[Aiming to Realize an Inclusive Society] An Inclusive World Realized by Art II: What Can We Do to Make Their Day in the Way They Desire? - Projects



TOP > Projects > Inclusive Education > [Aiming to Realize an Inclusive Society] An Inclusive World Realized by Art II: What Can We Do to Make Their Day in the Way They Desire?


[Aiming to Realize an Inclusive Society] An Inclusive World Realized by Art II: What Can We Do to Make Their Day in the Way They Desire?


Atelier Yamanami is a welfare facility situated in Koka City, Shiga prefecture, Japan. The facility is open to people with disabilities who live in the local community. It is known as an art center where individuals with disabilities engage in various art activities, and their artworks are highly valued both domestically and internationally. Currently, Atelier Yamanami has 95 members, and some artists even have exclusive contracts with galleries abroad.
In Part II, we will continue our report on the interview with Mr. Yamashita, the director of Atelier Yamanami, and Prof. Sakakihara, the director of CRN. During the interview, Mr. Yamashita explained how he gives support to and interacts with each member of Atelier Yamanami.

Photos & text: Makoto Kinoshita (social welfare journalist)


People with disabilities, art, inclusive society
lab_13_09_01.jpg   lab_13_09_02.jpg
Yoichi Sakakihara, CRN Director
Masato Yamashita, Atelier Yamanami Director
Art can overturn people's prejudice

Yamashita: We once organized a touring exhibition in the vacant rooms of schools in Koka City. We wanted to show our members' artwork to all the children living in the city. The children were fascinated by these artworks and expressed their admiration saying, "Wow! He is amazing!", "I want to draw pictures with him!", and "I want to visit their place!"

As I observed the children's reactions, I started to ponder. Have we done enough to let children know about people with disabilities? Perhaps, we have only highlighted the negative aspects and failed to proudly showcase their talents. As social workers, we have reflected on our past actions and regret that we may have left discrimination and prejudices unresolved.

At Atelier Yamanami

Sakakihara: You see, young children are free from the stereotypical views and concepts that trap adults. Therefore, when children see such artwork directly, they simply think it is wonderful. I believe that if children have such experiences in childhood, they may perceive disabilities and welfare differently. Most people have stereotypical ideas that people with disabilities can do very few things; that they are pitiful and need social support. Of course, not everyone with disabilities can exhibit artistic talents, but their artwork has the power to challenge such societal bias.

Yamashita: For instance, rather than evaluating someone's growth based on their ability to perform sideline work, sit still and work without interruptions, or concentrate on work without chatting with others, it is important to ensure they can live in the way they want to. I also learned these values from them.

Sakakihara: As it is said, "A picture is worth a thousand words," I want children to see their artwork directly. While similar programs exist across Japan, your facility serves as a valuable example. You have successfully developed your project by establishing a close link with local communities.

Yamashita: For example, we often receive visits from art teachers. They say things like "Ooh, these artworks are fantastic!" However, if their own students were to draw a picture freely like the artists at Atelier Yamanami, of a bird for instance, these teachers would say, "No, this is not right. Draw it correctly." If the feeling that they should draw a "good" picture, or they should get praise from their teacher comes first, it may inhibit them from expressing their true artistic feelings.

Sakakihara: Japanese education tends to emphasize "conformity." One day, I attended a conference and heard someone say, "From now on, education should be about bringing out students' talents rather than pursuing conformity." I indeed agree with this. Japanese educators tend to focus on group conformity in their classrooms. This tendency is not from bad intentions, but they are too trapped in solid social norms and it is a hard habit to break.

Yamashita: We, too, often ask ourselves whether we are not pushing the members into a corner to be passive and obedient by forcing them to follow systematic steps and rules. For example, let's say we establish a rule for lunchtime, where everyone is expected to eat lunch between 12:00 and 13:00. In such a case if someone does not eat lunch until 13:15, he will then be considered to be a rule breaker. We will then be focused on how to make him finish lunch before 13:00. However, this problem can be solved instantly if we alter the rule and extend lunchtime until 13:15. If they are allowed to eat and finish lunch whenever they want, they can return to being themselves.

Sakakihara: There are several workshop buildings here, of which I noticed the exterior walls are canvases. This would be taboo at typical facilities, but is permitted here at Atelier Yamanami.

Artwork created by the members throughout the facility

Yamashita: If we say "NO" to the members for something, we risk creating an unequal relationship of superiors and subordinates, and they will regard the support staff as a source of restrictions and constraints on them. However, this does not mean we should always say yes and allow them to act without restrictions. What I want to say is that respecting their dignity and building an equal relationship with them is important.

Sakakihara: I agree with you. We must maintain that basic principle.

Giving full attention to what members desire rather than conforming to societal norms
Ms. Mihoko Sakai holding a pack of popular instant noodles, "Sapporo Ichiban Original."
She has treasured the package for thirty years without opening it.

Yamashita: There is a woman who has treasured packages of noodles for almost thirty years, and we finally gave in to her persistence. We want each member to live as they are and enjoy their life. If they are happy about something valuable to them, we think it is OK. We do not want to assess them based on what they can and cannot do.

Sakakihara: To disseminate your project in Japan, we need a leader who truly understands what you just said. Simply copying the project format will not suffice. The best way is to choose people who empathize with your philosophy and send them everywhere across Japan. If we can create your clones, it is the easiest way (laughs).

Yamashita: In the field of welfare, there are certain organizations whose goal is to assist every member in becoming a worker/taxpayer without having to depend on welfare assistance. Such initiatives are also important if the users actually want to be that way. However, I think our role as social workers is to give full attention to what they desire rather than conform to societal norms and expectations.

Sakakihara: For example, one of your members draws a single line on paper every day. You treasure this behavior. Generally, it is difficult for us to imagine and understand what the value of this is. Nonetheless, your facility provides successful support in this regard. You serve as a role model for us, and I hope this spirit of understanding and acceptance will spread to a broader range of people who understand it.

Yamashita: We cherish every member's expression, regardless of whether it is expressed verbally or by behavior, and whether they intended to create good artwork. For example, jumping up and down, shouting, drawing, etc. Because we care very much about every member, we do not want to neglect the expressions or things they create, nor sort or assess whether it is good or bad. Our objective is not to turn them into renowned artists or showcase their art abroad. We just want them to spend each day peacefully and happily without becoming emotionally unstable. Everything else is secondary. We should maintain this stance in our role as support staff. That is, how to make their day today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter.

yamashita_masato.jpg Masato Yamashita
Director of Atelier Yamanami
Mr. Yamashita was born in 1967. After completing high school and trying different jobs, he began working as a member of support staff at the Yamanami Community Workshop in May 1989. This was an unlicensed training center and workshop for individuals with disabilities. In 1990, he established Atelier Korobokkuru as a creative space for individuals with disabilities to engage in diverse activities. Since then, he has been actively involved in various expressive activities aimed at helping people with disabilities to embrace their unique characteristics, thoughts, and pace of life. His goal is to create an inclusive environment where everyone can freely be themselves based on mutual trust relationships. He has been serving as director of Atelier Yamanami since May 2008.

sakakihara_2013.jpg Yoichi Sakakihara
M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Ochanomizu University; Director of Child Research Net, Executive Advisor of Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute (BERD), President of Japanese Society of Child Science. Specializes in pediatric neurology, developmental neurology, in particular, treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger's syndrome and other developmental disorders, and neuroscience. Born in 1951. Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo in 1976 and taught as an instructor in the Department of the Pediatrics before working with Ochanomizu University.
Twitter Facebook

Inclusive Education

Social and Emotional Skills

ECEC around the World

Digital Media and Children


Child Research Network Asia (CRNA)

Research Activities

Director's Blog

About CRN

About Child Science


Koby's Note

Latest Posts