TEDxKyoto Volunteer Profile: Takayuki (Taka) Mitsugi, Communications Team Leader


From the moment I park my bike I know I’ve arrived at the house of someone with a truly unique style. Cool-retro-traditional-techie-modern, here the old and the new seems to be fused together seamlessly and without any hint of conflict.

Taka is the leader of the TEDxKyoto communications team and Creative Director of TEDxKyoto. Only a handful of people work as hard as he does to make our events the resounding success that they are.

We walk past the rich wood and stone of the traditional entryway and go to the far back of his 150-year-old renovated Kyoto machiya townhouse. Here in the kimono textile district of Kyoto, in the warehouse/factory space where craftsmen used to make traditional textiles, Takayuki now makes magic in one of the coolest home-offices you’ve ever seen. Mitsugi-San is one of those rare people who works from home, doing what he loves. His “command central” is a blend of plants, art, music, toys, natural light, and high-tech. When he’s not working to make TEDxKyoto happen, he’s doing a combination of web and graphic design work.

After hand-grinding coffee and getting comfortable, we sit down to chat about his past, present, and future. Our interview takes place partially in English, partially in Japanese, and includes plenty of tangents. Jazz plays in the background. After comparing coffee makers, iphone cases, and favorite accessories, he tells me his story. Here are some of the interesting high points.

MB: Tell me a little about your background. How did you become so bilingual?

TM: Well, I spent ten years in the US. I studied art and sculpture in North Carolina for three years, then transferred to the Savannah College of Art and Design. I had to study English a lot to graduate. After that I moved to New York and worked for a Japanese company for three years.

MB: You seem like someone who just goes through life following your interests.

TM: Yeah, I started studying sculpture, and that led to 3D design, space design, then animation. Next was motion graphics, graphic design, and then web design.

MB: That sounds a lot like TED. Looking around your office I see an interesting blend of high-tech and low-tech. Can you comment on that?

TM: Well, I don’t want to see just one side of the world, I want to combine it. I like the bamboo, the plants, cactus, technology and computers.

MB: Is there a Japanese word or phrase for what we call in English “a jack of all trades” – someone who does many things?

TM: The Japanese phrase would maybe be ‘nandemo-ya san’ but maybe it can be negative, meaning you can’t do anything right — maybe in English it’s easier, there’s a producer or director of something, he has to look at everything, organize everything at the same time. I’m just trying to make it fun, actually.

MB: So who is your hero in history, who is someone that you really admire, living or dead?

TM: Well when I was doing sculpture, my hero was Michelangelo, and (he shifts into Japanese and starts speaking quickly, clearly becoming excited) I love the renaissance, Davinci, they did so many different things, so many interests, so beautiful, if they find some interesting thing they just do that. Before I went to art school, I didn’t study anything about art. First I went to Vermont to do an ESL course, then decided to do art.

MB: What were you like in High School?

TM: I just loved fashion, music, things like that. After High School I went to Tokyo and worked as a salesperson in a trendy shop. I sold a LOT of clothes – Used Levi’s and stuff like that. One time I shaved my hair, I was like a gangster.

MB: I get this impression that you are really outside the box, not following the same rules as everyone else. Maybe that’s why you are self-employed.

TM: Yeah but self-employed, it can be kind of hard, because in Japan there is so much company structure. Working for myself, I have the freedom to do a variety of web projects and projects like TEDxKyoto. I can develop many connections in different areas, and enjoy a lot of things.

MB: What do you like best about being involved with the TEDxKyoto communications and creative team?

TM: I really like the process, for example, creating the team, solving various problems and challenges, working together to create things. I enjoy watching so many different people at the event enjoying themselves.

MB: And it’s great that the team makes it all happen.

TM: Yes, the TEDxKyoto is a platform, a community that we have created. It is a starting point.

MB: TEDxKyoto has been going for 4 years – How did you get involved?

TM: I went to the first kick off party, and I didn’t know anyone. I was interested because I had heard TED talks… I can’t remember the first one! When I was a high school kid I saw an article about Richard Saul Wurman, the founder of the first TED event, and I loved the idea of ‘information architect’

MB: Also the original idea, Technology, Entertainment, and Design — these are all of your interests in one place! Have you met him?

TM: No, no, no, no, not yet! I’d love to. But I met Chris Anderson (TED curator) at TED active in Vancouver last year. I met so many TEDx organizers, and I was so excited about it. We spent a week at the conference, I went with Jay (TEDxKyoto exec. producer/founder), Eric (Interactive team leader), and Noda-san (Production Team). We talked a lot about TED, TEDx, TEDxKyoto, and developed new ideas about where we can take TEDxKyoto. So I’m really working hard on the main vision.

MB: Kyoto has a great combination of the new and the old – what things would you like to see that are specifically related to Kyoto?

TM: Kyoto has really good traditional technology, and they don’t really know how to share these ideas with the outside, especially the older people. We can show some of these ideas to the outside world, and bring in new ideas, like a chemical reaction, new, old, it doesn’t matter, we can make something new happen by putting things together. We don’t really know what’s going to happen next – that is exciting and interesting.

MB: So, what is your favorite toy? Where do you get your ideas?

TM: I love my bike. I love riding. When I’m working on my bike or riding 200 km, I’m trying to become empty, quiet. Like the zen idea of making the empty bucket. It’s not useful if it is full.

MB: What is your philosophy, your motto?

TM: I like this poster, I met the founder of this design company in Kyoto. “This is your life, do what you want to do. If you don’t like it, change it,” and so on. I met him by chance, just serendipity. TED and TEDx is like that.

MB: What’s next for you?

TM: I’m going to think about that after this coming event, I’m too busy to make a big plan now!

MB: Last question. What’s your story, what would you talk about if you did a TEDx talk?

TM: Hard question! I’m always thinking about how to connect the things around me, about how to communicate with people. I love this idea in Zen, and also music is like that. Space, emptiness, connectedness. The traditional Japanese idea that everything has a soul. Everything, nothing, stones, trees, people, all connected.