The third installment of TEDxTohokuUniversity was held at Aobayama Campus on April 21. With the theme of Palette, the event explored a wide range of social issues, including gender roles, the need to listen and the importance of chasing dreams.
University President Hideo Ohno set the tone in his welcome speech, referring to the colours mixed on a palette as "a symbol for creativity and the basis to share and express unique, innovative ideas."
Like artists wielding a full palette before a blank canvas, the 11 speakers that followed did exactly that - sharing bold visions and bringing the room full of students, faculty and community members on a colourful journey of self-discovery and inspiration.
One of the more popular talks was by Robin Lewis, co-founder and director of Social Innovation Japan, a platform for social action. He spoke about hiking the Michinoku Coastal Trail, a 600km walk off the beaten path, along the disaster-affected coastline of Japan's Tohoku region.
Through meeting and talking to local residents, Lewis heard stories of strength and passion, and felt the kindness of strangers. The experience, he said, gave him a more vivid picture of the community, than anything he had seen on the news. "If we want to understand the world around us, we have to meet the people at the centre of the story and listen."
Zhang Liying, a final year PhD student in sports medicine, said that she was surprised by how inspired she felt. "All the speeches were so good. I was especially impressed with Robin's talk. I realized that I need to get out and talk to more people."
Another speaker who attracted a lot of positive reactions was Swastika Jajoo, a linguistics research student and poet. She shared three of her poems, and spoke about how feminism is often misunderstood. Feminism is not an exclusionary movement that does not take men into account, she said, it is actually about gender equality.
"This society has taught me that love is only to be sworn to a man, bigger, brighter, better than me, who earns double my salary," she said. "But you know what's sexier? Fighting these societal double standards by embracing self-love. I tell myself, time and again, that I am enough."
"Swastika's poems were really moving. They were deeply personal, but I still felt like many people could relate to her situation and her message," said Professor Ryoichi Nagatomi, who is vice dean of the Graduate School of Biomendical Engineering and TEDxTohokuUniversity's academic supervisor.
Not every speaker spoke in English and not every attendee was bilingual. So like last year, the organisers provided a simultaneous translation service through an app called Interactio. The app enabled attendees to stream real time audio translation of the talks through their mobile phones.
The full-day event was punctuated by two breaks during which participants could engage more personally with the speakers and with each other over coffee and tea. An Indonesian traditional dance group and a Yosakoi group provided light entertainment.
"Many of the talks stressed how important communication is," said Daisuke Abe, a first year Master's student at the School of Agriculture. "I think people here all feel the same way, that's why it's so easy to talk to everyone. It's really interesting hearing so many different opinions."
TED - which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design - is a non-profit organization started in 1984 to spread good ideas through short, powerful talks. TEDx is an independently organized event that similarly aims to encourage the sharing of ideas, but with a focus on local communities.
This is the third year that students, with the support and supervision from Tohoku University, have brought the platform to Aobayama campus.
"Every year we grow and get better with experience, and I think more people are realizing that this is a well-respected event that they want to be a part of," said Aniko Karpati, executive director of this year's TEDxTohokuUniversity. "We used to have to ask people if they would like to be a speaker. This year, we were approached by people asking if they could speak. So it's very encouraging, and shows that TEDxTohokuUniversity has the potential to have a real impact on our community here."