Collective & Transgenerational Trauma in Japan

Lab Cycle Oct 2020 - July 2021 Report


Kazuma Matoba, Mari Sawada


Miki Butler Morimoto




This Lab looked at trauma in the context of Japan. Here we first present some key characteristics that describe the country setting in which the traumas that this Lab addressed are situated. 

The Japanese education system has been shaping young people to follow orders, to be precise and to fit into the given system, yet when it comes to thinking independently and taking initiatives to change things in the establishment, there is little in terms of schooling and preparedness. Instead, there is a general tendency in Japan to avoid confrontation and to instead keep up with the prevailing opinions.

The accident in the Japanese Fukushima power plant in 2011 – and the limitations of how the Japanese society coped with it – brings to light one of the issues that is not yet integrated from Japan’s history. It is important to note that Japan is the only nation that has experienced the atomic bomb. The country has also built power plants on earthquake-prone islands, yet the nation was clearly not prepared to then make effective decisions to minimize the pollution and protect its people or the rest of the world when the Fukushima accident took place.

We explored the following questions:

  • What constitutes the historical background to the current situation in Japan?
  • How does collective and intergenerational trauma influence the construction of identity and  the process of ‘othering’?
  • How does collective and intergenerational trauma influence the development of the cultural architecture?
  • How does our use of language reflect and reinforce the consequences of this trauma?
  • How does collective and intergenerational trauma show itself in times of crisis (e.g. Covid 19, climate emergencies, etc)?
  • Can coherent ‘we-spaces’ and a process of witnessing collective and intergenerational trauma lead to an integration and eventual healing of collective trauma?

Stages of our process as a group:

2. Meeting the Collective Trauma Landscape

3. Exploring Individual & Collective Conditioning

4. Listening to Ancestral Roots & Voices from the Field
In one message, received by a woman after the fifth session, an urgent call to know the preciousness of life was expressed. Here is an extract of the ancestral voice that came through: “We love you so deeply. Therefore please tell each and everyone. Tell each and everyone you touch and meet the preciousness, the holiness. Therein we find the meaning of our lives, the reason why we were born. That’s why it is so urgent.” In the seventh call‚ the voice from ‘the dark lake‘ - in which we worked with colors and words - a young man with Korean, American and Okinawa roots expressed the painful conflict between his deep longing to become friends with the Japanese whilst feeling intense indignation and considering that which had been done to his Korean ancestors as unforgivable. Below is his drawing during the session, along with some of the other drawings from participants in the Lab.

6. Transforming & Meta-learning
In addition to the main sessions of the Lab, we also offered two additional meetings in between the main sessions for participants who were not able to attend the main sessions, but also for those who wanted to deepen the practice. In these additional meetings, we went through the content of the main sessions and practiced 5-sync meditations. From the fifth session onwards, we extended the time of the main sessions from 90 to 120 minutes, in agreement with the participants. After the eighth session, (from the end of May until the end of June, when we had our last session of the cycle), we had built three small groups. Each of these small groups, which took place weekly, were facilitated by one of the Facilitation team members. One month after the closing of the Lab, we invited all the participants to a meeting to see whether any of the participants were interested in continuing the journey, and if so, how. From this last meeting we identified one circle keen to continue meeting and working together to discuss Thomas Hübl’s latest book.
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Moments of Challenge

  • One big challenge we faced was when two of the three trainees left the team. Around the same time, some of the participants also left the Lab. 

  • Another ongoing challenge was that of the collective trauma not being expressed openly. In Japan, it is a cultural norm to not talk openly about uncomfortable things. Also, in the Japanese culture, it is considered very important to be respectful and to not disrupt the harmony. In addition, there is strong peer pressure to behave like others. Perhaps as a result of these cultural traits, we did not experience open conflicts in the sessions. Rather, when criticism arose, we received these in the form of impersonal written messages or indirectly by somebody else. 

  • In addressing collective trauma, however, it is inevitable to feel, perceive and express unpleasant feelings and experiences. Although our participants did to some extent go through this already by just deciding to join and participate in the Lab, there might still have been too big a hurdle for them to really confront themselves and the group and to go deeper into sharing and integrating the arising trauma. As a result, the sessions proceeded for the most part fairly harmoniously and chances are that many painful emotions and thoughts probably remained unexpressed.


  • The Facilitation team considered it a moment of grace to even get an opportunity and invitation to facilitate this Lab. 
  • Another moment of grace arose when the trainees questioned the coherence of the Factiliation team, the latter considering it a gift to to be nudged to also address their own relationship with one another.
  • Moments of grace were also present when ancestral voices came through the Lab participants, as already mentioned above.


  • One of the main learnings for the Facilitation team was the importance of building a closed-meshed relational space, cultivated by the small groups that were formed in the last five weeks of the Lab journey. In retrospect, this should be set as a main focus. 
  • Another important insight was given by one of our trainees, Youki, who is a therapist, who told us that in a therapeutic setting, it would be common to first meet each participant one by one to get to know them a little before the group work starts. This could be tested in a future cycle of Labs. 
  • We also learned that it would be more beneficial to start the small groups and/or triads earlier in the process.
  • Another point of learning was the importance of going slowly, step by step, together with the participants. This is particularly important for any moments when strong emotions are evoked, but not only then. It is important for the Facilitation team to pause more often, to feel and sense what is moving inside each one of us, and to share this openly in the group. This would help to cultivate and maintain coherence.
  • Another insight came at the end of the Lab, which related to the realisation that trauma is not something that we necessarily should want to get rid of, but rather something to learn to better live with. For several of the participants in this Lab, the original fear of touching and facing trauma had by the end of the Lab changed to a sense of familiarity, and to something that we encounter daily and that we can give space to.
  • It was wonderful and truly effective and meaningful to integrate art into the sessions. Using color and poetry enabled us to tap into layers of trauma that would have otherwise probably been less accessible had we only approached them from the rational mind. 
  • We also became aware that in order to look at the collective trauma of Japan, it is also necessary to have the view of non-Japanese. For this reason, it would be interesting and desirable to have more non-Japanese participants in some future Lab cycles.

Our Lab Team


Kazuma Matoba

Mari Sawada

Mari Sawada

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