A Blog from Japan: Co-working in practice

Following on from their last blog, Sarah and Joanne are currently in Japan, exploring the culture, politics and co-working.

Here in their second blog they tell us about their experience so far.

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Hi, we are Sarah Marsay and Joanne Kennedy and this is our second blog about co working in Japan together.

We arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday (24th February). It was a long journey and Joanne’s first ever flight and trip outside the UK.

Joanne, “The flights were ok, but I didn’t really like landing because it was a bit bumpy.”

We met some of the other participants from the UK at Heathrow airport and on the plane. Then we met everyone else when we landed in Tokyo. There are 12 people from the UK taking part in this exchange trip in total.

Joanne, “It was good to meet everyone who was part of our trip.”

We all travelled together to the hotel on a bus. We got to our hotel at about lunchtime, and went out to get some lunch together. We went to a traditional Japanese restaurant where they didn’t speak English.

Sarah, “I had sashimi (raw fish) and rice, with miso soup, and Japanese tea. It was exciting to be experiencing Japanese culture. It was also great to start to get to know the other people on our trip.”

Joanne, “After the long flight and everything being new and different, I didn’t want to try the Japanese food on the first day. But I enjoyed seeing Tokyo and being part of the group.”

We spent the first afternoon exploring Tokyo with the other UK participants. It was lots of fun. We saw streets with lots of lights and neon signs. We saw a traditional shrine. We used the subway. We did lots of pointing and gestures to communicate as we can’t speak Japanese and most people we met didn’t speak English.

On our second day in Japan (Wednesday 25th February), we had a full day of learning and official ceremonies. We met the participants from Germany and Denmark, and introduced ourselves to them. We also learned more about what we will be doing during our two weeks in Japan.

One of the things we both found most interesting was a lecture about what the law says about people with disabilities in Japan.

Sarah, “It was great to learn about how different the law is in Japan, and especially that a law has only recently been passed to protect disabled people from discrimination. The idea of ‘reasonable adjustments’ is quite new in Japan.”

On the evening there was a chance to network and some official photos were taken of the participants from each of the countries. We also got introduced to Haruko Arimura, Japanese Minister of State for Gender Equality.

Joanne, “It was great to meet the minister. She spoke good English so we didn’t need an interpreter. We got introduced because she was interested in how CHANGE works with volunteers. We told her about how we were co-workers and about accessible information. I also liked meeting the participants from the other countries. One of the Danish participants said that I was a role model for young people with learning disabilities!”

On Thursday we went on a visit to a nursery and had a lecture from the principal about how they involve their staff and local people in decision-making. Then in the afternoon we had a lecture from a person with a disability who was in charge of a disabled people’s charity. He talked about how disabled people’s user led organisations had protested to get the law changed to stop discriminating against disabled people and to enable people to live in communities with support, instead of in institutions.

After that, we checked into the National Olympic Memorial Youth Centre. In the evening, we met some of the Japanese participants who we would be working with over the next 3 days. The schedule includes discussions and presentations about policy making, how people can influence policy making and about how staff get the skills to be involved in policy making.

We have had a few very long days. Sometimes it has been very hard work, especially as we haven’t been coworkers before and Joanne is the only person with a learning disability who is part of the programme. But we are learning lots and we are looking forward to the rest of our trip.

Joanne, “I am really looking forward to the local programme, where we will go to Wakayama and visit different organisations. I am pleased that they have put all my information on green paper, which makes it easier for me to read. Although I am the only person with a learning disability, everyone from the UK group is being really supportive and the programme leaders are trying their best to make things accessible.”

Sarah, “I am learning lots – about Japan, about how different countries support and include people with disabilities, and about co working. Our UK colleagues (especially) have been brilliant at including me and Joanne in discussions, and as part of all the social activities too. I am excited to see what the next 2 weeks bring.”

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