"JAPAN CLOSE-UP", July 2004,  published by PHP

 

Swan Bakeryfs Challenge

 

By Masaomi Ise

 

Providing Ordinary Workplaces for People with Disabilities

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It was 1998 that Swan Bakery opened its flagship store at a Ginza street corner.  Employing 14 people six of whom have disabilities, the store that aimed at paying a monthly salary of at least $900 per employee so that the disabled workers would be able to stand on their own feet.  This was the first challenge of the Yamato Welfare Foundation founded by Masao Ogura using his personal funds after retiring as CEO of Yamato Transport Company.  Yamato Transport is a major transport company widely known by catch line gKuroneko Yamato no Takkyubin.h

 

The Swan Bakery flagship won customers among the business people who worked at neighboring offices and soon reached daily sales of about $1,800 a day.  The employees are paid an hourly wage of $7.00 to $7.50.  That is, if they worked 150 hours a month, they could receive a monthly salary of $1,000.  The employees work on a three-shift system; even workers with disabilities are working cheerfully from six ofclock in the morning.  In the following year, the second Swan Bakery shop opened in Jujo of Kita Ward.  This shop has 26 employees, 13 of whom have disabilities.  At first, people were skeptical about sales because the shop was located in a residential area.  However, the disabled workers started a new service of delivering bread to homes in the neighborhood and eventually gained more than 800 customers.  Daily sales at this store reached $1,400 to $1,800.

 

In the fall of 2000, Swan Cafe opened in Akasaka.  At this cafe, you can enjoy freshly baked bread with real espresso coffee.  Of the 40 employees of this cafe, 15 have disabilities.  They are doing such good business in this area that a number of other cafes including Starbucks are having a tough fight.  Masao Ogurafs plan of providing gordinary workplacesh for people with disabilities where they can work equally side by side with people without disabilities and earn a sufficient salary to stand on their own feet is thus starting to come to fruition.

 

Monthly Salary of $90!?

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In 1996 when Masao Ogura visited a common workroom for people with disabilities, he asked the person in charge how much they paid the people with disabilities.  He visited the workroom because he became interested when he heard that they were teaching children with disabilities how to work and providing various jobs for them in the workroom.

 

However, the jobs they provided were recycling jobs such as squashing empty cans and breaking up empty milk cartons, making accessories using leftover pieces of wood, and baking cookies under the guidance of a staff who were skilled at cooking.  With his wide experience in business management, Ogura thought that they would not make a profit this way and therefore asked the above-mentioned question.  He was shocked by the answer.

 

The monthly salary paid was only about $90 on average.  Actually, the jobs provided in common workrooms for people with disabilities are not intended to make a profit.  The reality is that, because the parents of disabled children cannot take care of them during the day, they put the children in these workrooms and let them do a bit of work to get some pocket money.  According to the statistics on hourly salaries paid at common workrooms for people with disabilities, 24% receive less than $0.50, 26% receive between $0.50 and $1.00, and 33% receive between $1.00 and $2.00.  In total, 83% of them receive $2.00 or less.

 

People with disabilities receive a pension from the national government.  Nevertheless, even people designated as having first-degree disabilities such as those who are completely blind or have disabilities with their hands or feet receive only about $730 a month.  People designated as having second-degree disabilities receive only $640.  Even if they earn a salary of $90 in addition to their pension, they wonft be able to become independent.  People with disabilities cannot live without support from their parents.  This is why every one of the parents say, gI cannot die leaving my child alone.  For only one day, I want to live longer than my child.h

 

There Are No Workplaces for People with Disabilities

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According to the statistics of the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, there are approximately 5.75 million disabled people: 3.25 million people with physical disabilities, 460,000 people with intellectual disabilities, and 2.04 million people with mental disabilities in Japan.  Nearly 5% of Japanfs population, that is, one out of every 20 Japanese has some form of disability.

 

Ogura was determined to perform welfare services for people with disabilities.  He thought the goal had to be that people with disabilities came to stand on their own feet instead of depending on their parents or the government.  That is, they came to work in the same manner as people without disabilities to earn enough money to make a living.  When he made inquiries, however, he found that in Japan today there were only a few places where people with disabilities could work.

 

The Job Development for the Disabled Act stipulates that each Japanese company must employ people with disabilities as 1.8% of their total workforce.  Nevertheless, if a company having more than 300 employees cannot meet this required percentage, the company only has to pay $450 per missing person on a monthly basis to the national government as a fine.  Many companies choose to pay the money.  For general companies, the employment of people with physical or intellectual disabilities is only 1.49%.

 

Because of this lack of employment, the parents of people with disabilities have voluntarily established work facilities, known as gcommon workrooms.h  At present, there are about 6,000 common workrooms throughout the country.  But in actuality, these facilities are no more than daycare centers as described above.

 

Correcting the Finances of Common Workrooms

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When the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare authorizes a common workroom as a social welfare corporate body, they can have a two-story reinforced concrete building built using money from the national budget.  They can also apply for and have a microbus purchased for picking up people with disabilities.  In addition, the staff receives the same salary as that of a local government employee.

 

To get authorization, however, they have to have a facility large enough to accommodate at least 20 disabled people on the basis of 15.8 square meters per person.  Because not many individuals can provide such facilities, the actual number of authorized common workrooms is less than 600 among the approximately 6,000 workrooms throughout the country.  Most common workrooms are operated in rented shabby apartments, where about 10 disabled people gather to do something like squashing empty cans.  Oddly enough, these workrooms that really need aid cannot get financial support from the nation.

 

To realize the independence of people with disabilities, Ogura thought, the finances of these common rooms must first be corrected.  The present situation such as a monthly salary of $90 must be broken down.  Ogura decided to provide a chance to share his experiences and know-how he had accumulated as the manager of Yamato Transport Company with the people who were running common workrooms.

 

In 1996, Ogura started to hold a management seminar targeted for the managers of common workrooms.  He thought that the people in the world of social welfare would not be impressed by the word gmanagement seminarh because they probably had never thought about management.  To gather the managers, the Yamato Welfare Foundation decided to cover their traveling expenses to the site of the seminar as well as their lodging expenses for two nights. 

 

gWelfare Is Different from Dirty Moneymakingh

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In the first year, Ogura held seminars at seven places throughout Japan from Hokkaido to Kyusyu.  A total of 437 people attended the seminars.  The majority of the common workroom managers were elderly ladies.  They could not just ignore the disabled and had taken on a lot of work for many years.

 

To this audience, Ogura started to explain gwhat is managementh at the beginning of the seminar.  But the audience did not seem to be interested very much.  From their faces, Ogura read their thoughts such as gFor the past 20 or 30 years, we have engaged in respectful welfare work.  Compared to this, what business people do is nothing but dirty moneymaking.  Why do we have to take a lesson from a person who has done such dirty work?h  He explained as follows.

 

When somebody receives a package delivered by gKuroneko Yamato no Takkyubin,h how do you think that person feels?  Do you think that the person feels that gYamato is simply delivering a package and taking money from me?h  No, I have the impression that many people think that Takkyubin is convenient; it makes things easier.  I believe they appreciate Takkyubin.

 

You canft do business out of a motive of taking money from other people.  Nobody would pay money for services or things from such a petty motive.  We beat our brains out trying to produce services or things that benefit our customers and make improvements again and again.  As a result, the services or things are appreciated and used by our customers.  We receive money from them in return.  This is business.  This is our way of making money.  Making money is not dirty at all.

 

This Will Work

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However, thinking that mere words were not enough to convince them, Ogura decided to put his ideas into practice.  He decided to open a bakery that employed people with disabilities as an independent project of the Yamato Welfare Foundation.  When Ogura had started holding seminars, he had met Seiichi Takaki, president of Takaki Bakery in Hiroshima.  As a major bread maker, Takaki Bakery had nationwide bakery chains called Andersen and Little Mermaid.

 

Takaki told Ogura that Takaki Bakeryfs success owed much to their bread dough freezing system.  Under this system, they mix ingredients and raise, cut, and shape the dough in the factory.  They then quick-freeze the bread items that are ready to be baked and send them to their bakeries throughout the country.  Using this prepared dough, Ogura could bake beautiful bread despite of having never done it before.  He thought, gPeople with disabilities can do this because even I could do.  This will work!h  He asked Takaki for his cooperation and Takaki agreed.

 

After two years of efforts, while receiving technical guidance from Takaki Bakery, Ogura and his staff finally opened the Swan Bakery flagship store in Ginza.

 

When setting people with disabilities to actual work, Ogura found out various things.  For example, they could master even advanced types of work if the staff stayed close to them to give instructions and watch over their work.  In order to develop the abilities of the disabled, an important point was to have them work with people without disabilities in pairs.

 

Many common workrooms authorized by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare have only two or three staff workers for every 20 or so people with disabilities.  Under these circumstances, people with disabilities who have never worked before will not be able to develop their abilities or motivate themselves to work no matter how many of them gather together.  They can develop their abilities and motivate themselves only by working among those without disabilities while learning from them.  The work will go forward smoothly if people without disabilities handle that part of the work that people with disabilities cannot do.

 

However, working full time might be hard for them at the beginning.  To allow them time to adjust to a regular working routine, itfs best to start with having them work three to four hours a day three times a week.  By providing them with responsible work, they can motivate themselves to work and also acquire the necessary skills in spite of the fact that they are not working full time.

 

While working among people without disabilities, people with disabilities will gain self-confidence and pride in their work.  This will further motivate them to work and also to find something to live for.  In addition, they will receive a sufficient salary in compensation for performing worthwhile work.

 

Everybody Wants to Do Worthwhile Work

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Other places have also started to use the concept of management in common workrooms so as to pay sufficient salaries to people with disabilities.  The Harakara Welfare Association in Miyagi Prefecture is a large organization that has seven common workrooms for people with disabilities.  They have been engaged in making tofu (bean curd) since 1997, and pay an average salary of $450 to each of about 100 disabled people who work in their common workrooms.

 

Their flagship product is real tofu.  For soybeans that are the basic ingredient of tofu, they use only homegrown soybeans.  They also use real bittern as the coagulating agent although many tofu makers employ calcium sulfate because using bittern for coagulating tofu requires a lot of work.  With the tofu products only, sales exceed $0.64 million a year.  They are now working on selling products using okara (bean curd refuse) such as okara bread and okara donuts as well as deli food.

 

People engaged in social welfare often say that welfare is different from moneymaking.  However, assurance of income is the only way to secure a living for the disabled.  Indeed, compared to the work done by people without disabilities, the work done by people with disabilities can be under-productive.  Nevertheless, it does not mean that they are incompetent.  The more serious their disabilities are, the more money they need.  And the more worthwhile work they need.  Worthwhile work is lucrative work.

 

In the words of Ogura, lucrative work is work for which customers are willing to pay.  Everybody wants to do worthwhile work.  Everybody wants to receive recognition from those whom he or she loves and stand on his or her own feet.  Even people with disabilities who appear to always depend on other people have the same feelings deep in their heart.

 

Innovating the Socialistic Welfare System

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Under a socialistic welfare system that uses tax money to support people with disabilities, it is impossible for people with disabilities to take pride in themselves or find a purpose in life because they often feel as if they were a drag on society.  Moreover, because of bureaucratic control, the tax money is apt to be used inefficiently.  Ogurafs ideal is that people with disabilities provide worthwhile products or services in a market-oriented economy, and thus contribute to society as well as receive an income that is sufficient enough for them to live independently.  This also satisfies the human nature of people with disabilities who wish to perform worthwhile work and receive recognition from others.

 

Masao Ogura once fought against a socialistic system under bureaucratic control of the former Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications to produce a new service industry called Takkyubin, and thus significantly enhanced the convenience of peoplesf lives.  Now, Ogura is again making a challenge to innovate a socialistic system in the field of welfare.  


This article is adapted from the mail magazine gJapan on the Globeh #329 (February 1, 2004)

Masaomi Ise is editor-in-chief of the magazine.

URL: http://come.to/jog