Adam Fulford, originally from Devon, has been living in Japan since 1981. In that time he has become increasingly interested in trying to identify aspects of East Asian culture in general and Japanese culture in particular that may be of value to everyone on their path through life. Here, Steve Martin FRSA recounts a talk Adam delivered to RSA Fellows in Japan this September.
Signs of life
For a talk ostensibly about the importance of the human body as a catalyst for communication, kicking off with a quote from Spike Milligan took a few of us by surprise. I say a few, because you have to be of a ‘certain age’ and from a certain part of the world to have any idea who Spike Milligan is – a British comedian for the uninitiated.
However the quote was apposite. Spike raises his finger and says “Look! Finger!”, yet people inevitably look at where the finger is pointing – an insight which kicked off the discussion on how long it took people to make the jump between ‘the object’ and ‘the message’. The whole evening, from the talk itself to the way it was structured, to the way people were encouraged to interact made us question behavior and culture when it comes to communication.
Adam used a set of cards to illustrate his talk and asked us to review them in pairs (“Don’t turn over until I say so”, he told us, while also suggesting that in pairs we would be less likely to look ahead – group pressure perhaps?)
The first card – a drawing by the Zen monk Sengai had a larger and smaller person pointing at something – what, we had to guess. The point being the physical act of pointing initiated communication through shared attention, the parent could point at the world to their baby attached to their hip.
The following cards took us on a journey using Japanese kanji characters and how they were built to develop this idea of sharing: shared attention, shared meaning, shared memory – could this be a definition for human culture, he proposed.
One might find it curious to see a foreigner (albeit a long term resident of the country, fluent in the language) presenting his thoughts through kanji to a room at least 50% Japanese, but as Adam pointed out, the Japanese will often hold back while foreigners take a more ‘bull in a china shop’ approach, and that ‘stimulation’ between cultures can often lead the conversation in some interesting directions.
The final card shows the larger character from the first card, but without the smaller (a child perhaps). Can we remember what that child looked like? People are encouraged to draw the child from memory on the walls (CTW has those sort of walls).
With that, we are on to the final exercise – in groups of three, agree sign-language for a selection of words: Me, You, Teacher, Learn, Path, Explain. We do, we share, we discuss the differences between different groups – culture perhaps or personality? Adam wraps up with a short video of a professional in sign language explaining the same words to give us some perspective.
The discussion and debate continued for some time after. Thank you Adam for the stimulation.
RSA's Director of Economy and Enterprise coming to Japan!
Join Tony Greenham and the RSA Japan Fellows' Network at two upcoming events:
The Future of Work and the Gig Economy
Tuesday 3rd October, 12-2pm at the Grand Hyatt Hotel: a panel debate hosted by the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan
The Good Work Workshop
Wednesday 4th October, 7-9pm at CTW in Omotesando: an interactive session to explore what makes work "good work", and how we can make it happen.