongly about is that the re-creation of Tohoku must be directed by the people of Tohoku and that it will benefit from ideas, resources and volunteers from outside the area.  A theme also raised by many here is that the way to build for the future is to engage people with the question "what do you have," rather than the question"what do you need?"

I was delighted last week when my friend Riichiro Oda introduced me to the term Jimotogaku, which translates basically as "rediscover one's own community."  I'm just starting to learn about  Jimotogaku  and I am already delighted.  It seems to be the naturally occurring form of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) from the US as well as the Oasis Game from Brazil.  In the US, where we often default to more analytical and conceptual frameworks, ABCD has become a powerful process over the last twenty or so years to help communities work with what they have.  The Oasis Game from Brazil, where pleasure must be part of all true work, the Oasis Game works with the same values as ABCD, but in a more dynamic and playful sort of way.  For those of you not familiar with these approaches, I've compiled some resources here:  http://bit.ly/ResilientResources

Jimotogaku  comes with the same values.  Communities are filled with leaders and filled with resources.  We just have to invite them forward. 

Nearly fifty years ago the Japanese town of Minamata gained unwanted notoriety because of mercury poisoning.  The community has developed into a model community using Jimotogaku. 
See http://i-i-net.blogspot.com/2009/02/jimotogaku-based-on-what-we-hav...

More recently, the same principles have been applied in Niigata as the best was to recover from the 2004 earthquake.  See:  http://jen-npo.org/en/active/niigata.html and

You can also learn a bit more about Jimotogaku here:  http://www.japanfs.org/en/mailmagazine/newsletter/pages/027966.html

One of Japan's leading young architects, Ryo Yamazaki is working with others across Japan to see that this sort of strength based approach is used in Japan now.  They've developed an exciting project described here: https://www.sugarsync.com/pf/D266763_7428692_66723.  It is another example of the kind of work Berkana and New Stories are supporting here.   

I think these ways of working with community -- building from the inside out -- are what comes naturally.  It is the way we have always built communities.  There's been a bit of detour, especially over the last 60 or so years, when we thought that people from outside community -- experts, policy makers, government officials, consultants -- could do a better job.  All around the world we've learned that these people have valuable contributions to make -- but they have to be invited in by a community which has already recognized its own strengths and assets.



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Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on June 3, 2011 at 10:39am

Dear Bob,


Thanks for this posting. I knew the Constellation members would love it as much as I did:-)


I would like to learn something on what you said about external support to a community. How much and how long is it envisaged? Would you have an example to share please?



Comment by Gaston on June 3, 2011 at 8:07am

That's useful. I like how you combine the various elements in 'nourish'. We sometimes refer to 'enhance local response' through our facilitation. I think if development would be directed towards enhancing local response, we would get a lot further. 

Illumination is a much nicer term than 'documentation, reporting, and dissemination of knowledge' or related terms, which have lost their true meaning in the bureaucracy over the years. 

One question Bob: What did you learn on letting people realize more the importance of connecting and sharing their local response/ experience?

Comment by Bob Stilger on June 2, 2011 at 4:44pm

Yes, sometimes our language gets too fancy.

Nourish is like nourishing our bodies or gardens -- giving them the resources they need to grow.  So, as people doing the same work become connected with each other, nourishing them with additional resources - ideas, people, insights, money - helps.

Illumination is just another way of saying "make visible" -- to the people doing the work so they remember how important it is and to the wider world for inspiration and learning.



Comment by Laurence Gilliot on June 2, 2011 at 4:09pm

Hi Bob,


You can check out the Constellation's website, the page on our process where you will find a link to the page on SALT. Of course, a lot of the blogs on this platform talk about the application of SALT in communities and in our life... 

Can you explain more about nourish and illuminate and how they connect to 'name' and 'connect'?



Comment by Bob Stilger on June 1, 2011 at 12:58pm

Hello Geoff and Gaston,

YES, it is so helpful to have a name to put to things!  In our work at Berkana, we speak of a four stage process -- name, connect, nourish and illuminate.  Until something is named, people engaged in the practice can't be connected!

I was with an old friend this morning who also explained to me that in its roots, Jimotogaku also incorporates something often not explicit in ABCD (perhaps also so with SALT) -- that it is a combination of wisdom from the inside and wisdom from the outside, and bringing wind to both.

And your comment, Gaston, rings so true for me -- we know, at a deep cellular level that these approaches are true.  This is how we have always built community -- by turning to one another!

Gaston, could you direct me to some resources on SALT?




Comment by Geoff Parcell on June 1, 2011 at 12:33pm

Thanks for your generous sharing Bob.  And for giving us a name (Jimotogaku) to put to something we are discovering over again.



Comment by Gaston on June 1, 2011 at 10:06am
Thank you Bob for this insightful blog. It is really great to read about both the conceptual and practical part of Jimotogaku. You articulate these aspects in a way that really matches my experiences in my work with communities. I like the 'little detour of 60 years' that you refer to. Often communities or even development actors say: well, this SALT (our ABCD approach) is actually really natural! We just forgot it the last decades. It touches some innate knowledge that is already present. It's not about adding new knowledge, capacity or information. It's about revealing a natural way of working that is often covered by something else.


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