Inclusion in Tokyo’s Olympic Games Featured

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Yoshie Kris, Making Performance Accessible to All

Inclusion in Tokyo’s Olympic Games

Yoshie Kris is a director of Slow Label, an innovative company based in Japan that creates art and creative opportunities to help diversify the community. She is also one of seven creative directors in charge of organizing the opening and closing ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Kris is responsible for facilitating engagement between the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and for ensuring that the opening and closing ceremonies for both events are accessible to all attendees. She has taken inspiration for these tasks from personal experience. She was diagnosed with malignant fibrous histiocytoma (a type of malignant tumor) in 2010, which has cost her the use of her right leg; she has to walk with a crutch. Her passion for the inclusion of all people in society has led her to travel the world to learn about diversity everywhere. Her education and experience brings an innovative and unique perspective to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and the ceremonies that will reflect Japanese culture on a worldwide stage. Kris was interviewed by Tokyo Journal’s Editor-in-Chief Anthony Al-Jamie. Kris now waits with the rest of the world for the Olympics to commence.

TJ: Can you tell me about your company Slow Label? What does it do?
My company, Slow Label, is a non-profit organization. We place an emphasis on the word “slow” because we live in a fast-paced society but are losing diversity among people. This fast-paced society cares more about typical people, as they are easier and faster to deal with. But we think that diversity is more interesting. If we make our society slower, then diverse people can work together and live together. We use the arts, working with many different types of artists, companies, governments, and many types of people, particularly minorities, to accomplish the goals of Slow Label. We basically work with people with disabilities – including myself. I have a handicap in my right knee. Japanese society is figuring out how to be more inclusive for these groups. Many companies and government organizations are thinking about how to involve people with impairment in mainstream culture and society, etc.

TJ: How has Japan accommodated people with disabilities until now?
Japan is a modern country, a modern society, so I cannot say never, but I don’t feel discrimination. Clearly, discrimination covers people with disabilities, but in my mind, people believe discrimination against those with disabilities is not the same as discrimination against those who are able-bodied. Oftentimes, people do not have experience working together or playing together in a respectful manner with people with disabilities. They do not get the opportunity. So, people do not know how to interact properly with people with disabilities. Actually, before I became disabled in 2010, I was the same.

TJ: Can you tell us about your role in the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics?
I was involved in the Tokyo 2020 flag handover ceremonies during the closing ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympics. The Tokyo Organizing Committee selected four creative directors for both ceremonies, but these four creative directors had no experience in working with people with disabilities. They had no idea how to choreograph them, how to choose the performers, or how to carry or bring them to the stage. They didn’t know about accessibility issues or logistical issues for performers with disabilities, so that’s why they contacted me and brought me in to be the stage advisor. I know how to support these kinds of issues because I have worked with people with disabilities to make performances in the past. I have a lot of experience and knowledge on how to choose performers, prepare for logistical issues, or choreograph and create great performances while keeping each individual’s disabilities in mind and ensuring their happiness and health. My group provides this knowledge to the directors. That is my role and the role of my team. I brought four access coordinators and four accompanists to work with the disabled performers.

TJ: What is the theme of the ceremonies?
I think inclusion is one of the key words for the Tokyo Olympics and the Paralympics as a ceremony member. There are seven creative directors taking care of four ceremonies like the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics and the opening and closing ceremonies for the Paralympics. This is quite a new challenge compared to the past Olympic Ceremonies. Usually, only one director takes care of an individual ceremony. That is the normal, usual style. But this time, we have multiple directors for each ceremony because we want to have inclusion of every possible group for each ceremony. We are doing this because many people ask, “Why do you divide the Olympic and the Paralympic ceremonies?” If you say you want inclusion, you should organize both of the ceremonies together, and that’s what we are doing.

TJ: Is there a word for this theme of inclusion in Japanese?

TJ: Symbiosis?
As a translation for kyosei, we, Tokyo 2020, and the national Government do not mainly use “symbiosis.” Usually, we use the term “inclusive” for the translation of kyosei.

TJ: Is there anything else that the government is doing that you know of to support this inclusion movement?
The national government, private companies, and local government have used inclusion lately as a political strategy or branding. Everybody is using it, but I do not know if they know what inclusion really is. This is my challenge: to inform everyone what inclusion really is.

TJ: Do you think the Olympics will have a big impact on Japan?
If we can return to the spirit of the Olympics and embody its essence, it will be a tournament that will be remembered not only in Japan, but also around the world.


The complete article can be found in Issue #280 of the Tokyo Journal.

Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor and Executive Editor. He currently serves the Tokyo Journal as Editor-in-Chief.

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