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“We need a hope, otherwise, we cannot make sense out of our loss. We were motivated to bring our normal life back, but it is getting so hard to keep motivating ourselves lately. We just need tangible changes that we can see to keep us motivated to bounce back.”

A Japanese woman who donated her old farmhouse for the Ibasho cafe project quietly spoke to me one day. She lost 8 family members as well as her house at this incident, and living in a temporary housing ever since. She and her husband are rebuilding their house, but it has been delayed for a long time. I have also heard the similar comments from many other local residents who have been living in temporary housing community.

When I go back to the disaster area, I am always impressed by the progress of the disaster area . The vast area of the Tsunami affected area is “nicely cleaned up.” On the other hand, it is actually also mind boggling for me to see the “clean,” yet “nothing but flat land.” All I see in these areas are many heavy machineries and mountains of debris.

I fully understand that the reconstruction in this scope of disaster takes for a long time, however, well-being of local residents should also be taken care more sensible manner. They should able to envision their future throughout this process.

I have been hearing from many friends and colleagues that “Japanese people are so resilient. It is amazing to see that people lined up orderly to receive their share of foods without any arguments.”

I cannot agree more about these comments. Yes, the people whom we are working with are amazingly resilient human beings. However, I also wonder “how much more can they endure the challenging life without a sense of hope for their future?”

I strongly feel that “We should stop admiring these resilient people, and start rolling up our sleeves to take action for them. Admiring these local residents does not improve their lives.” It is our hope that Ibasho cafe can bring a small yet tangible “hope” to the local residents to see, smell, and touch…

On the day of 2nd memorial of the earthquake/tsunami that occured on March 11, 2011, I pray for all the people who were (and have been) affected by this incident.

A comment that surprised me today…

“I cannot believe that you are making elders work at the Ibasho cafe in the disaster area in Japan! Your project is not kind to elders.”

I was simply shocked to hear the comment. I seriously believed that “Ibasho cafe is giving opportunities for local elders to be useful to others. They can share their valuable wisdom and experience regardless of their physical and cognitive capacities.”

Almost all the elders whom I talked to at the disaster area said that “I am thankful for all the support that we have received from all over the world. However, it is getting a bit too much for me to always receive help. I want to give back to others, if I know how to do it. I will write letters if I know who to send them to. I just don’t know what I can do to be helpful to others because I am old…”

Their comments are the reasons why our team has been working tirelessly to bring the Ibasho cafe concept into reality, so that they have opportunities to be useful to others in their community.

Local elders are excited to organize themself to operate the first “Ibasho cafe” in the disaster area. I thought that I was helping them… Am I missing something? Am I really a cruel person who is orchestrating to make elders work??

The first ibasho cafe in the disaster area in Japan is under construction now, and we have another exciting news. Elders in Massaki area in Ofunato city Japan formed a not for profit orgazation to operate this cafe as a community initiative. On February 28, this organization was formally approved by the city.

Who said “older people cannot start social enterprise”?

We belive that their wisdom and experience are critical part of the recovery process in the disaster area. We are confident that those elders will be great resources for younger generations in this community. We are opening the cafe on June 13th, 2013, so will be busy for the preperation from now. I cannot wait to see them in action, and learn from their wisdom to create a “Ibasho” for the people who lost their homes and loved ones in front of their eyes at the 3.11 earthquake/Tsunami incident in Japan….

I am so proud of the elders and generous young supporters who brought this effort into life…

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We have just received good news from Japan that we were waiting for a LONG TIME!

Building permit for the Japan Ibasho cafe was finally approved!

Thanks to all our talented team members who have been generously supporting this initiative. We still have a lot to figure out before the opening, but I am certain that we can make this project truly a community project for the local people in a disaster area.

This is one big milestone to reach that we should simply cerebrate! We will keep working hard to reach the next milestone… Journey continues.

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Ibasho cafe in the disaster area is supposed to be a straightforward project, yet there are many issues and challenges arise, especially when we feel that it is making progress. Yes, I am frustrated by the layers of bureaucracy that have to give us reasons to slow down and discourage us. I am sure that this situation happens to many projects for disaster relief globally. When I visit the disaster area and see how people live, I feel so frustrated by how things are in Japan. There are so many “talking” but so little “doing” from both central and local governments in the current situation.

When we try to take action and “DO” something beneficial for the local residents who were affected by the horrific earthquake/tsunami, the simple act of kindness can simply be discouraged by the people who do not understand the urgency of the needs in the community. All the process, regulation, and permits are surprisingly increased rather than simplified after the disaster, which makes reconstruction process so slow, especially from the grass-root initiatives.

Am I discouraged?

The answer is ” No, I do feel frustrated but never be discouraged…”

Why? …… because I always go back and watch a video clip about “last lecture” that Dr. Randy Pausch delivered.

In this lecture, Dr. Randy Pausch said:

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

Yes, I have been tested…. “How badly we want to bring Ibasho cafe a successful community project?”

I am a infinite naïve optimist. I used to think that being “naïve” and “optimist” was something that I should be embarrassed by because it always sounded that I was “inexperienced” to take any actions. However, I now believe that “there is a place for a naïve optimist in our world, because only naïve and optimistic people are the ones who are crazy enough to genuinely try to “do” something new and innovative regardless of other people’s critical remarks….”

Thanks for Randy, I can go back to Japan with my full motivation and positive attitude now!

I will keep you posted about my trip to Japan via this blog. Stay tuned.

I often question whether or not I am doing a right thing for elders through my work. Although I am (so as many others) genuinely interested in improving the life of growing number of elders who deserve to have a normal life in the place where they feel accepted. However, we might also help to create (without knowing) an unfortunate social situation where elders are treated as commodity of “silver business” or “elder care business,” if we are not careful.

We cannot ignore the economical impact caused by “aging society,” however, when we loose the sight of “honoring elders”,  we all become a victim of our own fault in the near future. We will be viewed as nothing but “commodity” of someone’s business.

What should we do to be helpful to elders, yet not commodifying aging? How can we best prepare for our “societal aging”?

Honestly, I do not have a clear answer myself so far. However, at least, I know that “I do not want to be treated as a commodity of thriving senior business, as I age.” I am sure that our elders today will share the same feeling.

…. More to think about

I have been reading news paper articles about lonely death among elderly persons and discussions regarding how to treat mothers with baby cart in public transportation in Japan, and gained serious concerns toward how selfish we have become in our modern society. These articles make me think why we have so many “unhappy” people in one of the richest countries like Japan. So, where is the “unhappiness” coming from? What can we do to be simply “happy”? I found a Dalai Lama’s quote about compassion being helpful.

“The ultimate source of a happy life is warm-heartedness. This means extending to others the kind of concern we have for ourselves. On a simple level we find that if we have a compassionate heart we naturally have more friends. And scientists today are discovering that while anger and hatred eat into our immune system, warm-heartedness and compassion are good for our health.”

In the course of our projects, I sometimes struggle with the negative social perception toward anyone who don’t fit into “NORMAL” or “YOUNG AND HEALTHY.” The term of “other people” whom our society still treats as “not normal” will soon be used for labeling ourselves due to our normal aging process. Aging is not an option, it happens to all of us. As we age, our physical ability will slow down.

I understand that aging causes fear for all of us, however we need to remind ourselves that “Aging is not a disease,” it is a natural process and happens to all of us. We should learn to be compassionate to others, and try to “include” rather than “exclude” the people who are labeld as “different from normal” as a part of our social web. Having sincere compassions can be challenging at the begining , yet we can at least start to consiously think about “how we want to be treated by others when we no longer young, healthy, and independent.”

Mother Teresa also address the concept of compassion with using the term “love.”

“The opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference.”

We can also easily fall into “not normal” by unexpected accidents or sickness regardless of our age. It is my hope that we can first learn to pay attentions and interested in people around us as “a person just like me,” rather than “nameless faces who I do not know.” In our busy life, we still have enough time to pay attention to others, don’t we?

 

Although these questions are so simple, yet I found it quite challenging as we progress our projects. My new year’s resolution is to keep asking these two questions to maintain our focus on our grassroot initiative.

  • What can Ibasho do to improve the life of elders that no other groups can do?

  • What can architecture field do to prepare for aging society that no other disciplines can do?

Does anyone have suggestions??

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year! We in the Ibasho family wish you all the best for a healthy and happy 2013, and look forward to an exciting year ahead!

As we look back at 2012, we have much to be grateful for, especially the support and encouragement we have received from supporters like you.  And it has paid off!

We started Ibasho in 2010 with just a few people but great passion and a belief that we can make a difference.  And we have already made meaningful progress and captured the attention of communities around the world that are grappling with the universal question of how we can all age with dignity and live purposeful lives, no matter what our age.

2012 was a busy year, but a few highlights stand out.  In April, Dr. Power and I received a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation to develop a project called “An Innovative Response to Global Aging: Creating Resilient Communities for All”.  Thanks to the Foundation’s generous support, I spent four incredible weeks at the Bellagio Center in Italy with some of the world’s most innovative thinkers in a variety of fields, honing our ideas and developing our plans.  And we have seen these ideas get traction even where we are not working.  In July, I was invited to talk about Ibasho at the World Cities Summit in Singapore, and media in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and China featured Ibasho and our work, helping us reach people well outside our small (but growing!) circle.  And, finally, in November we broke ground for a new, community sponsored “Ibasho Cafe” in Ofunato, Iwate Japan, a small Japanese coastal town devastated by the tsunami of 2011.

This Ibasho Cafe is in many ways the ideals and principles of Ibasho made concrete for the first time.  This project, which will create an “Ibasho” for this town and particularly its elders, has been embraced by the local citizens and is now really their project.  We supplied ideas and support, but they have made it their own, bringing in local artisans to build the cafe itself and establishing a new non-profit organization to run it.  When the Cafe opens in spring, 2013, it will be a place where the elders of the community can work and congregate, but it will also be a place for the entire community to gather.  Throughout the project, we have been encouraged not only by the enthusiasm of the elders we work with, but also by the energy and excitement of the young people in the community.

What we’ve discovered through all of this work is that although the Ibasho initiative started just with planning for better elder care in an aging societies, we are reaching people of all ages, and addressing issues that are relevant to all communities.  We have realized that concerns about living with dignity and contributing to one’s community are not just relevant to today’s elders, but also to those who are young.

In 2013, we look forward to even more progress, exploring how we can better connect our elders to our communities, and ensure they never lose their sense of purpose, while at the same time engaging young people in creating projects that speak to and serve multiple generations.  The opening of the Ibasho Cafe in Ofunato, Japan in spring 2013 will be an important step toward this goal, but we hope, only one of many.

And so, with gratitude for your support and excitement for the year ahead, I wish you all the best for 2013

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