Adam Fulford is the founder and CEO of Fulford Enterprises, which is a language services company. Fulford Enterprises works mainly in TV, providing translation, narration and other services to NHK and related companies.
Adam is also active as a cross-cultural consultant who places a special emphasis on the value of regional Japan, which we focus on a lot today.
In this super fun conversation, we cover Adam’s life and career in Japan, and go deep into Japanese community values, the challenges they’re facing, and how they may solve it.
I hope you enjoy my conversation with Adam Fulford.
[00:00:31] – [First question] – Adam’s history with Japan
[00:03:18] – How did Adam get involved with NHK
[00:04:28] – How I decided on the name Compounding Curiosity and how I started
[00:06:17] – What type of work was involved with NHK?
[00:09:27] – Adam’s work of regional revitalization in Japan,
[00:45:30] – When judging the contest for what makes a good village, what were some of the criteria that they were looking for?
[00:47:44] – The nature of doing, the nature of being, and the nature of knowing
[00:53:01] – Final Advice
Connect with Adam:
Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favourite podcast platform.
[00:00:31] Kalani Scarrott: My guest today is Adam Fulford. He is the founder and CEO of Fulford Enterprises, which is a language services company. Fulford Enterprises works mainly in TV, providing translation, narration and other services to NHK and related companies. Adam is also active as a cross-cultural consultant and places a special emphasis on the value of regional Japan, which we end up focusing a lot on today. So in this super fun conversation, we cover Adam’s life and career in Japan, but also go deep into Japanese community values, the challenges that Japanese communities are facing and how they may solve it. So please enjoy my conversation with Adam Fulford.
Adam, thank you so much for coming on today. You’ve got a super interesting story and I think probably the logical place would be to start at the start. So you’ve been in Japan for over 40 years now, but how did this all come to be and How did this start? Give us a snapshot into who you are?
[00:01:28] Adam Fulford: I was born in England, and after university, I spent a year in the Middle East teaching English. Then eventually, after going here and there, I ended up in Japan in 1981. I was 24. I’m now sixty-six, so it’s been 42 years. I had no idea when I arrived here that I was going to be here at the age of 66, but here I am.
I started in Japan as an English teacher. It’s quite a common path into Japan for native speakers of English. In that first year, I was very fortunate to get an opportunity to start working at NHK on a part-time basis. NHK is the national broadcaster. In those days, I was working at Radio Japan. We were working on (rewriting) news stories that were being broadcast every hour to the world, and that was my introduction to NHK. And after that, NHK started to produce more and more material, and have more and more requirements for English in its broadcasting. I was sitting in the room, so I was an easy person to ask.
So the work started increasing, and that became the thing that I wanted to do, was work in broadcasting, supporting the programming at NHK. And that is still very much part of my everyday life now. I set up a company in 1985, and ever since then, we’ve been focused on NHK.
But as we go deeper into the conversation, something else that’s going to come up is my interest in regional Japan and the traditional culture that you can find out there and how to activate it for the benefit of people all over the world.
So that’s a very short rundown of the professional side of things. And then on the personal side, I got married in 1987 and have three daughters, and they’re all Japanese citizens, so the only British passport holder in the household is me. My wife is Japanese. So, there we are.
[00:03:18] Kalani Scarrott: How did you become intertwined with NHK in the first place? How did you start working with them? What’s the story there?
[00:03:24] Adam Fulford: It’s pure nepotism. My brother is 13 years older than me, and he actually worked for the BBC for a long time. The BBC used to have an arrangement with NHK whereby people from NHK would go and work at the BBC and people from the BBC would go and work at NHK. He came to Japan in the 1970s and spent two years with his family in Japan in the 1970s, working at NHK.
When I arrived, I had no thoughts of working at NHK but then one day, one of my students said, “My cousin works at NHK, would you like to have a look around?” And I thought, oh, yeah, great. She showed me around and I met people who remembered my brother, and they said, “Well, since you’re here, would you like to do a test to be an editor?” So I came back on another day, and I did a test to be an editor, I passed and that’s what happened. So I was very fortunate that my brother left a good reputation.
[00:04:22] Kalani Scarrott: That’s on you too, to take that tour just the curiosity to say, yeah, I’ll go on a tour of NHK. That’s also on you.
[00:04:28] Adam Fulford: Well, here we are compounding curiosity. Curiosity has been a very important part of my life and continues to be. But I’d like to know a little bit about you. So why did you call it compounding curiosity?
[00:04:38] Kalani Scarrott: It’s a good question. I don’t know. I think I literally had a sheet of names. I was spit balling brainstorming, and I think it probably aligns with me. I love learning. I’ve always loved books, consuming media as much as I can. It’s been a lucky fit because everyone seems to comment on the name, and it’s like, oh, yeah, it was a name amongst many that I chose it from but I think it does resonate.
[00:04:57] Adam Fulford: How long have you been going now with this podcast?
[00:05:01] Kalani Scarrott: I think, mid-2021. So I used to do work with another investing podcast, ‘Invest like the best.’ It’s probably the biggest investing podcast. I was complaining and whining, why are there no things for Asians or Asia Pacific? I was like, Why don’t I just do it myself? So I think it did start off very investing focused, but it’s my curiosity and I compound it. So, I think I branch out and they’ll learn different things. There were all kinds of guests, and I loved it. So, a year and a half. This will be the 60th episode. I think this one’s on track, so I can’t see it stopping anytime soon.
[00:05:33] Adam Fulford: It’s great that you’ve gone this far, already sixty. That’s quite an achievement. Congratulations.
[00:05:39] Kalani Scarrott: Thank you. So, I’ll see when I’ll get to 100 and reevaluate.
[00:05:43] Adam Fulford: So just before, when we were setting up, you were saying that you’re based in Perth. Have you always been in Perth?
[00:05:48] Kalani Scarrott: Yeah, born and raised, unfortunately. So, it’s good and bad. It definitely has its positives. Like, I’m very outside the usual bubble of information. So, I can follow my own curiosities and there’s no pressure or expectations, so I can just be me, especially with the advent of the Internet and zoom, makes it so easy. I can interview here from anywhere. So, it’s a good balance, still figuring it out.
[00:06:10] Adam Fulford: It’s good to know a little bit about you there. So anyway, where should we go from here?
[00:06:17] Kalani Scarrott: What type of work is involved with NHK? I’ve read some of your notes, but walk me through your job, start to finish.
[00:06:23] Adam Fulford: Well, these days, what we do mainly is translate scripts for TV programs that are broadcast by NHK on the channel NHK WORLD-JAPAN. It’s 24 hours a day in English, and every hour you get roughly 30 minutes of hard news and then 30 minutes of cultural stuff, and we work on the cultural stuff mainly.
We work on various programs, a tremendous diversity of topics. So it could be anything from ramen to Cycling Around Japan. That’s a program that we work on. The program that I spend a lot of time on personally is called Japanology Plus, featuring a British broadcaster called Peter Barakan. We also have, in the past, worked on programs about, for example, kabuki. For a long time, I was working on a program called Tokyo Eye, which became Tokyo Eye 2020. It would take up different aspects of what’s going on in Tokyo.
Right now, one of the programs that I’m heavily involved in producing the script for is Dosukoi Sumo Salon. It’s about sumo and this is going to be broadcast over the next year. We started doing some pilot programs a few months ago, and it’s going to be shown, I think, probably about six times in the year ahead.
So that’s another insight into an aspect of Japan that I used to know a lot about when I was here for the first few years. Sumo makes an incredibly big impression and I really got into it and it was a very good time to be getting into sumo because in those days there were some legendary rikishi, as the wrestlers are called. Chiyonofuji, for example. So, it was a great time to be watching sumo.
But then I lost touch with it, got very heavily into the J.League, football, soccer, and that was another big part of my life. I was very interested in the marketing aspects of the J.League, how they could get a professional league off the ground in Japan and what they did in terms of storytelling to get people engaged and so on. I’m getting off track here.
Anyway, all of these are potentially things that we write about for the TV programs. So, we prepare the script, then the script is checked at NHK. We also work on programs that are submitted to international competitions. We have very serious script meetings about how to adjust the nuance and so on and then we go to the studio. A professional narrator will narrate the script and we make sure that it’s done appropriately. Then we’ll also work on things like the subtitles and things like that as well.
So, we provide support for all of the language aspects of producing a program in English for broadcast by NHK. Occasionally, only a few times, we’ve made segments of programs ourselves out in the countryside, mainly about facets of regional revitalization in Japan, which is a very important topic these days.
[00:09:27] Kalani Scarrott: If you want to roll straight to that. Do you want to talk about the work you’re doing with that and everything there?
[00:09:30] Adam Fulford: I’d very much like to speak about that. Why is it a challenge? It’s a challenge because Japan is facing a very serious demographic situation. The population is now going down nationwide. It’s going down particularly quickly in the countryside. In some villages, they have this expression in Japanese, genkai shuraku, which means a brink community, it’s on the brink. They use that term for communities where at least half the people in the community are aged sixty-five or over. So very elderly populations, very few children, very few young people generally in the community. A lot of communities are like that around Japan now, and people are not giving birth to enough children to replace the current population.
So things are not looking good demographically for Japan, and it’s been looking bad pretty much ever since I arrived in Japan. Even back in the 1980s, I’m pretty sure I was reading articles in the newspaper about how Japan was heading in the wrong direction demographically and that trend has just accelerated really, since then.
And as I have three Japanese daughters, this was one very strong personal motivation to find out more about what was going wrong, as it were, structurally, in Japanese society. The society seemed to be giving up on its own future.
I felt that there must be some very significant value in Japanese culture simply because I enjoyed living here so much and I was seeing the surface manifestations of that great culture. So, what are those surface manifestations? It’s a very safe place, tremendous security normally in everyday city life. It’s a very predictable environment. The infrastructure works really, really well. Everything’s very stable, secure. There’s generally a low level of anxiety about getting things done in everyday life. You just know that things are going to work, the trains are literally going to come on time, and where did that come from?
I began to join the dots and think, well, maybe this actually came out of the way that they organized communities traditionally in the countryside. Maybe aspects of the way that people were behaving in those small communities somehow got translated into part of the national character. Then the big question is, why didn’t that happen in other countries as well? Because I noticed it particularly strongly in Japan and I’m sure that there are other places where you get aspects of this, but it’s like as soon as you arrive in Japan, I think as an overseas visitor, for the first time, you really notice how good the service is, how much care people take in making sure that the customer is being served properly. That professionalism and service, maybe that too, I began to think, came out of traditional ways of thinking in the countryside, but it was only a very vague idea.
I thought, “The only way I’m going to find out more about what’s actually going on is to go out to the countryside.” I was very fortunate. One of the things actually on the screen at the back here… First of all, I put up where I’m from, so I’m from England. This is a very “elaborate” map of Great Britain and Ireland here. I come from England. So right down in the southwest here, a little village by the sea. So, if you like, I come from Perth of England. And that was my family back in the old days. I’m number four. So, in this photograph, I’m probably about two years old or something like that and I’ve got my older sisters. This is the brother who went to Japan. There’s my mother. That’s my father over there. And I’ve got a family in Japan here. My wife and I have three daughters.
This was one of my first entrance points to the countryside in Japan. I was chosen out of the blue to be what they call an image character for a sake brand in Fukushima. This was probably in 2007-08. That was before the big disaster. This is Daishichi. It’s “big seven.” I’m not saying this because I was their image character, but i’s really good sake. So if you’ve got any sake fans listening to this podcast, you want to try Daishichi. It’s some of the best you can get in Japan. My personal recommendation, if we’re going to go there, is that one of their brands is Horeki. Horeki is absolutely outstanding.
Anyway, I was working with them and so after the disaster hit, my thoughts were very much with the people in Fukushima. I’d been working with the people, working at the brewery and for one of the first times in my life, I felt a very strong emotional connection with the people I knew in the Japanese countryside.
But even before the disaster hit, in around 2010, I was chosen to be a judge in a national contest about beautiful villages and what they were doing to keep themselves going. As a judge in that contest, I had an opportunity to learn from my other judges, because I hadn’t got a clue what I was looking at when I first went out there as a judge. I was very fortunate to be chosen, but I was like the youngest kid in the first class of the school. I didn’t know what was going on, but the other judges were asking really interesting questions.
We were going to really interesting places, and I learned a great deal from my fellow judges, including, I would mention one name in particular, Hama Mie. If you put it in the Western order, it’s Mie Hama. Hama Mie actually was a Bond girl in the 1960s. She was in a Bond film, an actress and she later on became very heavily involved in regional revitalization in Japan. She asked really good, pointed questions. I was learning so much just from being with her in those situations.
Anyway, that generated this motivation to find out more about what was going on and I was looking for an opportunity to get involved in the countryside myself. I then had an opportunity to do that because one of the communities that won the national prize in this competition reached out to me and said, “We want to increase the number of foreign visitors in our community. We’ve got some government money to do this. Would you like to come along and work with this as a consultant?” And I thought, yes. But of course, it was once again like the first day at elementary school. I didn’t know what I was doing as a consultant.
So [in this photo behind me] I’m sitting speaking with a woman who runs a farmhouse B&B. In Japanese, they’re called noka-minshuku and this was one of the first ways in which I began to find out about the local culture. “What can they tell me when I stay at one of these farmhouse B&Bs?” This was a community in those days of about 300 people. Since then, it’s gone down, unfortunately, but they had seven in those days, possibly even eight farmhouse B&Bs in a community of 300 people. So that was quite unusual already and each of those B&Bs itself had a different story. Every person running the B&B could tell me a different story of their own background, their own life and then things like, you would have the Buddhist altar or you might have a Shinto god-shelf. They’d tell me different stories about that. For what are they praying? Who are they communicating with when they speak in those circumstances?
What kind of food do they prepare every day? So one of the farmhouse B&Bs, you could get a bear stew, which I hadn’t eaten before. Then in other places, you would be getting fish out of the river. So every single farmhouse B&B had a slightly different menu and also different information. So, it was fascinating. Everywhere you go, you get new information, and I love listening. And your podcast suggests you do as well.
For anybody who’s curious and who is interested in being guided along new paths to new destinations in terms of knowledge and awareness, this was a dream come true. But I thought, “How am I going to move forward with this community? What can I actually contribute?” So I thought, “Well, I myself don’t know what to do, but maybe if I outsource my brain, we can make some progress.” So, I reached out to my friends of various nationalities, Japanese and foreign, in Tokyo and other places, and I’d say, “Okay, let’s go out to this village in the countryside, spend a weekend there, and then think about the future of that village.”
So I’d start to go out there. And again, this was initially using government funds to pay for the cost of travel with friends who were English teachers, business consultants, journalists, people who’d started up their own companies, representatives of foreign companies in Tokyo, children, elderly people. A whole bunch of different people came with me into the community. And as I say, I saw them as my outsourced brain. So I’d say, “Look, you look around, you listen, you see what’s going on here and then at the end of the weekend, let’s talk about what we’ve seen and what possible steps we could take from now on.”
And they, too, clearly had a great time. One of the surprising things after one of these weekends when we went out there in the winter…one of the objectives in the weekend was to spend two hours clearing snow from an elderly woman’s house who was living on her own. So it’s very difficult for her to shift the snow on her own. Really hard work getting rid of the snow, and it keeps falling. In these parts of Japan, the average accumulation of snow is something like 2.5 meters. So they often have another meter of snow outside the house in the morning that they have to get rid of. Anyway, we went to one woman’s house, and we cleared the snow. At the end of that weekend, when I did a survey, that was the most popular activity.
And that also started setting things in motion in my brain. I was thinking, “We’re not just here, when we’re visitors, to consume. We could be here to contribute.” I think that, just generally speaking, when internationally, you think about the industry of tourism, you’re thinking about people consuming and spending money in different locations. But I think that even before the pandemic, people were thinking increasingly about engaging with communities and having meaningful travel experiences. Since then, it’s evolved into ideas like transformative travel, which seems to be quite an important aspect of tourism, looking forward: the idea that by going to a location, by going to a new destination, you yourself change.
This activity, clearing snow from someone’s house and knowing that that person is very grateful, genuinely grateful for what you’ve done. In that case, she was bringing us apples at the end, and she was smiling. Great photographs. That sense of reward. It’s a really rewarding experience. It’s very hard to get that simply by going to a place, sitting on the beach, taking photographs, and going home with your souvenirs. It’s a completely different sense of, “Wow, I’m glad I did that.” So ever since then, I’ve been trying to build on that concept. What can we do? This contribution-style tourism, how can we build on that?
So, one of the next – I’m just wittering on here – one of the next steps after that was, how do I depersonalize this? Because I’m on an annual contract and it finishes. The maximum, I think, was two years. So how do I move this forward when I’m not here?
At around that time, I was beginning to work at a university, teaching cross-cultural communication to Japanese students, and they were mostly young people from around the Tokyo area. I thought, “If I start droning on about the differences between Japanese culture and British culture, they’re all going to fall asleep and it won’t be interesting at all for them.” So I thought about cross-cultural communication from a different angle and, well, what about the difference between being on campus and being in the town? Those are two different cultures. Being young and being old. There’s a culture of old people. I’m living a very different lifestyle now from the lifestyle I was living when I was 20 years old. So, the culture of old people is different from the culture of young people. The culture of people in the countryside is different from the people of the city. It is different from the culture of people in the city. The culture of people who have to clear snow away from their homes every day is going to be very different from people who never encounter snow.
So, we started looking at cross-cultural communication that way, and I said to them, “Okay, we’ve got an opportunity to go to this community to clear away snow. At the time of the Snow Festival in February, who wants to come?” And ten people raised their hands immediately. We put together a group, and so this time I went with the students, and again we cleared away snow from someone’s house. They contributed to the snow festival. Everyone had a great time.
And they also have a snow festival in this community in the summer, and I go along to that as well. And I was just there to support activities on that day. Then suddenly there were four of these students who’d come in the winter. “What are you doing here?” They said, “Oh, well, we had such a great time in the winter, we thought we’d come along in the summer as well.” That was just perfect. That was one of the best days of my life. I was thinking, “These guys have really got it.” That’s exactly the outcome that I was hoping for, without actually planning for it. On their own initiative, they wanted to be involved in the community. I probed a bit more deeply, and what I identified was the fact that it was a lot of fun for them to be there with their friends. So that was one of the key factors: “If we’re here having fun together, it’s fun.” It also became, “And this is our village.” So there was a sense of ownership as well: “We are now a part of the community here.”
So, I got this idea of “temporary villagers” or the term that I eventually came up with in English was “community intern.” I thought, maybe there’s potential for growing that concept in this context of bringing people into the community, to live there a little bit longer than I do. Bcause I was only going to be there for two days, three days at most. “What happens the rest of the time?” I’ve got no idea. I’ve got no real sense of the rhythm of the community and the social dynamics and so on, because I’m just not there long enough to get that granular understanding of what’s going on in everyday life. I thought, “I need people to be here for a longer span.”
So anyway, with the students, that was for me, a very important step forward in understanding. But in around the second year, or the third year that was happening, that’s when the pandemic started. The wheels came off that pretty quickly. That was very disruptive because particularly in the context of college, one year to the next, it’s a big chunk of your college life and the transfer from one year to the next of what happened last year, people being able to explain that and so on, that got completely derailed.
So now that connection has been lost, very sadly, and I would have to start building it up again, which is what I’m hoping to do, but this time with the help of this role, the temporary villager. In Japanese, I call it “karisonmin.” It’s a word that I made up myself, but it seems to work. Most people in Japan seem to understand what I mean by it. Sonmin is a villager and kari is temporary, kind of provisional. So to explore that a bit further…this was even in the middle of the pandemic, we were able to do this in 2020, just when things were getting serious with lockdowns and so on. There were times when they were getting eased, they were easing off and then locking things back down again.
At a time when they were easing off, I had just been approached by an Indian woman, a young Indian woman, who was studying architecture at the graduate level at Tokyo University. She expressed an interest in going out to the countryside because she was also interested in urban development generally. And clearly, out in the countryside, you’ve got various challenges that you can think about from that perspective.
So I arranged with her for her to spend five months in the same community. So she was coming in. If she’d come in out of the blue, it would have been quite a difficult time initially for her to earn the trust and understanding of the community. But because I was regarded as basically, by that stage, a trustworthy individual, if I was introducing her, then they were going to be giving her the benefit of the doubt.
In order to facilitate that, what I said to her was, “First of all, go along to wherever the grandmothers are gathering and listen.” In fact, the grandmothers would get together basically for tea every week or so in different parts of the community. So, she started going along to those gatherings, playing cards with them, just sitting in the room, listening to their stories, and having tea together. And through that, she became herself more aware of what was going on in the community and the grannies started to love Priya. Once the grannies start to love Priya, well, the grannies, of course, are connected to the whole community. The whole community begins to understand that there’s this woman, Priya, who’s coming along for tea with the grannies and she seems like a nice young woman.
Then the next thing that happened was that she was starting to support the activities at the B&Bs. So they’d have lunch for 15 people, and if you’re running a B&B and you’re elderly yourself, it’s quite tough. So she was going along and helping out with that. And again, “Oh, thanks very much, Priya, genuinely, it’s really great that you were able to offer that support.”
People working at the B&Bs, in some cases, wanted to have at least some English to be able to speak, looking ahead to the time when foreign visitors would be coming back again, they wanted to be able to say “Slippers, toilet, no,” and things like that. Basically, that’s what they wanted to communicate. So Priya was helping people with that English as well. And again, that was something that people actually wanted as an everyday life skill. It was fun learning with Priya.
So, she was bringing an element of fun, something slightly unusual, and something that was genuinely helpful for the community. I also asked her to start telling the story of the community. We set up a Shopify shop. In fact, it’s ms-nakatsugawa.com. In that shop, we sell things that they produce locally. But she was also writing about what happens in the different seasons in Nakatsugawa and historically, what changes they’ve seen. We had access to a trove of really interesting old photos from about one hundred years ago showing what community life was like in those days, really tough. She would then tell a story based on the photographs, and that became part of the identity of that Shopify shop.
Then I started thinking, well, this could actually serve as a node on a network. So what if there were temporary villages, not only in this particular community, but in other communities around Japan? What information could they be exchanging? What would the value be of that information?
This might be a good time to rewind a little bit to the first time I met Professor Ryuzo Furukawa, who started off in a business think tank. But his concern was trying to work out how the human race was going to get to 2050. He was backcasting from 2050 and trying to identify paths to that future with assumptions like, maybe natural resources are less easy to get hold of, maybe prices are going to go up, maybe there’s going to be this disruption, that disruption. How do we get to 2050? The barrier that he kept hitting was convenience. All of us in our everyday lives now are entirely accustomed, and in fact, I think it’s fair to say addicted to convenience.It’s very convenient to be able to speak to you like this rather than having to make the journey to Perth. So, everything in everyday life, not everything, but so much of what we experience in everyday life now is built around an assumption of convenience.
He was saying, “Take away that convenience and do we really know how to cope?” He thought, “I don’t think we do.” So how do we learn how to cope? He thought, “Who knows about ways to cope with a life with no expectation of convenience?” He thought, “Well, wait a minute, before the war in Japan, there was no expectation of convenience then. Who knows about that?” This was in around 2020, so the people who were aged 90.
So he started speaking with people aged 90 all over Japan about life before convenience, BC, if you like, and what was life like in BC times in Japan, before convenience? He gathered stories from all over Japan, altogether 600 people, I think. Probably still continuing. And he distilled from those interviews, those hearings, he distilled what he calls 44 disappearing lifestyle values. They’re things like mechanisms for mutual support, walking everywhere, making the best use of the natural environment, food from forests, rivers, and so on. Things that might seem quite obvious but were very important for maintaining the resilience of communities at a time when there was no expectation of convenience.
He says that in combination, he believes that these 44 Values do two things. This is something that I’ve been developing myself in conversation with him and just in terms of what I experience in the countryside. But basically, these 44 Values bring out individual, personal resourcefulness. You’re constantly upgrading your skills. You know how to fix a fence. You know how to harvest rice. You know how to mend. You know how to make a new tool. You know how to use the water. You develop all kinds of skills in the countryside if there’s no expectation of convenience. You’re looking at it in a very different way. It’s constantly alive to you. So, there’s this consciousness of how you engage to make the most of what’s around you. If life is convenient, [this consciousness] starts to go to sleep very quickly, you just press the button on your phone, or you touch the screen.
In that context, you’re not necessarily conscious or afraid of it all the time, but survival is a very important baseline in that situation. And you’re talking about parts of Japan where they had, historically, famine pretty regularly. As the 20th century and the benefits of the 21st century began to be felt, that receded. But there was still this folk memory of really tough times. And, of course, in Japan, we’re also talking about a country where you get a lot of earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, fires, and blizzards. There are all kinds of different natural disasters that occur in Japan on quite a regular basis. And when that happens, you really need the people around you to get back on your feet again.
So I think that in Japan, at the small community level, there was an understanding that we really do need each other. That, I think, is what you see transferred into what I was talking about in the service industry. There is a default surface understanding that the other person needs to be thought about carefully. The phrase that I use in English for this is “A Mind for the Other.” Sometimes I also say “The Way of You,” but it tends to sound a little bit misleading in English because it may sound like I’m just thinking about you and I’m not thinking about me. But this is what it really is: “I’m thinking about you because I need to think about me. If you are happy, it’s more likely that I will be as well.” So, there’s a win-win sense about it that is very important.
So the 44 Values tend to engender resourcefulness in the individual and that resourcefulness comes into play when there’s things like disaster because then the community comes together to work things out and keep moving forward. Of course, some communities failed, but a lot of regional communities in Japan until the age of convenience did that, they succeeded in extreme circumstances. The resourcefulness of the individual plays into the resilience of the community. If you’ve got a resilient community, aspects of that resilient community are going to be like a sense of energy in everyday life, vitality, a sense that you’re having fun even though life is hard. Those communities are very good at engendering that sense as well.
If you’re thinking about companies, that’s potentially very valuable for them, too. How do we engender a sense that this is an interesting company to work with? “I’m glad I’m here,” and the more I’m glad I’m here, the more enthusiastic I feel about my work, the more that transfers to the other stakeholders, like the customers and in fact, the shareholders. If you’ve got a sense that this company’s really doing stuff and everybody there seems so excited to be doing it, then naturally that’s got a magnetism to it. And so, I also started thinking, maybe we’ve got a possible transfer to business consulting here. If the companies can come in and see the potential to learn in these contexts, then both sides could benefit greatly.
I’m leaving out a lot of stuff here, but I’m trying to get to the main points of the story because I don’t want to take up too much time and I’m sure that already some of your listeners are switching off and going elsewhere.
The key thing is that without that temporary villager, it’s going to be very difficult to implement all of this at scale. So recently I’ve been trying to work out the mechanism by which we can get temporary villages into many different communities and not only in Japan. This is the other thing, because Professor Furukawa discovered that when he did this thing with people in other countries, he was coming up with the same results. So essentially these 44 Values probably were the village values that we shared globally. Not exactly the same, but variations of them. Because in all of those communities, people needed to be resourceful for the community to be resilient. So what we’re talking about is a global culture, in fact, that then got replaced by the convenience culture that we now enjoy.
But what happens if the convenience culture gets disrupted? What if the electricity stops, for example? We would be in big trouble because we’re not accustomed to that lifestyle any longer.
So with tourism, you could be going to experience life in a slightly less convenient context and thinking about, “Well, what could I be doing if things went wrong? How resourceful could I be?” You could learn about resourcefulness. I think that could be very interesting, if packaged in the right way. A very interesting tourism product for companies as well. “How do we create a more motivated corporate community?” That corporate community is full of talented young people from top universities. What could they be saying to the struggling community in the countryside that could open new paths for them to a brighter future?
One other thing that I’ve actually tested out in the countryside was having young people from a big company go there to study English. But what they actually do is what I did. They’ll go to the farmhouse B&Bs, speak with the grandmothers and the grandfathers, and learn about the identity of the community.
Day Two, they show foreigners around, like the foreigners that I was taking initially. So the foreigners are there. “We don’t speak Japanese. Tell us about this community.” And the representatives of these big companies – who will tell me on Day One, “I don’t speak English, I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow.” But as soon as they got the foreigners standing in front of them they thought, “Gran told me this story yesterday, I’ve got to represent her village.” Then the stress comes off them and they think,”I’ve really got to get this.” So basically, “Snow, lots of snow stored in this house, delicious coffee.” Even if they’re saying things like that, they can tell the story of the local snow storehouse, where they do actually use snow as a natural refrigerant to improve the flavor profile of coffee beans that they put in there. It’s one of the interesting ways in which they use the snow storehouse. But literally, you know…it’s that kind of English.
The people coming from outside are also incredibly moved that clearly this person is struggling with the English, but so much wants to tell the story of the community. Once the emotions start running – just telling it again, I start to get a bit emotional about it – you really begin to feel how the motivation could start to rise in the village. So with all of these encounters, essentially what I’m trying to do is design encounters that enable the sparking of motivation to happen.
That brings us pretty much up to the present, where I am now very eager to roll out a network in the physical world and also digitally of what I call “Shuraku Cloud.” Shuraku is the Japanese word for community. This is a community cloud. And the idea is that the temporary villagers, positioned all around Japan, and I hope eventually around the world, would be sharing information about their individual traditional lifestyles in those communities.
How would they gather that information initially? Well, one of the first things they do when they arrive in the village…they would have to be people who speak Japanese, because if you only speak English in that situation, it’s just going to be so stressful for everybody. So, I’m thinking of people who have studied Japanese at university. Maybe they already have some conversational English. It’s pretty good but if you spend five months in a village in the countryside, it’s definitely going to get better very quickly.
What would you do initially? Well, you’d use the 44 Values, and you’d start speaking with the grandmothers and grandfathers and say, “So in the old days, how did you actually have collaborative relationships in the village? What kind of organizations were there inside the village?” So in this village, you’d find out that the men used to get together for a thing called “The Contract” and every year they’d read out the contract. The contract was basically the rules of the community. It would also be an opportunity for them to get drunk and have a good meal and have a party. The key thing was: “We understand who we are because we have read out the contract again.”
What would the women do? Well, this was a time when childbirth was incredibly dangerous, fatal in many cases. So, the women in particular came together around the subject of safe childbirth. They’d go off to a local shrine and pray and they’d go and get drunk and have a party together. It was an opportunity for the women to get together and have a party and get drunk, an opportunity for the men to go get drunk but all of that was creating a sense of “We belong together in this community.”
So those would be the mechanisms that they start to identify in this community. You go 10 miles up the road and they don’t have it. And that’s one of the amazing things about Japan. These community manifestations can be different from one place to another. Every village has a story to tell. So that process of “What’s in this village?” You can use the 44 Values essentially as a questionnaire, as a survey form and get a sense of the story of that village. Once you’ve got the story of the village, you yourself have something that you can use to talk about when people come in from the outside. They could be corporate visitors or they could be everyday tourists. They could be all kinds of different people. They could be people who are going to be working with you and taking over from you when you leave that community.
So, all of these things are what we’re trying to put together right now. Who would the temporary villagers be? Well, in Japan, they’ve got this thing called the JET Program, where many people teach English. They support the teaching of English in schools all over the country, quite often in rural settings. And they also have coordinators for international relations, CIRs, who tend to work in the prefectural offices and places like that and they support international engagement. After five years, they have to move on. On the JET Program, you can only be employed for up to five years, I think, and then after that, they have to find a different job.
In fact, a lot of the people who work with me – I’ve only got a small company – but a lot of the people who work with me in everyday life here now came off the JET Program. I’ve been speaking with people who are on the JET Program about the idea of, “Would it interest you to be performing this role of a community intern?” and quite a high percentage of them say yes. So that’s one possibility. I’m thinking that they would be very good people to initiate it, but then how do we scale up from there? Well, they would probably then become instructors or mentors to people who don’t have exactly the same experience as they do.
Who might that be? As I was saying before, maybe people who study Japanese. So in Australia, for example, I believe that something like a quarter of a million people have had some exposure to Japanese through education, and obviously a small percentage of that total are going to take that to a very high level of Japanese competence. People straight out of university, having studied Japanese, maybe that would be a good working holiday opportunity. So you spend three months in this community, you spend another three months in a community in Kyushu, you spend another three months in a community somewhere else in Japan. Then the thing is, how do they make money on a working holiday? Well, as I say, you could be a tour guide, you could be teaching English.
The other thing that I’m thinking about increasingly is that the community intern could be gathering information about “resilience lifestyles,” if you like, using the 44 Values and so on, that companies would actually like to know about. Because if you’ve got a dwindling population, then for the companies, it’s getting increasingly difficult to recruit the staff that they need. The Japanese workforce is gradually shrinking, so they need those workers. How are they going to get those workers? How are they going to retain them? Well, some of these small communities in the countryside have been dealing with a problem of “retention” for decades and some of them have success stories to tell. If the companies could learn from those success stories, presumably that would be valuable to the companies.
So that’s one of the key roles that I’m now thinking about, is maybe we could set up a consultancy whereby the people based in local communities are contributing to the success of the companies that provide the money for that service. So that’s pretty much bringing us up to date now. It’s been a long story and I’m sorry to take up so much of your time with that long story.
[00:45:30] Kalani Scarrott: No, that’s perfect. Honestly, I could listen for hours. This is so good. I’m just learning a ton. I didn’t even know. A random question, but when you first got started and you’re on the judging for the contest for what makes a good village, just curious, what were some of the criteria that they were looking for in what makes a good village?
[00:45:46] Adam Fulford: Well, rather than a “good” village – because all of the villages we visited had natural features that were beautiful, and as tourist destinations all of them had things that recommended them – the key thing we were looking for was, “Is there evidence in the local community that they have essentially a business model, that they know how they’re going to enable this community to keep surviving in the years ahead?”
For example, one of the things that I learned from Hama-san was…quite often you would have representatives of the local community, they would tend to be men, sitting in front of you across the table, and perhaps a woman would be coming in from time to time to put down tea or snacks on the table for us to enjoy as we had our conversation.
But Hama-san would spot the woman coming into the room and basically say, “You. What do you think about this?” Once that person was empowered to join the conversation, that’s when things quite often started to take off, because the men would tend to be a little bit defensive, “Well, we’re in a position of responsibility. We should be accountable for the situation here.” But quite often we would get the real deal from the women who not only were thinking about this analytically behind the scenes, but also had really good ideas and were putting them into practice.
So, for example, the people running the B&Bs, it’s quite often a woman who plays the key role in that activity. They’re constantly getting inputs from people who visit. They are exposed to new ideas that in many cases the men may not be, because they’re just not interacting so much in that context with the people who visit. So anyway, that was the process that we were going through each time: “Who actually knows how to take the next step and is that a realistic next step to the future for this community?”
[00:47:44] Kalani Scarrott: That’s so cool. Just about identity and stuff, because I spoke with Peter Douglas, who works in Nozawa onsen in Japan, about the same sort of thing. It’s like Nozawa knows its identity. It knows where it wants to go. It does help, everyone is cohesive around that goal, I guess. I’m very conscious of your time. Is there anything else we haven’t covered today?
[00:48:04] Adam Fulford: We might talk about one place where people could read about it. And the influences on me. Let me very quickly cover some of the influences on me since I’ve come to Japan.
One of them is a Zen priest called Sengai who lived about 200 years ago. I just love the things that he paints and basically the thinking the painting seems to reflect. I’ve used his ideas in what I call NowHow. So NowHow for me is “How do we make the best use of the only time available to us to do anything, which is now?” Even ten minutes ago, that’s already gone. We don’t know what’s coming up five minutes from now, but right now we are engaging. How do we make the most effective and efficient use of this opportunity? That’s been a theme for me for a long time and partly I was influenced by NHK TV programs, documentaries that I was working on. They gave me a lot of interesting insights in terms of science and the nature of human beings.
Sengai also gave me insights into things like consciousness, the Zen way of thinking, Taoism, and ideas like that. They were big influences on me and I’ve started writing about this on Substack, where I write about my basic idea of a tool that we need to use to engage with now, which I call actually the Mindfield. Not a minefield, but a Mindfield with a d. It’s just as dangerous. The Mindfield is basically my thinking about “What is the nature of doing, what is the nature of being, what is the nature of knowing?” Put that all together and you’ve got the Mindfield, which you can bring as your framing to now.
And the other thing that I bring to my framing of now is, in fact, the 44 Values translated into contemporary thinking. This has been something that I’ve been developing over the past couple of years with a colleague of mine. How do we translate these traditional ways of thinking onto the modern global community? So if we’re aware of these various things, if you put it all together, then it’s a Mind for the Other.
But you could also have meta-values like “Treasure Your Treasures.” That’s applicable to a company and it’s applicable to an individual as well. So there’s also this idea of – what I call it, and again this is a coinage of a colleague of mine: scalagility. So it needs to be something that goes from the individual right up to the global community, scalagility. “Treasure Your Treasures”works all the way up and down that scale.
So we’ve got five meta-values that we can use in that context. I think they’re potentially very valuable for business. If you use the Mindfield as a basic framework tool, that’s your map. And the 44 Values, or a Mind for the Other, that’s your compass. That’s what you need to walk along a path. So this path that you walk along is actually “now.” The constant thing is, “How do we get to now and how do we make the best use of it?” We bring so many filters to “now,” it’s quite often difficult to get through clearly to the other person. What I’ve been doing today is essentially a very bad example because I’ve just been talking one way to you. And what we really should be doing is drawing on each other’s experience and expertise so that we have a dynamic understanding of what we are going to do as the next step.
And essentially NowHow is all about that. What’s the next step? You’re constantly being guided by these tools and these values. This is the right direction. It basically lies in the direction of truth and being able to see it very clearly, and that comes from people like Confucius. That’s another aspect that I’m very interested in, is early Chinese thought. It’s been a big influence on me. They were communicating in kanji. If I started analyzing kanji, I’d get into big trouble with scholars. So, I call them Canjeez. I can talk about Canjeez with impunity. I know all about Canjeez, I just use these Canjeez to help me explain the Mindfield concepts. So those are the main things that I thought maybe your listeners would be interested in following up on.
[00:52:32] Kalani Scarrott: I love it and honestly, I reckon there’s going to be a demand for a second episode because I think there’s so much we haven’t touched on today.
[00:52:37] Adam Fulford: I’d love to do it but I’d love to get a podcast going myself and I’d love to have you as a guest to find out what’s going on with you there.
[00:52:45] Kalani Scarrott: Honestly, I’d love to help because I do the whole podcast myself. So I’ve learned, I’ve failed, I do everything. So it’s a process, but once you get into it. I’d say, like, days like this make it all worth it.
[00:52:57] Adam Fulford: I’m very glad about that. Failure is such an important part of life.
[00:53:01] Kalani Scarrott: Yes, exactly, it’s only small failures. It’s not as big as what you think it is. So better to make it now and then learn from it. Adam, thank you so much for coming on today. Anything else you want to add or any links you want to plug?
[00:53:13] Adam Fulford: You were asking about something that you think young people should be more aware of. So here we are, this ancient 66-year-old, I’ll soon be toppling over. But one of the couple of things that I think it would have been valuable for me to think about a little bit more when I was young is brushing your teeth. It sounds very stupid, but my teeth, I’ve still got them but they’re so important. Bear that in mind. I think they have a real impact on health. So, take care of your teeth, folks.
The other thing is ancestors. Think about your ancestors. So even for me, just a couple of generations up, we’re getting pretty close to the land in England, getting back to that really tough lifestyle. These days, I quite often think about the influence of Japanese culture as we have a Buddhist altar at home. My wife does this thing where she strikes the little bell at the altar every morning, and communicates with her ancestors. “What would they be thinking if they could judge me now? Would they be happy with what I’m doing? Am I letting them down?” That’s a big thing for me. I don’t want to let my ancestors down. But increasingly, out in the Japanese countryside, I’m able to meet them again. That’s been a real joy for me, to think that essentially the circle is being closed in the Japanese countryside. I came out of the English countryside, I came through city life, and I’m finally meeting my ancestors again out in the Japanese countryside. So trying not to let the ancestors down, that’s one of my big things from now on.
[00:54:44] Kalani Scarrott: I think that’s the perfect answer. I’ve heard thoughts about its similar ways. Imagine you were sitting when you’re procrastinating, and there’s a documentary crew filming you. You don’t let your ancestors sit down, that’s a beautiful answer. Adam, thank you so much for coming on today. Seriously, I’ve loved every second. [00:55:01] Adam Fulford: Thank you, Kalani. It’s been a real pleasure.