Why Japan?

The deeper roots of “why Japan?” trace back many years, well before our first programs in 2008.

Britt Yamamoto and Dr. Takekuma Yoshitaka

Britt with mentor, Dr. Takekuma Yoshitaka

Britt Yamamoto and Dr. Takekuma Yoshitaka

Britt with mentor, Dr. Takekuma Yoshitaka

Farming in Japan

Britt learning at Youjou Farm

Farming in Japan

Britt learning at Youjou Farm

Farming in Japan

Britt learning at Youjou Farm

In the mid-1990s, after two years of being a global nomad across Latin America and Asia, Britt Yamamoto traveled to Japan for the first time since his birth. As a fourth-generation Japanese American with minimal (if any) Japanese, Britt settled to live on a traditional Japanese organic farm in Kumamoto prefecture, led by the renowned social innovator, Dr. Takekuma Yoshitaka. For the next year, Britt learned about traditional Japanese farming techniques and food preparation but, most important, came to deeply understand the relationship between healthy communities and healthy soil. He was profoundly moved by the many ways that community members associated with the farm were caring for each other and the Earth. Drawing upon culture and lost traditions, a new generation was taking on social leadership as farmers, food processors, and entrepreneurs–choosing to live lives of meaning, regardless of social norms. Britt was most impressed by the traditional Japanese word for farmer (hyakusho) and how it literally meant “one with a hundred talents”. He left Japan inspired and with a renewed clarity of purpose to live the “hyakusho way” and also to create transformative life and learning experiences for others.

Flash forward to 2003 when Britt and his partner, and iLEAP founding member, Izumi returned to live in Japan for one year as a Fulbright Scholar. During that time, he lived in Tochigi prefecture, next to the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) and taught seminars to the participants who had come to ARI from Asia and Africa. He also met regularly with Dr. Takami Toshihiro, the founder of ARI and was further motivated to move forward his vision. At that time, he partnered with his good friend, J.B. Hoover who was on the staff of ARI and would later move to Seattle, and over the course of many long distance runs in the Nasu area, nomikai, and karaoke, formed the basic foundation of what would come to be known as iLEAP.

Therefore, it is not a stretch to say that iLEAP was truly born in Japan!

Izumi, Britt, and Kaia in Japan

Britt and Izumi in Japan in 2004

Britt and Masanobu Fukuoka

Britt with Natural Farming legend, Fukuoka Masanobu in Japan in 2004

Britt with Toshihiro Takami

Britt with mentor, Dr. Takami Toshihiro in 2003

J.B. Hoover with first iLEAP graduate, Murakami Kimio in 2004

J.B. Hoover with first iLEAP graduate, Murakami Kimio in 2004

J.B. Hoover signing the Articles of Incorporation for iLEAP in 2004

J.B. Hoover signing the Articles of Incorporation for iLEAP in 2004

Britt with mentor, Dr. Takekuma Yoshitaka in 2004

Britt with mentor, Dr. Takekuma Yoshitaka in 2004

iLEAP TOMODACHI participants

As iLEAP has grown and evolved from those halcyon days, we have experienced how our work is deeply resonant within the current Japanese zietgiest. This was particularly evident after the Great East Japan earthquake in 2011. Supported by the Japan Foundation, US-Japan Council, and TOMODACHI Initiative, iLEAP designed and led unique leadership development programs for young social leaders hailing from and working for the impacted communities in the Tohoku region. We witnessed how these experiences were making a big impact on participants and it led us to be inspired to scale up our efforts throughout the country.

While it is true that the current generation of Japanese youth who are ascending into social leadership are faced with a number of difficult challenges, our outcomes data shows that iLEAP graduates are more ready and prepared for the future. And, as the result of over ten years of building relationships and producing graduates, iLEAP’s network within Japan is far and wide. In many ways, this is the contemporary answer to the “why Japan?” question: because of the people.

As we begin our second decade, iLEAP is prepared to open a new chapter in our history and, specifically, in our work in Japan.

iLEAP’s impact is being felt across Japan and we are well-positioned to reach more people. We are excited to create new programming that will help to serve hundreds, if not thousands, of young Japanese seeking to better understand themselves and how they can advance social good in the world. Put differently, iLEAP continues to advance a lesson learned many years ago on a farm in Kumamoto: cultivate “the soil” for young leaders to build their confidence and grow their clarity for the future, and it will result in a powerful community of people who support each other to realize their fullest potential.

Reflection and Meaning Making
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