Category Archives: Storytelling

To Boldly Go – TEDxKyoto x George Takei & Patrick Linehan

This picture by Minori Murata

This picture by Minori Murata

Once again I have to congratulate Jay Klaphake and his TEDxKyoto team of volunteers for organizing a splendid event at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies today!

It was a delight to see Patrick Linehan speak here again, this time on the effect his last speech at TEDxKyoto has had on his life and also on the lives of others. In September he told us to embrace the qualities that make us different and celebrate them. Today he told us how he is now often recognized by people who have seen this talk, and how they tell him how much they have been encouraged by it. One young lady told him he had inspired her to come out to her parents. Another young man was inspired to embrace his transgender identity. As before Mr. Linehan’s speech was characterised by its warmth and gentle humour and left us all feeling highly motivated.

George Takei then took the stage and told us of his family’s terrible experiences during and immediately after World War 2. Rounded up into internment camps at the outbreak of the war for simply being Japanese-American, they lost everything, and after enduring the hardships of the camps they had to start again after the war was over from the poorest conditions. Despite these hardships however, young George Takei was inspired by his own father’s fervent belief in democracy and by those young Japanese-Americans who despite the discrimination they faced at home signed up to defend democracy and bravely fought in the European theater of war. In particular he told us of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, the most decorated regiment in the history of the US army. In an especially memorable story, he told us of one battle where they helped to break the Gothic Line, the last major line of German Defense in the latter stages of the war. To break the line of defense, the 442nd regiment scaled a sheer cliff under cover of night and launched a surprise attack the following day. Many soldiers fell to their deaths while attempting to climb that cliff – but George told us, even as they fell they did not cry out, for they did not want to give their comrades’ position away. They fell silently. Continue reading

A Special Appeal on Behalf of Weird Crime Theater

This has nothing to do with Kyoto, but for my erstwhile-brother-in-rock I’m happy to break the normal rules.
This is my old friend Kumar Sivasubramanian:


Kumar: Look at him brood.

Once upon a time, we were in a band together. Yes. I was in a band.
berettaThat’s me rocking out with the long hair. And that’s him rocking out behind the hair. Really. Continue reading

TEDxKyoto 2013 – My Top Five Talks


This picture courtesy of TEDxKyoto

Now that the videos are up I’m going to post my favorite talks from this year’s TEDx Kyoto event. First though a word about the event as a whole. A lot of praise is due to Jay Klaphake and his team of volunteers for organizing this again this year. It was on the whole a great success and most of last year’s teething troubles had been cleared away. The presentation was a lot smoother, technical hitches gone, and when I used it, the simultaneous interpretation service from Japanese to English was pretty good. Unfortunately though Mewby found the English to Japanese interpretation largely unusable… For me though I only have one remaining gripe. That guy with the beard who comes on every year and has everyone practice their standing ovations. I’d rather he didn’t do that. Continue reading

Meeting Jerry Yellin

Two days before TEDxKyoto I attended an informal gathering at Robert Yellin’s gallery, to listen to his father, Jerry, talk about his experiences both in war and peace. Jerry, now in his late eighties, was a P51-Mustang fighter pilot in World War II, so this was a rare opportunity to connect with someone from that era, and frankly his story affected me far more than anything I heard at the TED event. Many thanks to Robert for inviting me. It was a privilege.

Jerry talked about the “purity of purpose” that he had had as a young man and how that led him into the war. He talked about some of the terrible things he had seen and the friends he had lost, and how for 30 years following the war, that purity of purpose was lost, and he felt that he himself was lost. It was only in the ’70s, when he took up Transcendental Meditation with his wife Helene, that he felt like he got his life back. Later in the ’80s, he visited Japan on business and discovered the common humanity in a people he had previously regarded simply as the enemy. It was during that trip that his wife Helene, suggested that their son Robert might enjoy a trip to Japan. They offered him that trip and as we now know, Robert made his life and raised a family here. Jerry tells a moving story of how he bonded (in a bath house!) with Robert’s Japanese father-in-law and of how after Robert had children, Jerry had a terrible nightmare that his Japanese grandchildren and American grandchildren went to war with each other. Now Jerry devotes his life to the cause of peace and to bringing peace to traumatized war veterans through the meditation techniques he espouses in the Operation Warrior Wellness program. He is a good man, and a kind man and I cannot do his story justice with this short summary, so I encourage you to visit his site and watch the videos he has there recounting his experiences. Here is a shorter video wherein he explains his commitment to helping veterans overcome their problems by means of transcendental meditation.

To learn more please visit:

Jerry is also the author of four books:
Of War & Weddings; A Legacy of Two Fathers
The Blackened Canteen
The Letter
The Resilient Warrior

TEDxKyoto 2012

Congratulations to Jay Klaphake and his team for successfully organizing the very first TEDxKyoto last Sunday! I attended this event with a good deal of curiosity. I have never attended a TED event before. However, having seen a number of inspiring talks online from the main TED event, my expectations were naturally set high. How would TEDxKyoto match up?

Naturally, there were both high points and some low points too. A number of presentations impressed me so much that I was EXTREMELY glad to have attended and overall, I think the event was a worthwhile venture. I’ll be interested to see how it develops over the coming years, for they clearly plan to continue it.

High points:
I don’t know when they’ll have videos of the event up online, but when they do here are the speakers you should look out for.

Shinya Senmatsu – Deer hunter.
I don’t eat meat myself but this gentleman had a purity of purpose that I could respect. He talked about his experiences as a volunteer in East Timor and the disillusionment he felt then for modern society and its money-based economy. Rejecting this world and determined to be self-sufficient and self-reliant, he took to living the traditional life of the hunter. In support of his lifestyle he offered the following very valid point. Japanese deer having no natural predators (the last wolf died in 1905) have become a pest and must necessarily be culled. The numbers culled are roughly equivalent to those hunted, however, all that culled meat is simply treated as garbage and burnt. Isn’t this a waste of a precious natural resource? Certainly, I believe a diet based on nature’s bounty must be healthier than eating the meat from factory farmed cattle pumped full of drugs and anti-biotics, and force fed grain or worse even than that, force fed same species meat.

Tomas Mach – Violinist
There were a number of musical acts during the course of the event, but violinist, Tomas Mach gave an incomparable performance. The short speech he gave before playing was profound. The music touched me deeply. Watch the video when it goes up, and if you ever get the chance to see him play live, grab it.

Jeffrey Jousan and Ivan Kovac – Filmmakers
These two cheery chaps introduced a wonderful and moving video about life in Ishinomaki, Miyagi after the disaster. At turns heartbreaking and inspiring these are the true stories of the survivors. It’s a short movie and it is freely viewable online, so take a look and be inspired: Then and Now

Angelica Lim – Roboticist
With infectious enthusiasm this lady introduced us to the world of robotics, how robots can help us in the near future and how researchers are attempting to make them more socially acceptable by giving them more empathetic, human characteristics. Her little robot companion also treated us to a little dance which went down a storm.

Eri Itoh – Scientist
Eri itoh works in the area of air traffic control and she told us all about current developments that will lead to more efficient, and much, much safer flight management systems. I think anyone who has ever flown has a vested interest in this subject – you know, staying alive, –  so everyone in the hall was sitting forward, intent, listening very, very carefully to her every word.

Garr Reynolds – Presentation Guru
This guy was superb. As my friend Shaheed put it afterwards, “I felt comfortable with him”. It’s true. As soon as he was on stage he had us up and standing, doing stretches and high-fiving our neighbours. I’m British and I don’t normally go for that sort of thing, but on this occasion I participated happily. Mr. Reynolds had us in the palm of his hand from the word go. With energy, and gentle humour, he introduced us to the emotional power of multi-media presentations, which he demonstrated with some touching stories from his own family history. His standing ovation was richly deserved.

Honourable mentions:
The first speaker, the scientist Hiroshi Matsumoto was a charming fellow, who spoke on the noble topic of taking the long view in terms of human progress. A worthy message. However, his field of research is in the science of extra-terrestrial energy generation. I would have liked to have heard more about that. The last image he showed of a future world powered by space energy and orbited by space farms and space cities, was just too tantalizing! Why didn’t he talk more about that?

The journalist, Jake Adelstein gave a talk on life lessons he has learned from encounters with yakuza and the cops that bust them. There was one thing he said that stuck in my mind. It was something like the injustices that we encounter in life, are those we are meant to correct. I liked that a lot and I think I will carry it with me.

Creativity & design leader, Catherine Courage, may have been good, (she did get a standing ovation) but unfortunately she was the last speaker, and I was too burned out on speeches to take anything in anymore. Sorry about that.

Teething troubles:
This was an all-volunteer organized and staffed event and I imagine many of those participating haven’t done anything like this before. Undoubtedly, future events will run smoother. However, as the T in TED stands for “technology,” I was a little surprised at the recurring technical difficulties they had on the day with both sound and images. It wasn’t a huge problem, and there was enough good will in the hall to overlook it, but they definitely need to have that area down pat for the next event.

A few suggestions –

  • The screen, used to project images and video onto, needs to be smoother, as the one used made some videos hard to distinguish. That was a pity.
  • With the exception of the first guy (who was excellent), the simultaneous interpretation (from Japanese to English at least) was pretty poor. I found it easier to listen directly to the Japanese (which thankfully wasn’t as technical as I had feared). I’m not sure what to suggest for this, other than preparing and translating a rough script of the talk before the event…?
  • Not to single anyone out, but a bit less of the whooping and hollering in between the talks please.
  • Apparently sustainability is a matter of some importance to the  TEDxKyoto organizers. The mail I received with my ticket asked me not to print it out so as not kill trees. I believe they also employed someone to study the event as it progressed and suggest ways they could make it more sustainable in future. These are commendable aims! I have two tiny wee suggestions. Don’t cater the event with throwaway paper plates and cups, and don’t give each guest a “gift bag” full of throwaway advertising leaflets.

Those tiny gripes aside, organizing an event of this scale is a massive undertaking and for the most part they pulled it off very well indeed. I think everyone who attended found it a valuable and entertaining experience and I’ll be keen to go again, for I am sure it will only get better. Congratulations again to all involved in producing TEDxKyoto. You can be proud of what you have achieved so far, and our wonderful city, Kyoto, really deserves an event like this, so a big thank you for making it happen.

The Flame III ~ Storytelling at Papa Jon’s

I managed to attend the last Flame event at Papa Jon’s and enjoyed it immensely. This coming event also has a cracking list of speakers ready to regale you with tales of first impressions

This Sunday (22nd July) from 7pm @ Papa Jon’s on the 3rd floor of the Shimpukan Building, just south of Oike, on the east side of Karasuma.

Just to give you a taste of what’s on offer, here’s Tom Brown’s wonderful and very funny tale from the last session: “The Food that Made Me”.

Video courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

The Flame II

Following the success of the first Flame night of unscripted storytelling (see videos below), Papa Jon’s will be hosting The Flame  II on June 24th with the theme being FOOD.

Charles Roche says,

We are starting earlier (6:30PM) to accommodate those with Monday obligations. For that same reason, we have also trimmed down the speaker list to 5 people each of whom has ten minutes at the mic. So please join us for the second (improved) story night at Papa Jon’s Eatery. And please pass the word along to friends.

Hoping to see you at The Flame. Continue reading

The Flame @ Papa John’s Eatery

Charles Roche says,

On Sunday, May 27th ” The Flame”, an evening of true, personal, experience stories told by suspect individuals will debut at Papa Jon’s Eatery. Stories (all in English) begin at 7:00PM. No translations provided.

Inspired by the famous New York storytelling NPO, The Moth, Kyoto’s The Flame has the potential to be an exciting new regular get-together for our community. With some familiar names listed for the opening night, there will also be an open mic session. The first story theme is, “On and off the Road, traveler’s tales of the UNEXPECTED.” For further details, left click on the flyer below and then click again.

Date and time: Sunday May 27th, 7:00 – 9:30 pm.
Entry: 500 yen.
Location: Papa John’s Eatery is on the 3rd floor of the Shimpukan Building, just south of Oike, on the east side of Karasuma.