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FOCUS ON: Akira Ikemi

By Ellen Kirschner, M.A., Member, USA

Akira Ikemi, founder and executive director of the Japan Focusing Association, on the beach in Kobe with the city in the background.

In 1975, Akira Ikemi of Kobe, Japan, the founder and executive director of the Japan Focusing Association, came to the United States to attend Boston College. In his high school days, he came upon "The Case of Anna O," by Sigmund Freud in the library. Thinking it was a detective novel he checked it out. So taken was he with the subject that he decided to study psychology. But psychology courses were disappointing. "They were all statistics and experimental," he said. Then Akira took a course in the philosophy department, taught by one of Paul Ricoeur's associates. He began looking for someone who was teaching both.

"That's how I found Gene," Akira said. "We talked on the phone, and I attended a Focusing workshop. I was thrilled. I graduated from BC and went to the University of Chicago specifically to study with Gene."

After earning a Master of Arts in psychology, Akira returned to Japan where he worked in a hospital psychosomatic unit. He earned his doctorate in medical sciences at the University of Occupational and Environmental Health, School of Medicine. Through Gene he later met Professor Takao Murase, who had translated "A Theory of Personality Change" and other of Gene's early writings. In 1982 Professor Murase, Professor Shoji Murayama and Professor Haruo Tsuru translated Focusing, bringing it to the Japanese public.

Focusing fit with Japanese culture. "Western culture is based on Greek philosophy. It's very logical and rational. In our culture the arts have the highest status. There is a history of sensing something and putting that sensing into words," said Akira, citing Haiku as an example. But this emphasis on the preconceptual has led to a peculiarly Japanese misinterpretation of Focusing. "Focusing is thought to be just the felt sense, with no words," he said. "But this misses the experiential process."

Focusing took hold in a University setting. But this became a problem, because ordinary people were being left out. In 1997 Akira established the Japan Focusing Association which has grown to 1000 members. "It's a network, a central information clearing house with a homepage," he said. Focusing training is administered through the "Japan Desk" of the Focusing Institute. As both Focusing and the world economy become increasingly global, access to training is becoming more direct. "Before, some professor had to translate an article or book, and everything went through him or her. Now trainers fly over the Pacific and do workshops," Akira said. Recently, Ann Weiser Cornell and Marta Stapert led workshops in Japan.

Now a professor of counseling psychology and Dean of Academic Affairs at Kobe College, Akira continues to practice and teach Focusing with the philosophical emphasis that first led him to it. "I see Focusing not as a skill or technique, but as a characteristic way of experiencing," he said.

In a talk at the 12th International Focusing Conference, which is available on videotape from Nada Lou Productions, Akira identifies three dimensions of Focusing: presence, existence and space. "Presence is listening from an open space, and getting a felt sense of the Focuser while listening. Our felt sense, our feel of a situation, is our existence. And existence is not a concept. The felt sense is not a noun, it is a verb. The felt sense is a living, a relating, a moving, and the living of a situation now. It has direction. And space is a temporary nothingness that happens in your consciousness when something is not yet formed." "We are a strange group of people because we trust the not yet formed," said Akira. "We even have faith in the not yet formed."


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