Last year, Mariko Mitsueda resolved to leave her job of eight years working in a welfare-related department for Tokyo Prefecture in order to create a welfare workplace with a "never-before-seen style." Las April in Tokyo, she opened the first flower shop in the country to specifically employ people with disabilities.
The staff is comprised of individuals with intellectual/emotional impediments or adult developmental disabilities. While working there, staff members also learn flower arrangement techniques and how to take flower orders from businesses and private customers. The profits made turn into wages for the employees.
According to Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the number of disabled people working add up to about 160,000 in the entire country. Current issues include raising wages and improving working conditions.
Mitsueda worked at the Tokyo Government Office for three years overseeing plans to arrange wage raises for disabled individuals commuting to welfare institutions. In order to speak directly to the workers and see conditions for herself, she visited hundreds of such institutions. In the process, she often came across the low-wage issue.
The average wage at institutions meant to support the continuation of work for disabled individuals throughout the country is about 14,190 yen (about 115 USD) a month per person, 176 yen (about 1.50 USD) per hour. Is this wage really enough for disabled individuals to be independent on?
Mitsueda dreamed of a system where disabled individuals could make enough to become taxpayers, so she drafted a crowd-funding project on the website A-port.
She collected five million yen (about 40,500 USD) for the acquisition and maintenance of vehicles to be used for the transport of finished bouquets and flowers. With three days left, she needed to raise 300,000 yen (about 2,500 USD) in order for the project to be a success. The cars were hers.
Why not use subsidiary aid?
"When I worked for the Tokyo Government Office, all I did was stamp things. Submit a form, and get subsidiary aid and physical support. Is that enough?" Mitsueda says.
She chose to get funds under her own power rather than by submitting forms to the prefecture:
"On the side of the institutions also, there is a need for independence in management."
As Mitsueda continues her work, she does it with an eye toward the struggles of other young reformers.
This piece originally ran on HuffPost Japan and has been translated from the original Japanese.