The Date ‘miracle’ is acceptance

DATE, Hokkaido — Some people refer to this city as “Japan’s miracle.” Not because of its splendid weather or beautiful scenery, but because someone like Takako Nagahama can lead a comfortable life here.

Nagahama, 28, a Date native, has worked at a local meat-processing company for almost a decade. She enjoys her job, is happily married and lives in a good environment. The only thing she is concerned about nowadays is getting a driver’s license quickly — something she has been working on since October. “This city is very comfortable,” Nagahama said. She might not be able to make the same comment were she living elsewhere, because — although only slightly — she is mentally challenged.

In this city of 35,600 citizens, 216 people with mental difficulties have successfully blended into the community. Like everyone else, they work, shop, play sports and have fun. More than 500 groups from all over the country visit the city every year to study how “the miracle” happened. And many realize the important role played by Asahi Dorm, a local support center that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to assist the lives of mentally challenged people in the community.

Some amazed visitors conclude that there must be something special about Date citizens, according to the center’s coordinator Isao Ogaki. However, he does not think that is the case. “The citizens just grew to know those who are mentally challenged.”