That is one pretty lively workshop: Everywhere brushes are scattered around on desks, lots of colourful drawings greet you from the wall and pretty pottery by the window complete the friendly atmo together with people’s bright voices – Koubou Maru, or Maruworks, in Fukuoka, serves as a creative studio space for disabled people. PingMag felt invited by this warm environment and talked to Koubou Maru founder, Shuichi Yoshida.
Written by Ryoko
Translated by Chiemi
First of all, how did you start with Koubou Maru?
I studied photography at uni and for the theme for my final project, I chose a school for disabled children. So, right at the very beginning, I just felt that I had to do something for them – but didn’t know how to communicate with the kids. However, as soon as I started taking photos of them, I had conversations with them naturally. That was quite an important experience for me.
Then I started to wonder why you don’t see disabled people in town at all, even though there are many schools for the disabled. Though people say “don’t discriminate them,” I disliked the reality that there were some gaps between people without disabilities and the physically challenged. I thought the situation might change naturally if there was a common place where anyone with or without disabilities could communicate.
At the “Koubou Maru” studio: picture drawing.
Here, every disabled person active at “Maruworks,” or Koubou Maru, is referred to as “member”.
You have a major in photography, but the members here do mainly painting, pottery and woodwork. How come?
During my photography studies, I learned to focus on “expressions.” Later I noticed that all the members of “maru” just naturally offer incredible themes of curiosity and desire. Moreover, they can actually enjoy creating something by themselves, unlike people who would simply hire subcontractors to do a creative job.
Kousuke’s “Leaf and Tree,” felt pen drawing.
Really nice wooden work: “Wall Clock,” all with pop art colours.
Ceramic “Peanut Men,” simple and cute. Aren’t they?
“Black Leopard” by Kousuke.
How do the reactions differ if you tell visitors that these art works are done by disabled people?
That is actually my concern: When we hold an exhibition, we have the feeling that it is only picked up as an interesting topic because the exhibits are made by the disabled. In fact, we are hoping that our society will eventually accept handicapped people for what they are. For example, you see our neighbours’ kids wearing our T-shirts, or our fabric patterns are sold in respective shops. It’s not just that you would only get to see these products at selected spaces – I really do hope that these drawings gradually become more a part of everybody’s life.
T-shirt with a bright blue ocean, painted by Nozomu. See more of those on Maruworks’ Flickr site.
Another T-shirt depicting a rice field, painted by Nozomu.
“Adorable lady”, painted with pencil and paint by Hiroki.
Titled “Incoananas,” drawing with colour pencils by Hiroki.
So, your aim is that handicapped people will eventually be regarded the same as every other person on this planet, and not always put in a certain category…
Right. But the abilities of handicapped people are not encouraged enough when it comes to working. Therefore, they definitely need welfare support. But then again, in our actual situation those supports are not prevailing easily. So, hopefully there will be more places like “Maruworks.”
I often discuss with other staff how these people can take more of an active part in society. For example, we have one blind and paralysed member. He likes to listen to the radio a lot and he often tries to imitate DJs. When we noticed that we instantly thought that he had the potential to become a serious radio DJ! But as so often, our society prefers sound people. I guess at some point people will realise how valuable the so-called “handicapped” are!
I hope that neighbours’ kids learn a lot of “Maruworks” and the handicapped remain in these kids’ memories. Therefore, when they grow into society, I feel that they will make this a better world.
A picture of Japanese singer “Tamio Okuda,” painted by Hiroshi.
Cardboard drawing by Hiroki: “He puts his hand into a pocket and tries to be cool.”
Finally, please give us a message to our conscientious PingMag readers!
Disabled people need a lot of support. But, since 2006, the law in Japan requires the disabled to shoulder ten percent of their care expenses by themselves. But in order to participate in social life, the more handicapped they are the more they have to pay for that. It’s almost as if they are blamed for their own disability. Even to eat, to sleep and to live, they have to pay more than we do. I’m not sure whether this society is right or not.
I’m sure lots of people care about an aging society because everyone thinks they will get old. But disability is much closer to your own personal life. You might get disabled tomorrow in a car accident, or your baby has a chance of being born with a disability. Nobody is spared of this. It’s an important issue for the society we are now in.
I don’t want to give up living as I am, whatever happens. I don’t want to give up what I’ve got in my life so far. But, can I really do that in our present society? If you’ve experienced the new law, you can tell it’s not easy. That’s why I really want you to think carefully.
Shuichi Yoshida, founder and director of “Maruworks”
the “Maruworks” premises
Thank you so much for your wonderful story, Shuichi Yoshida of Koubou Maru. You have all of our support. We definitely need more places like “Koubou Maru” in Japan! Also, check out the Flickr site for more art works.