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  • Conference Impressions

    Conference Impressions

    I attended the FEWture Conference last Friday. I had agreed to teach a yoga session and run a community art project for this long-running conference of women in Japan. But as it grew closer, the thought of going into Tokyo to spend a day in a hotel with a lot of strangers and attending talks I wasn’t particularly interested in was touching off a lot of negative feelings. Introverted Kristen was annoyed with herself for saying Yes to this volunteer experience.

    Of course, I did it anyway and it was good in more than one way!

    I met interesting and unexpected people.

    I was lucky to catch Akiko Domoto’s keynote just as I arrived (a bit late on the bus journey); she was Governor of Chiba in the early 2000s and I thought it would be interesting to hear from the former leader of my home state. But I got more than I bargained for. She is 91 years old now, at the end of a long career in journalism, politics, and humanitarian projects where she’s advocated effectively and acted positively for women and the environment. Her journalistic lens on life drives her curiosity. We had a quiet conversation in English at the lunch table and she expressed interest in me, asking to see photos of my art, cats, the new house inside and out. To have that level of attention from such a remarkable woman made me a little giddy. After lunch, I walked her to the next session and from there her minders called her away to other activities.

    Meeting Miyuki Hill was a real wildcard. She lives in Minami Boso about 30 minutes south of me. In the countryside, that’s practically a neighbor! Her mother runs a cat sanctuary, Neko Ten House, which I visited yesterday. They care for almost 80 elderly and ill cats in purpose-built facilities – a two story house that’s set up with dorm rooms and individual patios, as well as a big netted barn. Miyuki moved back to Japan from LA to help her mother and is trying to find her way in the midst of rice fields and felines. She’s been in the area ten years but I am sure we would not have met without the FEW conference.

    I also met people who I have known online. Joanna Chinen, whose JAWC newsletter is a monthly job for me, sat next to me and it took a minute to recognise her outside of the group photos I usually see her in. Helen Iwata of Sasuga Communications and I have run in intersecting circles for years and finally had a chance to talk face to face. And though I have been in Zoom meetings with her numerous times, it was my first time to meet Sarajean Rossito in the flesh.

    My sessions were well received.

    The yoga class, Practical Yoga Play, took place in the hotel chapel. We had a full house seated on the white leather benches with a few people sneaking in a little late and having to share space, which they all managed gracefully.

    It was a thrill to teach a large in person class again. Since the pandemic, most of my yoga work has been online. I delighted in the magic of this room full of women stretching together, trying new things, playing with their physicality, breath, and awareness.

    I had a plan and I stuck with it for the most part. We started quietly, moved and stretched, building up the play and silliness by singing disco anthems and peaking with partner work (a wonderful benefit of in-person classes) before coming back down to a relaxing quarter hour of breath work and a mindfulness practice.

    And mindful of everyone’s time and attention, I brought a clock to ensure we finished on time. We ended a few minutes before the lunch buffet opened so that there was time for conversation and personal connections.

    So many of the people in the session used those minutes to tell me they enjoyed the class. There were lovely and specific comments about the different things we did and how I presented them. One lady told me it was the best yoga class she had ever attended. (What? Wow!) It was very gratifying.

    The other session I had wasn’t really a session at all but it was fun, anyway. The organisers wanted a community art project as an activity for people taking a break from panel talks, and I devised one that fit into the “Raise” theme of the conference. Raise Your Hand guided people to trace their hand, decorate it, it and stick it to the large panels that would be used as a photo background.

    It wasn’t given a lot of attention in the set up, though, and fell a bit flat. Fair to the organisers, they were over capacity with other tasks and an art station was simply not a priority like getting the tech working or setting up the registration table.

    So after the keynote, I spent an hour doing my best to improve it. I cut letters out to make signs for the panels. I tried to tidy up the kraft paper covering them, but it was crumpled along the top where it had been hurriedly taped. I leaned into it as best I could. I made a couple of sample hands so the display didn’t look unloved. I crafted hanging storage for the masking tape that people would need to hang their artwork. The coffee tables for creating the art were tiny, so I corralled the art supplies into paper cups and tidy piles. Through the day I checked back and cleared up the tables to make space for the artists who were playing with the project.

    During the last session of the day, we moved all of the art supplies into one of the meeting rooms with the intention of having a facilitated session. Not exactly a Drawing Meditations class, just me there to encourage the creative process. There were a half dozen or so people looking for a break from the long day and we had fun together. Lots of chatting interspersed with art tips. One of the organisers came in and took some of the paper and pens to the main hall so the audience of the final panel session could also make art.

    In the end, there were a couple of dozen hands on the board, all so different in size, shape and artistic style. It was exactly what I had hoped to see, but I failed to get a photo of the panels. I grabbed a screenshot from Instagram of the art project in action as a photo background at the gala.

    Official photos from the conference won’t be shared for a while, but Tracey sent me the one above in a chat the other day. Yep, that’s me doing my thing!

    I had a date with Tod.

    After the conference there was a fundraising gala, which I skipped for another rare opportunity. Tod was working in town so I walked a couple of blocks through Otemachi and met him at his office. We had a dinner date in the big city!

    He took me to a nice kushiyaki place and we ate our fill of fried things on sticks. I am usually nervous about kushi because sometimes their creative menus go too far, or the textures are too much for me to handle. But every stick was delicious this time and the frozen lemon drink that I ordered was literally frozen wedge of lemons for ice.

    So it was a good day, despite my earlier qualms. I will keep that in mind and try to say Yes to the next experience that expands my boundaries.

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Mediatinker, Kristen McQuillin, is an American-born resident of Japan since 1998. This blog chronicles her life, projects, thoughts, and small adventures. • copyright 2000-2024