KYOTO – People with intellectual disabilities are playing key roles in the traditional manufacturing industry in Kyoto, where a shortage of company heirs is becoming a serious problem.
Such individuals aiming to acquire skills to make traditional crafts, including Nishijin-ori (textiles) and warōsoku (Japanese candles), are among the new leaders in the long-established industrial arts of Kyoto that have a history dating back 1,200 years.
At the Nishijin Koubou facility in the city’s Kita Ward, people with mental disabilities are producing Nishijin-ori goods using hand-weaving equipment.
Takashi Kawai, a native of the Nishijin area in the city, opened the facility in 2004 in the hopes of protecting the traditional weaving technique while providing people with disabilities with opportunities to improve their skills.
With demand for silk increasing every year, the facility became one of the biggest filature plants in the area that stretches between Kamigyo and Kita wards.
“People with disabilities who tend to engage in simple work at low wages are looking for more challenging jobs, while traditional businesses are looking for a workforce,” Kawai said.
Nakamura Rosoku, a producer of traditional candles established in 1887, is making use of a city government project aimed at increasing the number of disabled people on payrolls.
Satoshi Asano, who has a mental disorder, started working at the company in Fushimi Ward as a candle painter in April last year.
Hirokazu Tagawa, president of the candle-maker, hired Asano as he had felt a need to employ enough painters to pass down the tradition of warōsoku.
“I see Asano as a craftsman regardless of the disability he has,” said Tagawa. He gives high marks to Asano’s skills, saying his paintings “look good.”
Tomoki Ueta, who has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, started working in April at Cosaien Taneda, a Kyokanoko-shibori (tie-dyed goods) manufacturer established in 1837, in Shimogyo Ward.
“I’m good at work that involves repeating something thanks to my psychiatric conditions,” Ueta said. “I believe I can help the traditional craftwork survive by capitalizing on my disorder.”
“I want to build my skill,” he added.
Yasuo Taneda, president of Cosaien Taneda’s management company, said he hopes Ueta will strive to become a certified traditional craftsman to help keep the Kyokanoko-shibori business going.