My visit with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation was eye-opening. It was in a surprisingly modern, fancy and huge office building. The lobby area was white as a cloud and there were two of the biggest and most beautiful white orchids I’ve ever seen displayed there as well. Once inside that lobby, I felt like I could’ve been in any major city in the world with a fancy lobby and a high rise office building. The thing that informed me I was definitely not in America was all that bowing, courtesy, friendliness and respect exuded to customers. I showed up 45 minutes early to the location and, hence, had ample time to observe the scene in the beautiful, white lobby.
Over the course of the last few days, I’ve found people to be extremely hard working and courteous to their outside circle. But as a I watched the employees in the lobby stand up for and extend their hands out to the guest with a warm smile, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by all that respect and joy oozing out to the guests who were leaving after a large meeting. Unfortunately, the scene in the inner circle is much more negative. Even though suicide rates are on the decline in this developed country, Japan actually has one of the highest suicide rates. Some of the leading factors for suicides are overwork and bullying from upper management. Karoshi, a Japanese word meaning death caused by overwork, has long been introduced in the mainstream colloquial language. I’ve read suicide rates among 19 years old youth and below, and middle age men are especially high. For instance, my hostel mate told me her 50 year old ex-husband attempted suicide four times, and succeeded in taking his life that last time. He had a well-paying job in a high position, but he was suffering depression on the inside. This man’s sister also committed suicide. Overwork and getting paid pennies in order to be liked by your boss and be promoted for a higher position in the future is a prominent phenomenon here.
Right before noon hit, my host Masako Okuhiro came down and greeted me. She is a disability advocate here in Tōkyō. Like me, she also uses a wheelchair and has traveled the world. This is a busy time for fabulous disability advocates like Masako because of the 2020 Olympics coming up. They are in a mad dash to make this city accessible for participants in the Paralympics. Even though she was extremely busy, I was grateful that she made time for me. I was happily surprised to meet other individuals with disabilities and wheelchair users within the foundation as well. One of them even had a very snazzy looking wheelchair that I envied.
I’m just going to go on a brief tangent here and say that I am *so happy* to see wheelchair users and people with other forms of disabilities out and about, playing an active role in society. These individuals with disabilities are not just seniors, but young, active, and employed individuals. For instance, I was on my way to the park the other day and met this jovial man who used a wheelchair more modern than mine, was super fit, and was the deputy manager of a profitable, private company. He commutes into the city daily for work. It was only a little past seven o’clock in the morning, but he was already speeding into work. I told him I was meeting with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation later that day and, and he shared with me that they helped him purchase a wheelchair for tennis. He used to be a competitive tennis player. As he happily sped away, I couldn’t help but smile and be in awe of how inclusive and integrated into society individuals with disabilities are in this city. It was certainly more progressive than I was expecting. With around 30% of individuals with disabilities in the work force in the U.S., I hope Americans can learn from Tokyo.
My visit at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation ended with a tour of the beautiful facility. And I was left happily surprised by the integrated work force at SPF and Tokyo at large.