National | Chubu Connetion

Japan's farms struggle to upgrade restrooms as people with disabilities bolster depleted ranks

Chunichi Shimbun

The agriculture industry is faced with the problem of improving toilet facilities for people with disabilities as the movement to hire them on farms spreads amid a nationwide decline in farmers.

Agri no Mori, a nonprofit organization based in Nabari, Mie Prefecture, is using crowdfunding to raise money online for installing new toilets.

The NPO hopes getting people with disabilities to participate actively in agriculture will instill confidence in them so they can develop a zest for living.

A leading example of this farm-welfare cooperation can be found in the village of Minamifuruyama, situated in a mountainous valley north of Nabari.

A group of 14 men and women between 19 and 62 who have intellectual, physical or mental disorders is growing komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach), mizuna (mustard greens) and lettuce on hydroponics systems in five greenhouses where a terrace paddy once existed.

Many disabled people need to use a toilet soon after they feel the urge, and many have to go frequently as a result of their medication.

There is one shared nonflush facility on the farm in Minamifuruyama, but the tiny traditional 1-sq.-meter toilet is problematic for those unable to squat.

“There are many farms that do not have a toilet. Since they are not directly linked to productivity, the problem with toilets in the agriculture industry has either been neglected or set aside,” said Saori Inoue, 49, managing executive of Agri no Mori.

Even those at a farming project in Tobe, Ehime Prefecture, that has been touted as a successful example of agriculture-welfare cooperation by the government has to use the nearby convenience store with nature calls.

Agri no Mori collected unused urinals from commercial buildings and borrowed Western-style toilets used at construction sites to bring the number of portable toilets to three.

Other improvements include the installation of Western-style seats on Japanese-style toilets for women, and enclosures around the doors.

The trouble has been nonstop. During the summer, the valve sealing the sewage tank got damaged, drawing clouds of mosquitoes, and last winter the water supply froze.

Every time there is a problem, the farmers have no choice but to bear with it.

“I often hit my head against the door or wall, so I wish the bathroom was wider,” said Sayaka Morimoto, 23, who has an intellectual disability and quadriplegia caused by cerebral palsy.

She posts photos of their predicament online while dreaming of the ideal toilet environment.

Having separate toilets for men and women, making them wider and providing proper ventilation would prevent them from suffering from the mosquitoes and the smell.

Kenji Hamada, a senior researcher at the JA Kyosai Research Institute who is familiar with the situation on farms, said, “If there are no facilities they can use nearby, such as convenience stores and public buildings, then the government and the public need to provide financial support.”

“Improving the working environment, starting with toilets, is essential not just for people with disabilities, but also for people being invited from other sectors to enter the agriculture industry,” he said.

Agri no Mori hopes to raise ¥2 million to cover the cost of installing new toilets. The project will be listed on the crowdfunding site Readyfor until 11 p.m. on Dec. 26.

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, the average age of a farmer was 66.8 as of 2015. The has climbed 7.7 years over the past 20 years as the number of farmers dropped by half to 2.1 million.

Disabled people employed in the agriculture, forestry or marine industries totaled 2,825 in 2015, or 1.79 times more than in 2010, pointing to an upward trend.

In 2013, the government began subsidizing half the cost of building facilities for people with disabilities.

So far, 145 projects have received subsidies, but most of it is for expanding housing, storage and other production facilities, with only 1 percent related to toilet construction.

For more information, call Agri no Mori at 0595-44-6789.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Nov. 17.