Globalisation is routinely cited as a top priority by Japanese government and businesses. But many communities and workplaces in Japan are struggling to integrate foreign people and ideas. There is one group which would seem perfectly placed to help bring about this change: Japanese people who have studied or worked abroad and returned to live in Japan.
But, as many of the Fellows in Japan have experienced as returnees themselves, it is not always easy to share one’s global perspectives once back at home. For our latest RSA JFN event we decide to expore this issue with the help of organisational coach Jonathan Joo-Thomson FRSA. Over the course of the evening participants were guided through a series of immersive group exercises, engaging “head, heart and hands” to unlock new insights into a burning social issue.
At the end of the evening, participants recorded the insights they had gained from Jonathan’s coaching exercises. Many of the comments expressed a sense of greater empowerment, such as this: “I realised I can do more to manage difficult situations”. And this: “By allowing change in ourselves we can help others be change agents too.” We are now planning a follow-up event to explore the actions we can take in the light of these new insights.
Words from partners
We are very interested to see how we as an organisation might work with returnees, following the investment they have made in acquiring an education in the UK, to ensure that the relationship continues once they have returned to Japan. Matt Burney, British Council Director, Japan
I believe RSA JFN is delivering an event that supports many of the BCCJ's guiding principles including diversity driven innovation and responsible business. Lori Henderson FRSA, Executive Director, British Chamber of Commerce in Japan
Words from Jonathan Joo-Thompson
In my coaching work I find that those who are having the most impact in the world are those who are spending time working deeply on their inner selves and on their close relationships. That is the training ground for 'world work'. So in facilitating any event - including the one held on this important topic of returnees and diversity - my aim was to encourage people to look first at their own biases, prejudices, and hurts as a way of building our collective muscle of appreciating difference and diversity. 'Opposites attract' is the saying, and that is true - but it is also true that people who are 'different' to us can at times be hard to understand, and, frankly, hard work! In our current world, the easy path is to hang out - including online - with those who agree with, and reinforce, our own points of view. It is easy to label those who disagree with us as ignorant, or bigots. The path of genuine appreciation for diversity is the harder road of doing our own inner work, healing our own wounds, and accepting those parts of ourselves that we may not like or appreciate, as a way of finding greater acceptance of others. It is my hope that in a small way, the exercises we were able to do during this RSA JFN workshop were a step along that journey. What I appreciate about the RSA JFN events is that they are a way of experimenting with new and creative things in a safe space, and with a collective body of fellow learners. They provide the container for being and doing differently, and as such, overcoming self-imposed or external boundaries. I can't wait until the next event!
Words from our participants
One of the most serious problems we face is that the world we live in is divided. As long as we stick to our opinion, our rightness, we cannot solve this problem. I learned a lot last night about how to listen to and respect differences. It’s not an easy job. But it’s the only way to solve the problem of divided nations. Yukiharu Kiho FRSA
What I enjoyed most at this event was being and engaging with people whose curiosity was enough to motivate them to discover how they could 'make a difference' in the world - people who were prepared to listen, think, ask, re-evaluate, share, learn and do. Ratko Backo FRSA
This event has made me think about the sense of isolation you can feel when returning from overseas, and the dissonance with those who have never lived abroad.
I learned that intentions may not be as they first appear. How can we be more in other people's shoes? And is it possible to educate others through our empathy?
It's OK to be different, and although people might feel uncomfortable when they find differences I'll try not to be offended, but to communicate the difference.
I've learned the value and importance of having the ability to listen; the ability to ask questions to understand; the ability to find a mutual understanding to move forward.
It's good to ask yourself what the other is feeling and wanting. Awareness can cure and heal - but it is hard in the moment and needs practice.
I discovered that I was able to take on different perspectives.
I can practice raising my level of consciousness.
I've learned the importance of more dialogue.
I want to be more open.
Tania Coke is the RSA's Ambassador in Japan. Find out more here and here.