Impact and Change: Daisuke’s visit and our discussion


「熱望」(‘urgent desire’ in Japanese) was the headline of an email we received from Daisuke Okabe, Associate Professor of Tokyo City University. Immediately after we informed of our start-up, he visited us together with Rie Matsuura, one of his five graduate students at his lab.

Daisuke and our background are in fact not so different from each other. His previous work, together with Mimi Ito, called “Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life” was one of the most read and in-depth books on how Japanese consumers have integrated mobile phones in their everyday lives.

He and our practice have also come across at EPIC Tokyo in 2010, where his students have demonstrated how Cos-Play (abbreviation of costume play, where so-called ‘layers’ disguise themselves as characters that appear on animations) works and why they do this. Being an ethnographic conference, the EPIC participants responded with intensity: While the ethnographic practitioners learned of cos-play culture, little did we realize that they have in turn influenced the students who always thought their passion is a mere hobby, a hobby that needs to be kept secret even from their closest friends or someone you are dating with. And students like Rie, who was one of the layers who demonstrated cosplay at EPIC, is now a graduate student whom herself became a researcher. Such is the case when two different cultures come across: there is always something that could affect our paths in the future.

Today Daisuke and his students are taking a step forward and bringing performance and improvisation into learning environment under a project called “School 3.0″
Daisuke described:
School 1.0: The traditional classroom experience. One-to-many lecture format.
School 2.0: Workshop-style, where students would go through exercise and discuss of, increasingly a common format in learning environment.
School 3.0: Radical learning. Putting performance at heart, students are put to a situation where they need to improvise in a set environment.

As our discussion heated, we eventually came to a point where we started to revisit our mutual interest in ethnography, participation, and its impact. How can ethnographic research be beyond a recording of ‘an exotic experience?’ What does it mean when someone inside the culture gains a powerful skill set like conducting ethnographic studies? We described some of the examples from what we have observed in Kesennuma activities, where high-school students have not only become researchers of their community but also became a change agent, influencing so many adults and community stakeholders.

While improvisations, performances, and cosplay studies may sound radical, what Daisuke and his collaborators are practicing may in fact have more implications and impact than they may have thought of. Their practice reminded us of JR Kyushu video clips (fascinating as you see fast train capturing citizens welcoming the new JR Kyushu bullet train had, was to be launched in 2011, however, due to the earthquake, refrained from broadcasting) and Grand Rapids American Pie videos. Should Daisuke’s lab work on the communal or organizational improvisation and bring the outcome to public, the team could potentially bring so much impact as a result of learning 3.0.

After three hours of discussions and good coffee, Daisuke and Rie left the office with so much enthusiasm.

Daisuke’s activities can be followed in his blog (Japanese). His thoughts upon the visit to our office can also be found from his blog, which frankly, is a better description of what we practice than what we have so far written anywhere else.

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