Friday 27 January 2012

The Four Animals of Tohoku

A magnificent allegory for recovery in Japan's ravaged northeast

Six months after the most devastating earthquake in Japanese recorded history (and the resulting tsunami) laid siege to Japan's northeastern coastal region, the barely recovered city of Sendai (the Tohoku region's largest city) held a TEDx Conference at Tohoku University, centred around the theme 'Asking the 3.11 Generation'.

Among the speakers at TEDx Tohoku was Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer of the global design consultancy IDEO, a company dedicated to designing and bringing to market new products, services, and experiences. He spoke on the concept of ‘human-centered design’ and how it might be applied in post-3.11 Tohoku.

His talk was one of the most captivating TED lectures I've ever heard. He related the story of the resilience and determination of the people of the Tohoku region in the form of a fable starring four animals. Remember the Four Town Musicians of Bremen - the donkey, the dog, the cat and the rooster? Meet the Four Disaster Recovery Critters of Tohoku. They are as follows:

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  • The Canary - The sentinel, the warning bell, the figurative 'canary in the coalmine', representative of the quest for better disaster warning systems;
  • The Sea Otter - The keystone species, the harbinger of new life and new ecosystems, representative of the creativity necessary for recovery from total devastation;
  • The Wild Goose - The ultimate team players, taking turns leading and following and pushing one another ahead in a spirit of collaboration;
  • The Frog - The one none of us want to be, the metaphorical frog in the boiling pot, who we hope will have the wherewithal to learn from the past and jump into action before it's too late.
In one of the most poetic TED talks ever, Bennett applauds the people of Tohoku for their extraordinary show of resolve and resourcefulness in the aftermath of the disaster and shows how Japan should be - and will be - an example to the rest of the world in how to move forward from the worst tragedy imaginable.

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