I’m in graduate school at Kyoto University, getting a degree in education. Aside from that, I’m working on a project in a local community in Japan called Obuse (小布施). The main aim of the program is to try and revitalize the community of Obuse through involving Japanese youth, creating activities to rekindle the economy, and work together with the city administration and guests from other prefecture. We focus on different themes, and I’m in charge of the theme of sports. One of the examples of how we can use sports to revitalize the local community is by using it to draw people from outside to visit Obuse in order to play a certain sports. For example, we proposed using the sport slackline, which is a unique and different type of sports that has the potential to draw visitors to visit Obuse in order to play slackline. It’s a creative strategy that’s been used in communities in other countries such as France.
[Below is a video about slackline in case you haven't seen it before!]
Well, I had 2 reasons. I had an interest in social innovation. I wanted to learn about established and advanced examples in the field, but even though Japan has her own examples (of social innovation), I felt that we need more progressive ideas from other perspectives and cultures if we wanted to progress further. My second reason is kind of simple. I wanted to study in or visit the U.S. or other countries, and would like to feel the culture and other people.
Well, you got to visit San Francisco! So what about ESI did you enjoy the most?
That’s a difficult question because it's very difficult to decide the best! But if I had to choose, I remember visiting the Delancey Street Foundation (DSF) the most. What made me most attracted and impressed was not just the idea of DSF itself, but also its idea of continuity (sustainability). For a program to carry on for a long time with the same idea (concept), it was very impressive for me. [In social entrepreneurship] it's difficult to continue for so long, yet DSF has been around for decades, and the way they connect with the next generation was really interesting. [During our time there], we participants could learn through dialogues and sessions set up by them, allowing us to make new ideas via communication and experience.
If there was one thing that you could take away from the program that was meaningful to you, what was it?
The way ESI was facilitated was really good, and it served as a role model [for workshops and programs] for me, so that's one take away! Also, before participating, I knew the concept of design thinking, but did not understand what it really was, but I'm sure that my understanding of design thinking was deepened during ESI. For example, by taking part in the workshop at the d.school (in Stanford), I could understand design thinking better, and I could think about it relatively. DT is one way/method to generate ideas, "depending on the context". In Japan, many people think that design thinking is a new, trendy and best way to solve all problems, but through ESI, I learned more than that. I realized the importance of using different approaches to problem-solving, and that context is also very important, so we need to formulate different methods when approaching a problem.
That is really a good point! Okay, lastly, if you had to tell new participants of ESI something, what would you tell them?
Hmm… Don't be hesitant, don't be shy. Once you're in US, you have the opportunity to change yourself, so that's why I said "don't be shy!" With a new country and new people, most of them don't know how or who you are, so remember that that's a very good opportunity to behave differently from how you are in Japan and challenge yourself!
 Delancey Street Foundation is an organization dedicated to helping ex-convicts, the homeless, and substance abusers rehabilitate and find a new lease on life. The DSF is a leading organization on residential self-help against recidivism and is one of the many site visits included in the ESI program. Find out more about DSF here: http://www.delanceystreetfoundation.org/