Asia – One Week On

Photograph of Forum sign in Japanese and English

Jo Verrent, Senior Producer for Unlimited, Keeps us up to date with her travels in Asia discovering new disabled artists, inclusive companies and vast amounts of sushi.

One week into my trip around Japan and I’m on a train heading out of Tokyo – seems like a good time to give you a taste of what I’ve done.

My main reason for being here is to find out more about disabled artists, inclusive companies and how the arts and cultural sector works here, since Tokyo will be hosting the Olympics and Paralympics in 2020 and hopes to develop a Cultural Olympiad of its own, including the work of disabled artists.

So who have I met and what have I done?

  • Laila Cassim, who has shown work through Shape and works between Japan and UK and a whole host of places in between. As a graphic designer herself, she works within many fields, sometimes disability specific and she also works with learning disabled groups to ensure the commercialisation of products and even branding is truly owned and representative of the group as a whole.
  • Yuko Ijichi, the producer of Muse and Integrated Dance Company Kyo who have been working at a community level for many years and are now beginning to create professional product. Adam Benjamin is currently over working with them on a new show and I was also able to sit in on their second rehearsal – so much potential!
  • Satsuki Yoshino and Asako Hirokawa and another deaf actress who’s name I didn’t quite catch! They have all worked with Graeae’s Jenny Sealey previously and were able to tell me masses about what the situation for deaf and disabled performers is within Japan, about the lack of theatre interpretation and much, much more
  • Kris Yoshie – an amazing woman who has set up Slow Label as a unique antidote to mass commercialisation and production, focusing on accessible, inclusive creation techniques for all – both with a visual arts and also a performance base.
  • Shinji Sudo from NPO People Design who created the communication charm and also gets disabled people into real work with large arts and sports venues
  • Takako Shiraiwa from Atelier Corners, an innovative day centre resource with a focus on creativity. I was able to see the work of one of the artists from here at Spiral – Ueno Yasuyuki – whose work has exhibited in Paris and New York amongst other places.


Jo Verrent sitting with and chatting to Satsuki and a deaf actress


I took part in a forum organised by British Council Japan, Agency for Cultural Affairs, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Japan Foundation and Arts Council Tokyo aimed at a wide audience from both the arts and the disability sector directed at looking forward to 2020 and the possibilities for arts and disability to be further developed. Hakubun Shimomura, the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology introduced the event and Manami Yuasa from British Council Japan introduced London 2012, Unlimited and the world wide legacy before I did the key note presentation on Unlimited and the UK arts/disability sector.

This was followed by Chisato Minamimura talking about her roles as a choreographer, dance artist and BSL art guide in the UK. Chisato is from Japan, currently working in the UK and gained an Unlimited commission in 2014. Then Kenjiro Hosaka, Chief Curator, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo speaking on the extensive “Art Brut” movement in Japan and Shunji Yamanaka, professor at Graduate School of Media and Governance, Keio University, and a renowned product designer, especially in the field of prosthetic legs for athletes.

The final speaker was Dai Tamesue, ex Olympic athlete who is currently known as a TV commentator covering diverse topics including sports, education and social innovation. He is a member of Towards Tokyo 2020.

The panel then had a lively discussion moderated by Kumi Fujisawa, co-Founder, Think Tank SophiaBank

If that wasn’t enough talking, I took part in a ‘closed door’ session for two and a half hours with the forum organisers to take specific questions and support strategic development in the lead up to 2020, and also a separate session with the British Council Japan Arts team to do the same.

For disabled artists to flourish anywhere, the arts sector, as a whole has to address access – how can you aspire to be the best if you don’t have the opportunity to experience other work? So I also made time to check out some arts and cultural facilities for access whilst I’ve been here:

  • Chiyoda 3331 – an arts complex in a former school which includes the Tanpopo-no-ye gallery, where Able Arts sell commercially applied designs by learning disabled artists (on T shirts, socks, pants etc.)
  • Spiral – a large complex with exhibition and performance spaces, a market place and also a yoga studio, owned and run by a top lingerie fashion house, and focusing on beauty and identity
  • Mori Art Museum – on the 53rd floor, Mori’s exhibitions change three times a year – I saw the stunning ‘Simple Forms’ exhibition. They offer sign language interpreted tours twice per exhibition and also an opportunity for blind and visually impaired people to talk to gallery staff about the work
  • National Arts Centre, Tokyo, where the forum was held. A grand centre for all art forums, one of the largest in Japan
  • The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) where I got to try out their new app for learning disabled people visiting the museum and heard about a prosthetic fashion show they ran last year I also got to meet ASIMO, ride on a UNI-CUB, and checked out the eight wheeled robot that Professor Yamanaka (see forum above) had told me about over dinner the night before – he invented it! He also invented the machine that scans your card at the station, it’s angled at exactly 13.5 degrees!
  • Morishita Studio – a privately owned dance studio that is often used by Kyo

I’ve completed two press interviews for Japanese newspapers (Mainichi Shimbum and Sankei Shimbum) – including one with blind journalist Yasushi Iwashita who was able to give me more information on daily life for disabled people in Japan.

I’ve also eaten a vast amount of sushi, raw fish and green tea flavoured ice cream! More next week on the second round of travels.

(Most photos by Jack Wheeler – bag carrier, support worker, photographer and son).


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