We make places, places make us

A reflection by Yuki Yamamori, philosopher and semiotics researcher

Marcel Kampman
Mar 14, 2020 · 6 min read
Photo by Ryuichiro Suzuki for Shibaura House

One of the highlights of my recent visit to Tokyo was having the opportunity to share my personal research project Happyplaces, and having the opportunity to learn and add new perspectives to my research. Shibaura House created a happy space, a safe space for the participants to join the conversation and to have an open dialogue crossing boundaries of language, viewpoints and opinions.

After my plenary introduction, sharing the why, what and learnings of my journey, it was followed by a dialogue with philosopher Yuki Yamamori. He is a philosopher and semiotics researcher. Yuki graduated at the Graduate School of Human Sciences, Philosophical Anthropology at the Osaka University. He is the specially appointed associate professor at Osaka University Co* Design and holds this position since 2017. Before that, he worked at a nursing school and psychiatric group home. His recent interest is the ethics of majority in the society where diversity is aspired. He regularly organises philosophers cafe at Bethelbukuro (Ikebukuro), a community space with a deep connection with Bethel House in Urakawa, Hokkaido.

We regarded the current world and people’s personal situation revealed through the lessons learned and conversations. Yuki did an amazing job facilitating the group dialogue, allowing people to share their thoughts and perspectives, being an expert in creating spaces for people with various backgrounds to come to, meet and share.

Photo by Ryuichiro Suzuki for Shibaura House

I was drawn to ‘happy’ rather than to ‘place’ when I first heard about Happyplaces, the project by Marcel Kampman. One of the reasons probably was because I studied Western philosophy. Happiness has been a topic of investigation for many philosophers from ancient Greek and Stoicism, to Kanto, followed by Hegel, up till today. And it was an ideal in ethical ways of living. In philosophy, happiness is connected with a state of mind and attitude. Until now, it has hardly been connected to places. The encounter with the combined concept of happiness and places made my head spinning with excitement.

There is another reason why I was drawn to the word ‘happy’. Together with like-minded people, I often create a space for dialogue for minorities, who do not have a place they could belong to in society. For them having ‘a place to belong’ is both ‘a place that is necessary for their survival and a place for them to relax and have a rest’. ‘Safety’ is essential to create such a place. Before I met Marcel, I scarcely thought about ‘happiness’. The word ‘happy’ stuck with me concerning ‘space’. In other words, this could mean that people who have a place to belong, live close to happiness. And that people who don’t have a place to belong might be far away from happiness.

Photo by Ryuichiro Suzuki for Shibaura House

Space creates us. For example, we cannot choose where we are born and raised. The fact that we are the children of a father and mother, and brought up surrounded by certain friends (the social), the town, the country, the time we live in (the society), this all impacts on how the ‘self’ is formed. If someone creates a space, it also means that the space creates someone else’s self.

Space creates us

Marcel shared three perspectives concerning making spaces in his lecture based on the more than 800 conversations that he had across the world. The first was ‘self’, the second was the ‘social’ — concerning people around us — and the third was ‘society’, concerning something more significant than the ‘social’. When we create spaces, we can think of it as a creative activity starting from the self, involving the social, which eventually expands to society, building or taking space allowing or disallowing others to create, hold or find space. However, we can also think in reverse, that spaces create us. For example, we cannot choose where we are born and raised. The fact that we are the children of a father and mother, and brought up surrounded by certain friends (the social), the town, the country, the time we live in (the society), this all impacts on how the ‘self’ is formed. If someone creates a space, it also means that the space creates someone else’s self. And perhaps this movement continues to repeat. If we think like this, making space is not only a creative activity, but also has ethical and political aspects towards people close to us, and the next generation, and onwards to others after them.

Essence of life

Lastly, the question Marcel asked the audience: ‘Is it possible, and what does it take to intentionally create spaces where people find space to create new space?’ It made me think of the concept of ‘reproduction’. By the way, my mind dismissed the word ‘intentionally’. Not only humans, but mammals, in general, have been repeating continuously for generations: we create space within our body for a child to born, and also the child will create space within their body for the next child. We may even say the same thing with creatures that lay an egg and plants. If so, ‘make space for someone else to make space’ might be describing the essence of life, not limited to human beings.

Translation note: In Japanese, the same word was used for what 清水美帆 Miho Shimizu translated as ‘space’ and ‘place’.

nl/minato is an educational platform that aims to create a dialogue from social, political and cultural perspectives. In this programme, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Shibaura House, as well as various groups in the Minato-ku area, collaborate to organise events to make Minato-ku and its neighbouring area a stage for study, with citizen participation and lively discussions.

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Happyplaces Stories

A library of perspectives from the Happyplaces Project

Happyplaces Stories

A library of perspectives from the Happyplaces Project, a playful research project to better understand all dimensions of space to eventually create happy places.

Marcel Kampman

Written by

Founder of Happykamping & Happyplaces Project, author, sensemaker

Happyplaces Stories

A library of perspectives from the Happyplaces Project, a playful research project to better understand all dimensions of space to eventually create happy places.