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A Fifth Impression of Kamepao, 7/31/99

Underslept and over played with, the events of the previous schedule have become real. I can't say if having more limbs would have been an advantage or disadvantage - possibly useful at times, but how much pulling could they withstand? Due to our own living quarters having been taken over by children for the past weekend, we didn't find much time to send reports. I'll try to fill the gap now in a three part report from 7/31/99 to 8/2/99. More effectively than colorful descriptive language, I'll use the pictures to describe the details of what happened over the weekend. In the written reports I'll try to discuss the details that can't be captured in photographs.

From the morning the kids arrive to the morning they leave they maintain their high state of excitement. One Kamepao member described it as "tension" to a child, and the child responded, "What does 'tension' mean?" I had the same question. In relation to the situation, there was hardly tension, in the English sense of the word. Yet something was certainly previously wound and was now starting to unwind. Yet all kids are wound up, and no matter how much unwinding they do they always seem to snap back to a tight coil. But they seem to like it that way. In the same way they never seem to tire of riding on one's shoulders and continue saying, "do it again," long after the charm has worn off for the owner of the shoulders, so too do they seem to never tire of being wound up.

Kamepao is not all that different from any other camp for kids. The setting and choice of activities is dependent on the organizers, but essentially, kids everywhere are similar and can adapt to and enjoy any enviroment, especially if they know it is theirs. What sets it apart from other camps, I suppose, is its broader scale. Then my question is one I previously asked, "What is the real situation, what is the sample?" Or, essentially, "what is the difference?" Yet a new question that comes to mind is, "Has Kamepao existed for centuries under different names," and "has it existed previously even after disaster situations?" In asking these questions I feel I have already answered them. But in doing so further I could suggest that, by way of suggestion, Kamepao establishes something that doesn't require a disaster situation, but is something that could also be very useful in such a situation. Knowing about Kamepao in advance of a disaster might simply cause it to cross someone's mind immediately after one. And if organizations like the Red Cross, Unicef, the National Guard, and like organizations in other countries digested the information, one could possibly guess its benefits.

But one thing I've come to learn is that dealing with children takes a certain kind of person. It requires someone who is dedicated to children. This weekend there were many adults present, yet all of them dealt with the children in different ways: some let them explore on their own, some took the role of teacher, some felt the need to be disciplinarians, and some felt the need to maintain the difference between boys and girls. Many of the adults present came because their child participated in Kamepao. For them it was a way to spend the day with their child. Others took it as a day to spend with children, their own and others', while some seemed to take is as a way to become a child themselves. For all of us involved, spending that much time, really just a weekend, with 25 children a day, was a special case. Most of us couldn't do it everyday, and many of us find it difficult to deal with just one child on a daily basis. But the one person who deals with children at bulk rate is Hideo Shibutare.

As I mentioned in a previous report, Kamepao doesn't have to be executed by the Kamepao Project Team. In maintaining that, while at the same time discussing Hideo Shibutare, I mean to only say that more than stuff and constructed things are needed to make Kamepao successful. I'll discuss Shibutare then as an example, and at the same time discuss some of the origins of Kamepao.

For the past 25 or more years Hideo Shibutare has been dedicated to children. He has had many years experience as an elementary school teacher, as well as experience independently gathering children for activities. I hesitate to use the word "teach". Although he teaches many things, and many of the children call him "teacher" it seems his role is much deeper. Children have been teaching him for years. My impression, from what he's told me and what I've seen, is that he is motivated by child psychology, not as a science though, but as a fluctuating mechanism in children. His role seems to be that of a conduit through which children can learn about themselves. He maintains that children can't be dealt with as 'children', or as a group, but must be dealt with as 'child' - since they are all different they must be treated individually. He also always tries to make children reach a place they've never been. In learning, he doesn't want them to rely on only the things they know. For a person in his position, or any person in a teaching position, I imagine someone with many holes or openings to his or her insides - each opening is a new path that a different child channels. Like a mountain that seems as though it could be bored into forever, one would think at some point the dirt would give way and cave in. Psychologically speaking, how can one person allow so many people into himself and still maintain his own psychological stability? For one person to distribute that much individual care seems to include also a lot of worry, a multiplication of one's own insecurities simply by taking on those of others, and a great deal of preparation and thought - a huge mountain that can maintain itself.

Shibutare says that it is the energy of children that made him so dedicated. Although one child may become tired occasionally, in the presence of 25 or more children they are bound to take turns. Therefore that energy will always be at its highest. Unlike a parent who deals with one to a few children everyday, although he is a parent himself, he deals with large groups of children everyday, often times because the parents need a break from their child. It seems that he requires the energy of children as a part of his character, often at the risk of his own exhaustion. In many ways, this absorbtive character seems to be a requirement for anyone who would deal with children, and by extension, for anyone who would take an interest in executing Kamepao. Not all people have this capacity and not all should, but many do. Those that do I think are required to make Kamepao work.

After the Kansai earthquake in 1995, Shibutare went to Kobe to see how the children were dealing with the situation. Like a travelling doctor, he brought a handful of tools and a headful of ideas. While he was there he gathered children together and executed his own workshops. He found that the children in Kobe had been psychologically, and probably in some cases physically, effected by the earthquake. Not only were their homes destroyed, but now they were gathered in a gymnasium-type place living with a group of people they'd never met, or some had accomodations of cardboard and cold concrete. He noticed that, among other things, the children were quick to jump at any loud noise, as if their nerves were constantly being stimulated. This is where Kamepao began. While Shibutare was in Kobe the other people who would later make up the Kamepao Project Team also went for shorter periods of time.

Shibutare had been considering a design for a shelter that resembled a Pao-type house: a moveable home, more like a hut. The shape and idea of the turtle came in from another member of Kamepao, Kohdai Nakahara, who had had a previous interest in turtles and had been playing with different graphic and animated computer designs. Nakahara's previous work as an artist also often made comparisons between hobby and art. Previous works made of Legos, or work in which he and collaborators stayed in tents in a gallery space, or work where he used models or action figures, all seem to predict this current project. Artist's work and children's play seem to cross over again, as does model building, and installation work including sleep overs. Nakahara's computer experience also makes way for Kamepao Web. The third original member of Kamepao is Tsuyoshi Kise. Among the many talents he brings to Kamepao, one that makes its presence clear is his ability to design and build anything. Beyond constructing the shelters seen in the pictures, this also includes coming up with projects for the children by way of simple designs, preparing the materials, and assisting in their construction. Nakahara, Shibutare, and Kise together came up with Kamepao. Since then the members have expanded and have the capacity to expand further. All of the original members seems to be dedicated to the idea that they're making Kamepao for someone other than themselves - if not only for children, then for anyone who has the above mentioned abilities to deal with children.

In this report, I mention the members by way of biographical introduction, and by way of example. Yes, Kamepao is for anyone, but without the right people Kamepao may not be possible. Although the original Kamepao members are unique in their skills, they are not the only ones who can execute Kamepao. They realize that any skills can contribute. It is up to the people with those skills, in a situation where they may become required, to put them into effect. The Kamepao Project Team offers up their ideas, designs, and experiences in Kamepao Web as a suggestion, from there they expect something new to be constructed.
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