Sunday, May 22

“Invisible”: the fight of Japanese disabled craftsmen to exist and work

In a trendy district of Tokyo, customers of the Majerca store examine objects made by people with disabilities in this place which seeks to promote their work, a trend still emerging in Japan where they are victims of many prejudices.

Despite the government’s commitments to facilitate the integration of people with disabilities in the only country in the world to have hosted the Paralympic Games twice, the world of work is often inaccessible to them, underline associations and experts.

In the Archipelago, public aid for people with disabilities often means that their beneficiaries stay at home, and those who want to work often lack support.

This is a significant loss for society, says Miho Hattori, a member of the supervisory staff in a Majorca supplier workshop where around twenty people with intellectual disabilities work.

“Some have a career of more than thirty years, and they are sufficiently experienced to deserve the name of craftsmen,” she told AFP.

In one part of the workshop, some of these craftsmen strain paper pulp and press leaves to make greeting cards.

Further on, a young woman is spinning raw wool and other craftsmen are busy on a loom.

“I like to weave,” says Ayame Kawasaki, a 28-year-old worker with Down syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality causing intellectual disability and physical abnormalities. “There, I am preparing fabric to make stoles, mixing wool and cotton”.

– Refusal of charity –

The woven items and bags made by these workers are sold for several thousand yen in shops and art galleries, but they can only hope for a meager salary of around 15,000 yen per month (115 euros), which which Ms. Hattori describes as “heartbreaking”.

This sum is not the main source of income for these craftsmen, who are entitled to government aid, and is in the average income of people with mental disabilities in Japan, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor. and Social Affairs.

“Their work and their creations are precious, but they remain invisible”, regrets Mitsuhiro Fujimoto, manager of Majerca.

He says to give them 60-70% of the proceeds from the sale and encourage them to ask for a fair price, not charity.

“I happened to multiply by five the asking price for an object, set far too low at 500 yen (3.80 euros), he explains.

The company Heralbony, which manufactures and sells online fashion items from some 150 designers with intellectual disabilities, explains that it sets prices that reflect the work of its employees.

Among these colorful creations, sometimes also sold in department stores alongside Hermès or Louis Vuitton products, are ties at 24,200 yen (185 euros) or blouses at more than 250 euros.

– “Discrimination” –

“In Japan, it was long considered that those who received aid were not supposed to earn money,” notes Miu Nakatsuka, spokesperson for Heralbony, who says he pays at least 5% of the price of each article to the creators. .

Social workers believe that prejudices close professional doors to people with disabilities and also criticize legislation deemed unsuitable.

“In Japan, a disabled person is not allowed to use a state-subsidized carer to go to work, nor at their workplace,” regrets Masashi Hojo, director of a professional integration association. for people with disabilities. “It’s discrimination”.

Despite these obstacles, Heralbony, founded three years ago, is a profitable business, and plans to expand by also offering furniture and home furnishings.

Displaying objects made by workers with disabilities helps to challenge prejudices, thinks Mr. Fujimoto of the Majerca store.

“By visiting Majerca, I hope people will see what they are doing, and what they can do, and start to wonder if they are being treated fairly,” he says.

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