Digital Storyteller / Photographer
We forget how connected we all are on this one earth. Some connections are obvious while others are less so.Ari Beser, recipient of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, has spent the past five years exploring the connections in his own life, and how they have rippled across time and space. Ari’s paternal grandfather, Jacob Beser, was the only U.S. serviceman to have flown on each of the planes that dropped atomic bombs, first on Hiroshima, and then on Nagasaki in August, 1945. Twenty years later Ari’s maternal grandfather, a head tailor for a popular department store, worked with and befriended a Japanese seamstress, one of the “Hiroshima Maidens” who left Hiroshima seeking medical treatment in the United States for bomb-related wounds. What started as a happenstance, wartime connection in the lives of his grandfathers has reached deeply into Ari’s heart and life, inspiring him to seek out and share the testimonies of the atomic
bomb survivors as a step towards peace and reconciliation.
Mayor of Kyoto
Kyoto is an iconic city that moves endlessly between its rich, ancient history and the light-speed pulse of modern life. Daisaku Kadokawa, the Mayor of Kyoto, perfectly resembles the city he leads. Mayor Kadokawa’s smiling face and nearly ever-present kimono immediately bring to mind the time-honored traditions of Kyoto’s past. Grounded in knowledge of this past, he looks equally and firmly towards Kyoto’s future. Mayor Kadokawa strives to nurture Kyoto’s growth with its creativity and diversity, while at the same time maintaining it’s unique traditions, aesthetic sense and cultural value. He also endeavors to create a model city for other regions in Japan to follow as they work to deal with modern issues of depopulation and revitalization of their communities. It is with this goal in mind that Mayor Kadokawa is working to bring the Japanese Agency of Cultural Affairs to Kyoto, promoting his vision of solidifying Kyoto as the cultural capital of Japan, and supporting efforts in decentralizing various government agencies in Tokyo.
Elementary School Student / Inventor
The next time you find yourself saying or thinking “They’re just kids”, think again. We live in a world where innovation and action are not reserved only for adults. Increasingly it is the world’s youth who are taking action―locally and globally―to make the world better. Asuka Kamiya, a 12 year old sixth grader from Aichi Prefecture, is a shining example of the power of today’s youth. When Asuka was assigned a Science project last summer, her thoughts turned to her grandfather. Every day she watched him sort the aluminum and steel cans that piled up outside their family-managed vending machine near their house. Inspired to help make her grandfather’s task easier, Asuka created a self-separating recycling bin that is so effective she applied for―and received– a patent. She now stands as one of the youngest people in Japan to hold a patent. Asuka reminds us that the key to the future not only rests in creating a new world,but also to seeing the challenges of our current world through fresh eyes.
Sustainable Systems Producer
In today’s world people have come to expect foods and products from across the globe to be readily and locally available. However once upon a time our lives were lived much closer to the land upon which we stood. Hiroyuki Sato, the CEO of AMITA Institute for Sustainable Economies Co., Ltd. seeks to re-establish our ties to our local environments. He has been making his goals a reality since 2011, when he began working with AMITA’s Tohoku Office. There, he has helped create an environmentally sustainable community that includes renewable energies, resources and food based on the local natural sources. It is Hiroyuki’s hope that as we re-focus our energies on building locally and environmentally sustainable communities, we also reinforce our ties with each other to create a richness of spirit that goes far beyond money.
Actress / Activist
Imagine turning on your television to watch a beauty pageant. Talented, beautiful individuals from across the globe compete for a prestigious world title and a crown that symbolizes national pride, success, achievement and admiration. However, after we turn off the television and the winner steps down from the stage, aside from the honor of wearing the crown, most of us never consider the challenges that may await the new titleholder.Miss International 2012, Ikumi Yoshimatsu -Japan’s first world title holder in the 52-year history of the pageant discovered all too quickly the darker side of victory. Her anticipated year of national pride and success twisted into a nightmare played out in the eyes of the world. Rather than be pressured into silence, Ikumi courageously spoke out. Publicly exposing the “culture of silence” toward stalking and violence against women, Ikumi raised what has been a carefully concealed injustice to national and global attention.
Loss is an unavoidable, and heartbreaking part of life. Great or small, our losses stay with us, unshakeable even as we grow beyond them. Hyeonseo Lee knows about loss. A North Korean defector, Hyeonseo once thought her country the best on earth. In 1995 her beliefs and life were shattered as the truths of famine, death and brutality crashed upon her. Her survival depended on her ability to escape North Korea to restart her life, but at a high price̶the loss of her family, home and country. Since escaping North Korea, Hyeonseo has risen to be a powerful voice for human rights, speaking in front of the UN Security Council and sharing her story and the plight of North Korean refugees across the world through speaking engagements and written articles featured in major newspapers, magazines and journals. By opening her own life and losses to the world, Hyeonseo Lee has helped illuminate a human rights tragedy that has for too long rested in the shadows, and along the way, has transformed loss into the promise of hope.
A former professional comedian with the Japanese entertainment group Yoshimoto Kogyo, Katsuya Soda is a graduate of the doctoral program in Policy and Management studies at Doshisha University and is currently a university lecturer of media theory and multicultural symbiosis. As a member of the Japan Forum for UNHCR, United Nations Refugee Agency, and various NGOs, he created the community FM radio program, “Nanmin Now!” on Kyoto Sanjo Radio Café in order to increase public awareness of refugee issues. He has dedicated himself to eroding public biases against refugees living in Japan as well as reporting on various supporting activities. Katsuya’s deep empathy for refugees is rooted in a desire to bring understanding and help to refugee families that are often pulled apart by persecution and conflict. Katsuya encourages his listeners to consider how we are all “living in an age when everyone faces the possibility of becoming a refugee.” In order to reach out to refugees in Japan and the world, he created the project P782, named after the number of Japanese universities participating, connecting university students around Japan in taking initiative in supporting refugees and developing a better society.
Wadaiko Performance Group
Drums are among the oldest musical instruments in human history. Upon hearing a drumbeat, people feel compelled to stop and listen to the rhythmic beats that so perfectly echo the sound of our own hearts. Kyoto taiko drum group Shien, teachers of Wadaiko at Wadaiko Education Center at Kyoto University of Art and Design, celebrates the majesty and power of the taiko drum, seamlessly weaving driving rhythms with sweeping choreography. Beyond their global performances in the Czech Republic, Italy and Poland, Shien Wadaiko has collaborated with Warusha Wapiano Quintet and with classical ballet projects. Shien Wadaiko aspires, however, to move beyond performance using their wholistic “mind-technique-body” drumming method to teach children and individuals with Autism and Down’s Syndrome. In the hands of Shien Wadaiko, the taiko drum is not only an instrument of beauty and power, but is also a tool of limitless potential and growth.
Shuzo John Shiota
Animation has grown into an artistic genre where the limits of what can be created are only challenged by the limits of our imagination. At the helm of an animation studio on the cutting edge is Shuzo John Shiota, president and CEO of Polygon Pictures. Since 2003 Shuzo has steered Polygon Pictures, utilizing the efficient and innovative manufacturing processes he experienced in the Japanese steel industry. Once a small animation studio, Polygon Pictures has grown under Shuzo’s leadership to being a world-class studio creating CG animation for major films as well as TV productions, receiving multiple awards for creativity along the way. Shuzo has not only opened Japanese animation to the world, but has also helped change the scope and landscape of animation as an art form.
Stories are all around us. Beyond the pages of a book or the dialogue of a movie, stories live and breathe in the people we encounter, in the places we visit…and even in the clothes we wear. Onomichi Denim’s Kasumi Ogawa combines the 100-year denim-producing history of the Bingo Region, Japan with the beauty of Onomichi and its people. The lives of Onomichi’s people–fishermen, farmers, construction workers and more –have long lived in this durable fabric. The denim jeans tell stories of hard work, from the bleaching of the salt air as a fisherman hauls in the nets to the threadbare patches where a construction worker’s tool belt has chafed. What some may see as imperfections, Kasumi sees the unique characteristics of each person engrained in a pair of denim, honoring a way of life.
TEDx Senior Ambassador Asia
Participating in a TED event can have unexpected results, ranging from establishing new friendships and connections to inspiring us to think, live and act in completely new ways. For Jason Hsu, TED conferences had a profound impact. In 2008 he combined his TED inspirations with his varied professional experiences as a news editor in Taiwan, entrepreneur in San Francisco and UNESCO volunteer to found The Big Question Conference, a local event in Taipei modeled after the TED conference experience. When TED established the TEDx program in 2009, Jason was quick to found TEDxTaipei, the second TEDx event established in Asia. Now, as curator for TEDxTaipei and TEDx ambassador for Asia as well as co-founder and Chief Catalyst for MakerBarTaipei, Jason’s goals for TEDxTaipei mirror the goals for TED and TEDx events around the world: to bring new ideas home, and to share local stories with the world.
Our human eyes see the world as perfectly textured and layered, the near and the distant equally focused. However, when this same world is interpreted beneath a paintbrush or through a camera lens, we expect some of this perfection be sacrificed or changed either by design or necessity. Not so for Beijing based photographer Stefen Chow. Stefen’s award-winning photographs draw us in with nearly impossible clarity, his delicate balance of light and shadow allowing us to almost see beyond the flat surface. Stefen’s work includes aerial explorations of playgrounds, otherworldly depictions of mountain heights and the faces of the famous and powerful among us. He has also gone deeper into his subjects, exploring ways to understand poverty through his “The Poverty Line” global visual project. Stefen’s gift to us is to allow us to see beyond our own eyes, inviting us to peer beyond the surfaces of our world, and each other.
The shining wood and delicate strings of the lovely instrument at first seem dwarfed by the man holding it. Then Taro Inoue’s tense and ready fingers wrap around the mandolin in his hands, and a world of rhythm and melodies explodes from those same delicate strings. Taro began playing the mandolin at the age of fourteen years old and came to love the instrument. He went on to hone his skills at East Tennessee State University in the United States where he developed his distinctive bluegrass-infused sound. Taro’s masterful, intricate mandolin melodies have led him to perform as a member of ‘TARO & JORDAN’ and ‘The CASH’, as well as with many top musicians in the United States, Canada and Japan. The juxtaposition of Taro’s bluegrass music with his Japanese roots invites the listener to see beyond cultural and musical assumptions, and to consider a world where the only thing that matters is being our truest, most authentic selves.
The Murata Cheerleading Robots move in synchronicity, each balancing perfectly on their own programmable orb, allowing them both individual freedom and precision choreographed movements. These ten adorable robots captivate the audience with their cuteness and precision while their technological advances in control, sensing and communication technology remain hidden to the casual observer. Koichi Yoshikawa, now Corporate Communications Manager for Murata Manufacturing Company, was one of the six members who developed the bicycle-riding robot, “MURATA BOY.” Building upon this accumulative experience and expertise, Yoshikawa became involved in designing the “Murata Cheerleaders” as a project manager. These fascinating and adorable robots, not only provide entertainment and enjoyment, but also inspire us to imagine the infinite possibilities that electronics can bring to our future lives.
Rev. Takafumi Kawakami
Zen Buddhist Priest
A deceptively difficult task for our human minds is to live in the moment. Our brains and drive to be in constant motion hurtle our thoughts and attentions between the past and the future with few stops to be truly “in the now”. Rev. Takafumi Kawakami, Deputy Head Priest at Kyoto’s Shunkoin Temple, places the skill of mindfulness – the mindful ability to be wholly and peacefully in the present―at the center of Zen Buddhism and meditation. While Rev. Kawakami has found himself in the recent world spotlight for performing Buddhist wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples, he embraces the principles of mindfulness equally to performing wedding ceremonies as he does throughout his teachings and life―accepting and staying true to the needs of the present. His example inspires us all to slow our frantic rush forward so that we can be who we need to be now.