The Art of Hosting

Like a trip down a water slide, the Art of Hosting at Kiyosato, Japan began and then, quickly, was complete.  Whew!

Our second one this year.  This time the hosting team from outside Japan was Toke Moeller from Denmark, Susan Virnig, Bob Wing and Bob Stilger from the US, along with Annie Virnig from the US as an apprentice. Kiyosato is such a beautiful place.  Wonderful people, excellent food.  And, well, it's not hard to find beauty when Mt. Fuji looks on from the nearby horizon.

And so many difference from May.  I write about some of those, and then share some about my most important learning.

We knew that we had a different group of participants than in May.  Generally younger and will less experience.  We knew they would come with a strong appetite for learning.  We also had a different hosting team.  We'd asked Bob Wing and Toke to join for many reasons; one was to bring more movement in.  And we did!

We also made a challenging decision to dive right in, going for disruption of habitual ways of thinking and a bit of confusion as a place to start.  We may have gotten more disruption and confusion than we planned on!  Looking back (the Art of Hosting Workshop was November 19-21 and I'm just getting around to writing now), I think we had a bit too much "vocabulary" in this AoH.  Vocabulary is a term I've started using more and more after work with Arawana Hayashi earlier this year.  It's causing me to pay attention to the number of new constructs, concepts, and words I am introducing.  They all come together under the term vocabulary.  We may have had a bit too much in a three day session with two languages in play at all times.

Still, it was a sacred space. People were moved.  They left with more questions and more clarity about their work in the world.  They left knowing more about how to host conversations that matter and how to design dialogue events.  They left with deeper relationships with each other.  A community is growing here in Japan.  It's a community of people finding their way into their work to make a difference in the world.  And a community learning how to relate to each other.

And it went a bit too fast with too many moving parts.  In addition to our normal work with circles, world cafe, open space, silence, clay, we brought in much more work with movement.  We also added in learning teams around harvesting and movement.  We brought a new form -- ProAction Cafe -- in and built a hosting chance around it.  We had the normal hosting chances for Opening Circles and Closing Circles and World Cafe and Open Space.  We also began, but didn't really effectively integrate a Japanese Hosting Team with the Non-Japanese Hosting Team.

This is actually pretty hard and delicate work!  There's a richness is working in both Japanese and English -- and it requires a lot of time and effort.  There is a richness is bringing together new hosting teams that have not worked together before (as was the case in our non-Japanese team) and there are challenges.  And, of course, all of this work in Japan that is going on under the name "Art of Hosting" is only ten months old and it is moving from being a network to becoming a community.  So lots was happening.

But I need to talk about what was missing -- which is the territory of my deepest learning.  We, and especially I, did not hold the center well.  It began with not making sure that our core team -- five non-Japanese and one Japanese -- were present for our whole design day before the AoH began.  I think I didn't fully appreciate the complexity of weaving in what Bob Wing and Toke would bring, nor the complexity of working more fully with a Japanese hosting team.  So, even as we started, we were behind!

In retrospect, in my ideal world, here's what would have happened:  Annie, Susan and I would have had at least a short family check-in each day.  The three of us, plus Toke, Bob Wing and Yuya plus a translator would have been having a core hosting team check-in each day.  Some of the core hosting team would have been meeting and checking-in with the Japanese hosting team each day.  On the first day, we did all of this except the family check-in.  On the second and third days, we were all flying fast and none of these center meetings happened.

The result was "raggedness."  We were all rushing.  There was too much confusion.  The flow was not smooth.  We probably could not have had all the moving parts AND do this level of conscious hosting of the center.  I'd gladly sacrifice some of the parts in order to maintain more clarity at the core.  The day after the AoH, Bob Wing and I were talking and he commented on how centered I seemed throughout all the days.  I mentioned my growing clarity about what a poor job I had done in hosting the core of the system.  Bob had an insight which went something like this "ah, yes, I see it.  If the core had been being hosted well, then I would have know where and how to fit in.  As it was, by the last day I felt like I was just running."

So the learning is clear.  The core, the center, the innermost circle must be held well.  When it is held consciously, deliberately, with kindness and compassion. Its strength stabilizes the entire system and allow for deeper flow and greater learning.  When things begin to get crazy, return to the work of the core.  let go of some of the parts.

There are lots of different reasons for why I got lost.  And I got lost.  I forgot that my most important responsibility and my biggest opportunity was to host the whole by hosting the core.  I am particularly aware of how the Japanese hosting team was left in the dark.  Certainly, they were all involved in one or more of the moving parts, but they were not involved in the whole in a way which increases their capacity to offer these kind of events.

It's all learning.  It's all practice.  And I know I will make the space to be more attentive the next time around!  It is a joy to be able to do this work in Japan.

Lot's has been happening this fall in Japan under the banner of Art of Hosting. If you'd like to learn more, please visit my personal website:


Many pictures:


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A little more of this story...

We met a couple of nights ago, almost four weeks after the event, in Tokyo to reflect on the  Art of Hosting in Kiyosato.  After almost four months of work here this year, I still am surprised.  What brings 22 people out for five hours on a cold weekday night to reflect on their learning together a month earlier?  What kind of commitment to each other and to learning is represented here?

The walls were lined with the graphic recording from the Art of Hosting.  On the floor there was a series of pictures of people and scenes from the Art of Hosting which were sequenced with the graphic recording.  The Art of Hosting was present in the room with us.  We began in a circle with a check-in:  what are we each bringing here with us tonight?  Then there we walked around the room and remembered.  Yuya gave a bit of a walking through of the three days to help make it more vivid.  We each picked one or two pictures from the floor which helped us access a particular memory.  In silence we returned to the circle and wrote a bit about our memories.  Then we formed groups of two of three to share impressions and learning.  I was asked to share some of my reflections and learning with the group.

After a short break, we moved into open space.  Fascinating topics:


  1. How can we make it easier for new people to enter AoH easily?
  2. What are the next steps for this Art of Hosting community?
  3. What makes the difference between surface dialogue and being able to go deep?
  4. What is the deep hosting of the whole field of an Art of Hosting practice event?
  5. What changed for each of us after the AoH?
  6. Afterall, what did you get from it?
  7. What's the "difference in temperature?" Some got hot, with lots of energy, some didn't.  What's the difference?
  8. What is the "art" of Art of Hosting?
  9. The circle has a particular power; different energy.  What is it?
  10. Some people participated 100%, other less.  What makes a difference?

I went to the first round session on deep hosting of the entire field, because that was where my main learning and interest was -- things I wrote about in my earlier blog on Kiyosato.  After checking in, people -- with a little bit of hesitation -- asked me to speak more about my experience.  What I said -- my own self-examination of what I felt I didn't do well -- opened a space for others.  I learned later from some people that there is not much of a practice in Japan around talking directly about what didn't work.  People felt refreshed by the possibility of having this conversation.  Personally, I really appreciated being able to talk about it face-to-face.  So we talked about how there were "too many moving parts" this time; about how we all were too busy.  Some talked about how they missed the fact that the larger hosting team was not meeting -- but didn't know what to do.  What was missing, we asked.  In the end, we concluded that what was missing as a simple and clear agreement that we would prioritize meeting with each other every day to share learning and discuss next steps.  Not a long and complicated meeting -- but a swift and clear checking in.  We realized that any of us could have called for such a meeting this last time -- but we were all swept away by what was going on.

Almost all of us noticed it was missing.  Satoko talked about how on the last day she stepped in and changed the design of what we were doing.  She recalled that I came up to her afterward and said both that I was completely surprised and deeply appreciative of what she had done.  She talked about knowing she had to do it, but how she trembled because she was doing it alone, with no collective at her back.  It was a rich and deep conversation.  In fact, like other conversations from the first round of open space, we ran the full length of the hour for open space.  We had to much to say and too much to listed to.

There was rich and powerful learning for each of us in this conversation.  I commented on how I've stopped beating myself up for what I regarded as my failures during the event.  What we didn't talk about is how rich the learning was because of what didn't happen.  That learning would, of course, have been minimized and held in very different ways if we had not taken the time for this reflection session.  So that simple message again -- when we're engaged in new work, it is essential to pause and reflect on what we've done as we find our next step forward.  It is no big deal.  It is not complicated.  It does not require a lot of design.  And it has to happen if we are to harvest learning and see what comes next.

This session was a powerful one for me.  I'm very grateful.  Whatever feelings I was still carrying which focused on what I didn't do were transformed into an appreciation of the collective and into a know that we all, together, can do a better job the next time around.

Many blessings!

Thanks Bob. This is brilliant. I resonante strongly with the call to hold the core as a way to hold the whole ...


Thank you


This is such a powerful story; thank you for sharing in length both the stories; actually its one! I am touched reading the reflections and the 'territory of deepest learning' and the acceptance of it all, followed by the accountability and the second story with the powerful questions ... It makes me reflect of the times when I have and have not appreciated the learning, rejoiced about the success and forgotten about the learning, and the rare times when I have taken note of the whole .. 

Am wondering when would the next AOH in Japan be .. 

Hi Tim and Natasha!


Thanks for stopping by.  I see you are from Singapore, Natasha.  I wonder if you know a woman who is friend to many of us -- Samantha Tan?  Samantha has been active in the World Cafe networks and spends part of her time each year in her two homes -- Boston and Singapore. 


We may be doing an Art of Hosting in Bangkok in May, Natasha. The next major Art of Hosting in Japan will be in November.  Smaller events before that.






Hi Bob, 


Visiting here in the New year (In Singapore, we just celebrated the Chinese new year and welcomed the year of the rabbit in the beginning of Feb!) 

Yes, I am currently staying in Singapore and am from the land of the Himalayas! 

Wishing to see Mt Fuji - would you be in Japan from March - May ...

Do share about the smaller events and in which area of Japan would that be please 


Are we looking at any dates of week for the AOH in Bangkok in May? Would this be a first, I wonder!

I am aware of the one happening in Hungary in May and am interested  


Samatha, no, I do not know her ... yet!

Looking forward to attend my first gathering in the AOH community this year,


Hi Natasha.  Dates are not yet set for Bangkok.  And public dates not set yet for March-May in Japan.  All is unfolding....
Hmm, thanks Bob, It is my lesson to practice patience as things emerge ..

Hi Bob and Natasha.


Art of Hosting in Japan will held the gethering meeting  on 9-10 April in Kiyosato where we held AoH workshop 2 times.



Hello Japan-friends! It would be nice that we see the gathering in Japan show up in the events list here - and maybe too on the AoH static website. If you need/want help with that just let me know!
Thanks Ria. I believe the April gathering is more at the level of a reunion. No hosting events scheduled right now. Next one in Japan likely in fall. We will, however, likely have an AoH in Thailand in June,
Hello, we have Japan in our thoughts and send our prayers .. Believe AOH reunion and gathering might be the need of the hour for a meaningful dialogue and connection ..

Thanks Natasha.  Carrying sadness and hope for what's happening in Japan right now.


We have decided to do an AoH in June in Thailand.  More details forthcoming.  It will be the weekend of June 11th.  Location and exact timing still being determined.


Will you come?  Where are you now?

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