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Prejudice Towards People with Disabilities

31 Jul

I recently spoke with Yuki Arai, a writer and a researcher of disability in the arts.  We talked about two of his books: One is about the art studio in the psychiatric hospital in Tokyo, and the other about Hiroshi Yokota, a leading figure in the Japanese disability movement in the 1970’s. We talked about the role of arts in healing and prejudice towards people with disabilities in Japan.

Arai is deeply concerned about the recent trend that gives people permission to discriminate against others.  It seems that we’re seeing this trend worldwide.

Two years ago a man killed 19 people and wounded twenty-six others at a care home for people with disabilities in Kanagawa prefecture.  It shocked the nation where crime rates are so low. But what was perhaps more shocking was the reactions followed by the incident.  In social media some people voiced empathy not for the victims but for the perpetrator who claimed that those with severe disabilities had no purpose to live.

“Why aren’t we more angry about this?”  said Arai.  “Mr. Yokota would have been very angry if he was alive.”

Yokota was born with cerebral palsy with speech impairment.  He is often considered as a “radical activist,” but Arai says that Yokota’s main message was simple: People with disabilities want to live, too.

You can listen to the episode here.



BLISS #6 Caring for People with Dementia in Japan

3 Jul

Koichiro Shogaki is a teacher of The Validation technique, a method of communication with older adults experiencing dementia. An American social worker, Naomi Feil, created this method. You may have seen a famous video of her singing hymns to a woman with Alzheimer’s disease. Shogaki is one of the first persons in Japan to be trained for it.

The Validation method focuses on empathy through understanding the feelings and the experiences of disoriented elderly. When they display troubling behaviors, our tendency is to try to change them. But Shougaki notes that it’s more important to try to understand the reasons behind such behaviors by putting ourselves in their shoes.  In a sense The Validation method challenges us, the caregivers, to change ourselves.

In Japan more than 4.6 million people are suffering from some form of dementia.  By 2025 one in five people will be over 65 years old, and nearly 7.3 million people are estimated to have dementia. So how to care for them is an important topic.

While the media and the medical community in Japan seem to focus on “prevention” and “cure” of dementia, Shogaki wants people to learn how to support those living with it.

“It’s not easy to use The Validation technique, because it takes time to change ourselves. But what’s important is to believe in yourself and keep practicing.”  Shogaki says.

You can listen to his interview here.


BLISS #5 Hospice Music Therapy in Japan

5 Jun

In this episode of BLISS I speak with Hisako Nakayama, a music therapist, in Hokkaido, Japan.  She has been working at hospices for 15 years and advocating for music therapy through a NPO organization called “Wa Harmony”.  Her work has been featured in the NHK news this year.

In the interview Nakayama talks about many topics including the following:

  • She was a pianist and a piano teacher for many years before becoming a music therapist. After her grandmother died at home, she became interested in hospice work.
  • She feels that her relationship with music has changed dramatically since she became a music therapist.
  • In Japan hospice care is available only for people with cancer and AIDS.  She believes it should be available for people with other illnesses including ALS.
  • In recent years more people who have graduated from university with a degree in music are interested in music therapy, because they can’t make a living as music teachers. “That’s not a good reason to want to become a music therapist,” said Nakayama.
  • As a former professor of music therapy in Sapporo Ōtani University, she has seen her former students give up on a career in music therapy. It’s very difficult to practice music therapy in Japan, because it’s not a established profession.
  • What’s important in hospice work is empathy. “My motto is ‘If I were you.’ I want to try to put myself in your situation and imagine what it is like to be you,” she says.

You can listen to the episode here.



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