Whether you know their work or not, Yutaro and Kana Ohashi, are someone you’d immediately fall in love with. The couple, who in their personal lives, are husband and wife, together have been working in many exciting projects as Yuta-Kana (See Yutakana.org here). When you talk with them they remind you of sitcoms like Friends or The Big Bang Theory, where you see great friends with lots of secret keywords and giggles. Although I am quite familiar with the protocol of interviews, with these couples, there is no need for you to ponder what questions you should ask next: When Kana talks of her past, Yutaro would point out “ok, make that story shorter” or “you should tell that story” – a perfect diad interview runs without any facilitation. “Our power becomes less than half when we sell ourselves separately,” says Yutaro. I’d say nothing really halves, but rather, their charm and rich stories perfect by being together.
For many of us in Japan, Yutaro and Kana are known for their work called “フィンランドで見つけた「学びのデザイン」 豊かな人生をかたちにする19の実践 (in English, it would translate as “Design of Learning” in Finland: 19 practices for a enrich your life.” You can find the book in Amazon Japan)”, a perfect book to rethink what it means to learn, through their fieldwork and interviews that took place in Finland. From museums, nature schools to LGBT and special needs support, their fieldwork highlights how Finnish people experience, learn, and have fun throughout their lifetime. The book not only covers such topic by interviewing experts and addressing opinions, but comes with many beautiful and attractive photographs.
While the book brings us many positive messages, the project started off in a rather surprising manner. Yutaro, who finished his Ph.D in Educational Engineering became a visiting scholar in Helsinki University several years ago, and together with Kana, whom at the time worked for a major beverage company in Japan, quit her job and left to Finland together. Now the problem was, that all this took place in November. Little did they realize that Finland can be so harsh on you when you arrive at times when the daytime is getting short and people are depressed; Kana quickly started to feel depressed as she had no one to talk to, let alone a job, which used to fill most of her time. The project somewhat came out of Kana’s desperation, and the situation made them bond and to create the project that was meaningful and fun for them.
As I told them I lived in Finland for five years, their eyes literally popped out. “How can you live for such a long time?” they asked, which made me burst into laughter: Such a reaction can only come from ones who know Finland inside out: Our conversation was filled with both fascinating and terrible experiences we have had in what we consider as an exotic setup, and eventually made us miss from there as we returned to Japan: abundant time and silence, the beautiful summer, and moreover, the environment, which makes you think and act, even for a sense of desperation. As I listened to their fascinating life stories, I realized that their book, which addresses the pleasure and the meaning of lifetime learning, is no other than ethnography: By working on this book they have not only found something to do together, but found a way to engage and be a part of the culture. The book project also made them an inseparable couple who laughed and learned together, and would not have been the same had someone simply traveled and interviewed the people in a shorter time. Knowing them I find myself enjoying the book even more.
Today they are back in Japan. Both runs a handful of projects, while Kana expressed her further pursuit in anthropology while Yutaro in engineering and education. As both parties, Yutakana and Re:public, share the passion to observe, write, and most importantly, have fun, I’d say the only thing we should do is to come up with a project where we could work together.