The Invisible Ones

In her article “Is ‘disability’ still a dirty word in Japan?” Tomoko Otake writes:

“Government statistics show that, out of a population of around 127 million, some 3.5 million are physically disabled, 2.5 million are mentally ill and 500,000 are mentally disabled. That’s a total of around 6.5 million individuals.

But where are they? Granted, we see more station elevators, wheelchair-accessible toilets and buses with passenger lifts nowadays. Such facilities are visible, but many people hardly ever encounter those who use them — let alone anyone with non-physical disabilities. In fact, apart from people with disabled family members or friends, most Japanese quite likely live their whole lives without ever interacting with their disabled fellow citizens.”

While much of Otake’s report is disheartening, to say the least, she does note that Uniqlo, semi-official clothier of the Kamata family, has made it company policy to hire at least one disabled person at each of its stores. Maybe Lilia’s dream of working at a clothing store will come true. (In another article, Otake reports that Starbucks in Japan is now hiring deaf workers.)

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4 thoughts on “The Invisible Ones

  1. M. would have a lot more to say on this subject than me, having experienced it all for ten years, but he was sometimes kind of disheartened by the fact that disabled people just don’t get out of the house in Japan. He actually has very good things to say about all of the attempts to make public transportation more accessible (unfortunately, this seldom extends to stores, which are nearly impossible to negotiate in a wheelchair), but he always tended to observe that most of the accessibility add-ons have been put into place for the elderly – who feel entitled to continue to have as public lives as they used to – than for the disabled, who are still often kept indoors in private homes.

    *My* big frustration when we lived in Japan, as the primary wheelchair pusher (until Duskin started renting out battery-powered ones), was that – at least in Tokyo – people were absolutely oblivious to the presence of the wheelchair. I couldn’t put my finger on what was driving me crazy until we took a trip to Hong Kong and crowds would kind of naturally open up to accomodate us. In Tokyo, it always seemed like we had to fight for space on the train/subway/sidewalk, not because people didn’t care or were being malicious, but because they were just oblivious to the world around them.

  2. BTW – have you ever seen Hara Kazuo’s “Sayonara CP”? I think he made the film in 1972-ish, and the only version available (maybe on VHS, definitely on DVD) is in Japanese only, but it’s an interesting film and he tried to let the people he films – all folks with cerebral palsy – do the talking for themselves. FYI 🙂

  3. Thanks for sharing the link to the Japan Times article. I work at Starbucks HQ in Seattle and the article makes me proud to be a partner (what we call all employees).

    On another note, I would write a letter to NW Airlines. The treatment on your return to Japan is unacceptable.

    Finally, I read “Open Adoption” on Literary Mama. What a powerful story — good pick, Gaijin Mama!

    Take care.

  4. Liz, I love Starbucks! Thanks for reading “Open Adoption.”

    Lori, thanks for the movie recommendation. I will check it out.

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