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Meeting diverse people who enrich society

Members and Staff at Shobu Gakuen in Kagoshima

Awkward feeling

My daily routine…Wear my shoes, get out the house, look up the sky. Avoid cars which speed on a narrow street, walk the edge of road dexterously. Watch kids going to the school vaguely, beyond them, see a new café shop has opened, just decided to go by and wait the signal returns from red to green. Abruptly I wake up from my auto pilot mode when I hear a screaming voice coming from ahead. A girl, physically fit, is seated on a wheel chair, her mother is pushing it with big smile on her face and walk ahead faithfully, not care a bit to people’s eyes. The child is mentally challenged, maybe autism, but I don’t know how to react. Should I turn my face to her holding awkward feeling inside? Pity or encouragement? These feeling are not appropriate. I enter my destination, a café. After 10 minutes, enjoy the coffee, back in my own world forgetting everything what happed before.
It’s ashamed to say but this attitude was that I had before toward mentally challenged people. I haven’t had opportunity to make friends who had challenge since I was child, I still didn’t know how to communicate with them.
But recently I had the opportunity visit the students, staff and the head of school Shobu Gakuen in Kagoshima. This visit has completely changed my view and thoughts on “Who are mentally challenged people? “ “ How should I communicate with them?” without any force or lecture. They just have showed me through their loving actions how to communicate naturally.
It was a year before, I was reading a magazine and it was introducing one unique shirt that has hundreds of stitch on it. As I have been introduced art craft products from overseas to Japan, I imagined it should be traditional art craft from Asia or South America but was from Kagoshima. But the fact was, made by members and staff who are working at Shobu Gakuen. That was my trigger to get to know Shobu Gakuen and it was a very big impact in my life.

Ms.Noriko Fukumori explains about Nui Project.
Ms.Noriko Fukumori explains about Nui Project.

Where is a border?

VEGANIE’s products are not an art but products. It means, for products, design, strategy or curation is mostly essential, some level of adjustment to targeting market is executed. Having said that, for example our product of Kantha stitch, they are also originally made by women imagining happy moments or fortunate event, it was more artistic. I just wondered if there are something in common between our products and pieces which has been made by users in Shobu Gakuen. Maybe we can collaborate together? After a moment, I was on the way to Kagoshima to meet them and see how these powerful pieces are made.

Delicious Soba noodle and egg roll at Restaurant Bonta Delicious Soba noodle and egg roll at Restaurant Bonta

In Shobu Gakuen, there are Japanese soba noodle shop, Italian restaurant and even bakery there. What is more, they are always crowded with customers. It is no wonder as the taste is competing Michelin stars! Price is not expensive, materials are well selected and passion of workers (Both of members and staff are working together) is there.

If you go to the atelier, there is one lady working on her stitch endlessly, one gentleman is trying to make a hole on wood surface, another man was throwing a clump of mud to the table and shaping an animal. All of action ( Mr. Shin Fukumori, the head calls it “Habit” ) are not forced, they are just keep making something which makes them feel comfortable. After a point, work is passed to the staff of Shobu Gakuen to finish the artwork by seasoning a bit of design or curation so that art work live as a product as well. Their work utterly reminded me of my starting point as an art student many year ago – how art work was enjoyable for myself. I was speechless and just felt “ They are free and I am embarrassed how I am stuck with stereo types ”.

  • At Atelier
    At Atelier
  • Chatting with one of members
    Chatting with one of members

Happiness is in your everyday

A new documentary movie that featured everyday of Shobu Gakuen called “ Happiness is in your everyday ” is coming up soon in Tokyo. While you watch energetic percussion play of “otto & orabu “ formed with members and staff of Shobu Gakuen, some fundamental question comes up your mind. –“ What is normal and abnormal? What differs us? ”. No one can answer this question with confidence but we might be able to say one thing, we are looking same direction for the same thing- Happiness. It is happiness and we are always seeking some place that we can feel comfort or joy. It is so to say, sleeping, eating, singing, dancing, drawing or touching nature like that. We just recognize this very simple answer after watching this documentary. Mr. Shin Fukumori says in this movie “ They don’t understand what cancer is even after been informed that the cancer was found. They say “ I have no aches any more as I had morphine at the hospital” . Non handicapped people see themselves through handicapped people like “How about us? What should we do”. Isn’t it a bit silly? Why can’t we see them more purely without judging? “. He is right, at least I was like that. I was looking myself through this movie as well.

One of member painted whole room colorfully.
One of member painted whole room colorfully.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to Mr. Shin Fukumori and Ms. Noriko, helpful staff and all kind / cheerful members at Shobu Gakuen. I would like to say thank you to Mr. Souno who took all photograph for me. I am planning how we can collaborate together at the moment. Until then, I hope many people could watch this movie that will be released in July 2016. Please check it out from the URL in below.

With Mr. Shin Fukumori and Ms. Noriko Fukumori
With Mr. Shin Fukumori and Ms. Noriko Fukumori

>> http://www.shobu.jp/
>> http://silentvoice.jp/whilewekissthesky/

(Written by Chiaki)