Thursday, October 3, 2013

Not a Student...Or an English Teacher

Here's how it normally goes...

Kind Japanese person inquires about the young foreign girl, "Are you a student? Where are you studying?" To which I respond that I actually graduated from college in May. They nod and say, "Oh, then you are teaching English here?" I again shake my head "no" in response. The Japanese people want to know, "What is your purpose in Japan?" So it is at this point that I launch into my spiel about my project, catered appropriately to the listener's English comprehension abilities.

I'm guessing there are 39 other people around the world who have their spiel down too. What is our purpose in these countries? I have found it is difficult to explain. It is difficult to explain that I am traveling alone for one year, that I am not associated with a specific university, and I don't have to write a long research paper when I am finished. It gets even more confusing when people ask what I studied in school. After hearing about my rather social welfare centered project, it comes as quite a surprise when they learn I have a degree in engineering. I'm a bit of a conundrum.

The next question after all this information starts to sink in is typically, "So, what do you do during the day?" I'll admit, it's a good question. I won't pretend like I have some sort of routine because that's certainly not the case, but nonetheless here's a look at some of the things I have done on a somewhat regular basis.

Remember those workshops I wrote about a while back? Yeah, the ones where people with disabilities work? I have visited LOTS of them! This is the number one thing people want to show me. Japanese people are very hard-working so it makes sense that they place a lot of importance in having a job. The workshops give people with special needs something to do after graduating from high school and keeps them stimulated.

One workshop washes, inspects, folds, and rolls towels for a couple local hospitals.

Really cool machine! Put the towel in...and it comes out in a nice roll!

There are a number of bakery workshops across the city as well. They make delicious cookies, breads, and pastries. It looks like they have a lot of fun too! These pictures were taken at the Medaka Family bakery, a workshop that started about 30 years ago. A passionate mother with a son with special needs started the bakery which has grown and flourished into a self-sustaining organization.

Another organization I visited, Palette, has a bakery as well as a group home and shared house. At the shared house, typical working individuals share the house with a couple people with special needs. It's a unique concept that works to create an inclusive community! In the following picture, the woman on the left is the founder of Palette. She is extremely hard-working and passionate about improving the situation for people with disabilities in Japan. It was a privilege to get to know her the past couple months.

The Palette bakery employees.

Palette also organizes fun activities for people with special needs. I regularly attended a hip hop class through the organization. It was awesome! Check out this video, my new friends are really good!

We have a lot of fun!

We went out to dinner after the last hip hop class.
From the left: Megume, Noboru, Naru, Me, and Shoko.

The other thing I have done on a regular basis is a Taiko class! Taiko refers to the traditional Japanese drums. Often there are really cool Taiko performances at festivals. This special group was also started by a very passionate mother of a child with Down Syndrome. She organized a place to practice, found a few willing teachers, and worked to purchase drums for the group. And they play so well! I feel so fortunate I got to join in!

I had the privilege of meeting so many interesting and passionate people the last three months. And I am so so grateful for the warm welcome I received throughout my time in Japan. Whether I'm cheering people on at their workshops, making use of my Zumba skills in a hip hop class, or trying to play along on the drums, I am always reminded what an amazing job I have this year.


  1. So amazing! Have you ever asked how they decide who can join the work groups? Is it come one come all or do they have to be living in 'the neighborhood' or? LOVE watching your journey!

  2. Hey! I can publish a comment in FIREFOX. But not using Chrome, the maker of Blogger. So interesting.

  3. Hi Hannah! I'm writing some stories for Harvey Mudd and need to talk with you, either through email or perhaps by Facetime or phone. I've just sent you a gmail message, so please check. Thanks!! -- Terri McIntosh