TEDxFukuoka 2013 – Meadow of Concepts
Report by Mary-Rose Shand (Feb. 2013)
On Saturday, February 16, one hundred guests were lucky to attend the first official TedxFukuoka event, “Meadow Of Concepts” in the Meiji-Yasuda Seimei building, Hakata. First launched in 2012 with the highly successful TedXFukuokaWomen, TEDxFukuoka aims to create a unique space for the exchange of local ideas from Fukuoka and the global platform that TED talks offer. The event was live-streamed online and featured 13 speakers from Kyushu as well as several short videos of pre-recorded TED talks from around the globe.
TEDxFukuoka provided a diverse and inspiring lineup of speakers. The organisation of the event was faultless, with a large team of volunteers ready to assist at any opportunity. Headsets were offered with live translations for attendees not proficient in English or Japanese and elegant silk banners lined the stages, courtesy of event sponsor Hakata Japan (Hakata ori manufacturer), which made sure to add a touch of Fukuoka’s culture to the setting.
The first session was titled “For You, For Me”, and began with Michael TS Lindenmayer, the co-founder of Eirene, who had flown in to Fukuoka from Chicago. He spoke about the “humble toilet” and its crucial role in the world, which, unfortunately, we all too often take for granted. His message was light-hearted yet effective- we need to “give a s**t” about global sanitation and to “re-potty train” by acknowledging and understanding the simple and crucial importance of sanitation, in a world where a staggering 40% of the population are not lucky enough to have the use of a toilet.
Next up was 92-year-old Yuji Sakikawa, a former journalist but now a Senior Life advisor, who spoke with great vibrancy and vitality on the realities of our aging population. He urged that gender equality was paramount as the Japanese workforce is male-centred even though demographic trends are moving in the opposite direction- therefore, the political and economic empowerment of women is imperative as the aging population increases.
Last in this session was Junto Ohki, a social entrepreneur who revolutionised sign language interpretation and created the first ever sign language dictionary. He echoed the themes touched on in the previous two talks, in how much we all take for granted, pointing out that despite there being 45 million deaf people in the world, until very recently the majority of telecommunications were entirely useless for the deaf. He found that these technologies only required a small amount of innovation in order to change the lives of million of deaf people. He admitted that he did not originally aim to personally achieve on the scale that he has done now, but that he continued his project with courage, and through trial and error.
Then, a screened talk from 11-year-old Birke Baehr picked up on the earlier topic of the problems of our shared planet as he drew attention to the harsh realities of our alarmingly distorted food production systems, urging viewers to buy organic and local produce whenever possible. He spoke with incredible presence and confidence for a child of only 11, providing an optimistic end to an stimulating opening session with a series of profound messages.
The second session, “Curious Minds Within”, was started off by the composer Kenjiro Matsuo, who constructs installations that aim to connect sound and ideas. His wooden xylophone, which played Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” with a small wooden ball, was featured in a DoCoMo commercial and has an astonishing 9 million views on YouTube. He described the benefits of occasionally side-stepping technology, despite its obvious advantages, to focus individually and to achieve something through the simplicity of endurance and repetition. He also encouraged viewers to “love the silly in you” as he played a smaller version of his wooden xylophone on stage that, much to the audience’s enjoyment, hoisted a small TEDx flag at the end.
Next on stage was the award-winning architect Kyoko Matsuoko, speaking on a theme of bridges – not just the actual ones she designs, but metaphorical ones between people and architecture. She is currently working on a smartphone app that will reveal information about the design of buildings to enhance our knowledge and appreciation the of the buildings around us – after all, as she gracefully pointed out, because architecture surrounds us, it’s essentially public property.
A slight change of tone followed, from the poised elegance of Kyoko to the energetic and vivacious Himi Okajimi, a restaurant owner and chef. He told the witty story of how he marketed his pig foot (tonsoku) dishes in his bistro in New York, firstly (essentially) tricking customers by claiming it was a French dish, and then claiming it was authentic “Hakata spicy caviar”. His conclusion – that you eat the words, concepts and connotations as much as you eat the food – was simple but strikingly effective. He drew attention to the interplay between words and the reality around us, and that, in this respect, we are all individually very powerful, because life is a self-directed drama – we are both the writers and the actors in our own worlds.
Then it was time for another TED screened talk by Stacey Kramer who challenged the connotations traditionally associated with a “gift”. She offered her harrowing insights into how an unwanted experience – hers, a brain tumour – can turn out to be a priceless gift as it offered her a new perspective on life. Another change of mood followed as orthopedic surgeon Koichi Nakayama then showed us some of his fascinating research into sleep disorders, which included some amusing demonstrations of devices that can track body movement (using Kinect technology) and alter your sleep state by prodding you as you doze.
Then we heard from Yusuke Engeorge, who described his contribution to modernising emergency medical care through the installation of iPads in ambulances. Despite his complete lack of medical knowledge and lack of experience (he claimed he didn’t have the authority in his office to even buy a pen!) and the skepticism he encountered, he persevered with his plan, which is now used in six Japanese prefectures and under consideration in half, and has successfully decreased transport time. He encouraged a bottom-up approach to challenges, firstly considering what you can do yourself.
Closing this session was a remarkable performance by juggling artist Yusaku Mochizuki, which featured his special glowing and spinning wheels, rope and a lively dance routine.
The third and final session, “Be a Change Agent”, was opened with an eclectic performance by Gond-tune on the didgeridoo and sitar.
The speakers began with the founder of the Konya2023 project in Daimyo, Tsuneo Noda, who believed that the 21st century was the century for creative social architecture, which he sees as embodied in his “UFO parking lot” installed in the roof of his gallery.
Then John Kluge explained how to become a “billionaire”, not in terms of dollars, but by the number of lives that you positively affect.
Last but not least was Toshiyuki Inoko, who spoke about how the traditional Japanese way of recognising spaces has been influential – it even gave birth to the idea of side-scrolling used in the popular Super Mario games!
To conclude, TEDxFukuoka certainly excelled in TED’s remit of offering ideas worth spreading on the themes of technology, entertainment and design. What was perhaps surprising was the blanket ban on photography, given the fact that TED is predicated on making global connections and in our digital world. Nonetheless, each individual speaker offered unique insights and the subtle contrasts in style and seriousness only made the event more interesting and each message more powerful powerful. Each talk was well-paced in an easily digestible format, and the speakers managed to delicately handle the balance between their staggering conclusions and instilling motivation without overwhelming the audience – with the added bonus of comprehensive simultaneous interpretation for everyone, provided by a fantastic team of volunteers. It was a fantastic event that undoubtedly provided an incredible global platform for the people that Fukuoka’s residents should be, and clearly are, incredibly proud of.
The talks will viewable (in the near future) on the official TED website
Report by Mary-Rose Shand for Fukuoka Now (Feb. 2012)
Photographs used with permission – http://www.tedxfukuoka.com