Yamada Akiyoshi (General Manager of AJU Center for Independent Living)
AJU's Independent Living Center is an institution of a socio-welfare juridical person that was born in 1990, as a result of a movement of disabled persons that aim at the independence of the disabled.
We, wheelchair people, gathered at the beginning of 1973 to start a movement of building up a welfare town. At that time Nagoya was a city of 2 million people and there were almost no toilets that could be used by wheelchair people. We sent requests for them to the authorities and department stores and going out to the streets with other disabled companions we made public appeals to be recognized as full citizens.
AJU ("Ai no Jikko Undo": movement to bring love to implementation) collaborated with us from the beginning to build up a welfare town. The founder was Fr. Georg Gemeinder, a Divine Word Catholic priest and AJU's representative at the time was Fr. Kondo Masahiro.
Following Fr. Kondo's advice that if we aimed at a citizen's movement within the local population, not inside the church, AJU will assist us, the disabled started activities in Nagoya City. Since that time, we challenged ourselves with many activities that were considered impossible to achieve by seriously disabled persons.
The first challenge was to organize a summer camp. In those days it was very difficult to go out by wheelchair and the idea of a summer camp with wheel chairs was, at first sight, not advisable. But, when we called upon other companions that were much discontented inside their homes, many participated to be able to get out.
We made simple toilets and looked for suitable sites for wheel chairs and held the first summer camp in great success. We felt confident that we could go out into town using our wheel chairs. Once a month we gathered together and went downtown of Nagoya enjoying ourselves. We also held study sessions. Month after month people participating increased giving testimony of how much disabled people suffer, lonely, at home and how anxious they were of getting all kinds of information.
The voice of our companions was seriously considered and many important activities, like monthly meetings and afternoon walks along the streets of Nagoya, were constantly held.
The next step was to travel to other towns. At a time when we hardly could get out from our homes we could not even dream of making a journey. There were no elevators at Nagoya's Shinkansen Station and people had to carry us on their back up to the platform of the train. It was totally impossible to go to any faraway place. But, no matter the difficulties, 70 of us wheelchair people made the plan to go to Kyoto by the Shinkansen. Naturally, Nagoya Station refused to cooperate but we went ahead with the trip and demanded the set up of elevators at the station. Mass media covered extensively the event and Nagoya Station finally fixed elevators. In conclusion, the movement to build up a welfare town became a great success.
We continued the public appeals for improving welfare services by a variety of events, like participation in bon-odori and ordinary dances, chair ski, yacht riding, welfare films festivals, welfare educational exposures (visiting educational institutions and letting the students to use wheel chairs), Nagoya city marathon for the disabled, guidebooks for wheel chair people, etc.

In 1981, with the occasion of John Paul II's visit to Japan, I participated in the event to establish a national liaison commission of catholic disabled people and, as its chairman for 18 years I aimed at a full participation in mass, demanding a barrier free system in church and a full recognition of the disabled, as Christians, so that they can fulfill their Christian tasks and that their voices could also be heard by the Church.
The disable, getting actively involved and exposing publicly actual social contradictions, no matter how heavy are their disabilities, are able to say "it was good for me to be born. It is wonderful to be alive." But to perceive life that way, they must aim at a society where one is able to live responsibly. We finally established a Welfare Juridical Person with several institutions. The central one is the Welfare Home (Residence for the disabled) where people receive training on social independence. The other 2 centers built in 1990 are the Day Center and a work place called Wadachi Computer House. No matter how strongly people want to become independent in life they must understand how much care they need, how to establish human relationships and how to manage their finances. AJU's Independent House has opened a second institution to provide 4-year training courses for those companions who don't know what to do and trains them gradually, so that through failures they can understand themselves better to adapt to social conditions and become independent.
The House was built under the sponsorship of Prince Hirohito and the efforts of deceased Bishop Soma Nobuo and of many others that have helped with its running.
During the 15 years of the Residence for disabled people about 70 seriously disable graduated and returned back to their homes. They are companions who suffering from paralysis of legs and hands have spent their lives under the care of their families or totally isolated in dormitories of institutions, without opportunities of getting out. People thought that they only could live inside the institutions, but with the help of volunteers they were able to live socially independent.
The Wadachi Computer House provides jobs to the seriously disable, especially to those with paralysis of legs and hands and to those with impediments in speech who cannot usually hold ordinary jobs. And even if they work in industrial home institutions they cannot get more than 10-20 thousand yen a month. Facing such an abnormal situation of low salaries, the Computer House has reached a level of providing yearly salaries of more than 1,300,000 yen, thus it has made significant inroads into the world of the working disable.
Seriously disabled people desire, from the bottom of their hearts, that policies based on the respect for human rights are also recognized in the socio-welfare world and that they are able to live independently as other citizens do. AJU started to make an important contribution.

On top of that and based on past achievements, a new industrial center to provide work for people with mental disabilities was established. In our country these persons, no matter how hard they work, will only get a few thousand yen a month. Faced with the abnormal situation that experts consider this a strange reality, AJU has challenged the issue of jobs for people with mental disabilities and participated in its solution.
Luckily, the Divine Word congregation sympathized with the ideals of AJU and put at our disposal, free of charge, the vineyard of their Tajimi monastery and the nearby winery facilities under the Church at Tajimi City (Gifu prefecture). We, then, started an industrial center for wine production and selling, employing persons with mental disabilities.

Visit a winery in Spain
Mentally disabled people work during the year in the vineyard and the recollection of grapes, helping at the same time during September at collection time for the production of wine and our aim is to provide one million yen yearly salaries for them. Since last year we employed an expert in wine production and this year, for the first time, we had a full-scale harvest -5 times the one of last year- advancing steadily ahead.
The vineyard is just 1.2 ha, quite small for a national standard of a winery, but we are studying how to produce wine from now on. Our goal is to reach a selling capacity of 100,000 bottles of wine a year and in order to be able to pay yearly salaries of 1 million yen we aim at producing good quality wine. We employed an expert in wine production expecting that after 5 years we could get the expertise needed to present our wines in public exhibitions, together with other brands. This is much needed and it is an advisable way to proceed.
Besides that, in order to produce good wine we made plans to get an expert in wine production from famous wine-producing countries, like Spain, Italy or France and approached among others Father Ando of the Jesuit social center. He happily promised to cooperate with us and introduced us his younger brother living in Salamanca (Spain) who made appeals to the local media and radio stations to look for an expert to come to Japan and work together at our AJU's winery, with people of mental disabilities.
Unluckily, there were no applications and then we decided to pay a short visit to Salamanca, together with Fr. Ando, to visit wineries there and to approach directly experts working in them. In spite of a very hard schedule of only 6 days, we made a study tour of Spanish wineries.
Although we could not yet call on a Spanish zymologist, we visited 4 big wineries, some already active since 400 years ago nothing to compare with our small AJU winery- and the whole visit was very profitable. The president of our support group, Mr. Ono, accompanied also us and provided us with many valuable hints from his position as a businessman.
At AJU people with mental disabilities participate in the production of wine, starting from the work at the vineyards, and our desire is to continue making efforts to produce a delicious wine second to none, so that all disable get full respect as ordinary citizens. We strongly demand a society where human dignity for all is implemented.
AJU has severely confronted the administration for 12 years so that all disable with serious disabilities, even those lying in bed, could one by one live full lives convinced that it is a blessing for them to have been born and to continue living. The personal care of people with serious disabilities by sending helpers to them is a reality now, as well as their social rehabilitation, not by isolating them in institutions, but by assisting them to become socially independent. There is a danger now to pass new legislation to change for the worse the present system and our companions are earnestly fighting and holding demonstrations, handling petitions to the House of Representatives, so that the voices of the weak sectors of society can reach the decision makers.
We have received all these important instructions from deceased Bishop Soma, who was the first President of AJU's independent House. Our deepest desire is to continue acting according to his guidance.

Mr.Yamada is the center person on wheel chair
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