Currently, Japan is facing many social issues such as declining birth rate and aging population, increasing regional disparity, labor shortage, increasing vacant houses, shortage of inbound tourist accommodations and so on.
In order to deal with these issues, governmental bodies like Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT), Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) and Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) have adopted various policies and measures.
TEKUTO has been striving to tackle these social issues through architecture. The projects utilizing “kominka” (traditional folk houses) such as Denpaku and Ethiopia Millennium Pavilion, organizing a study group on eldercare facilities, conducting a study on resort facilities are some examples of such efforts.
Moreover, TEKUTO’s founder and principal architect Yasuhiro Yamashita has been a visiting professor at Kyushu University for five years, teaching a course of town planning for the elderly, people with disabilities and tourists that invigorates the local economy.
These commitments eventually culminated in the creation of Denpaku + Magun that opened in July 2018.
The source of inspiration that instigated this pursuit was Yamashita’s encounter with a certain town in Germany.
A Striking Encounter with an “Ordinary” Town
It all started when Yamashita visited Bethel, located in western Germany in 2009. Bethel has a population of about 20,000 and around 40 percent of the residents have epilepsy or other disabilities. It is a place where anyone, healthy or ill, disabled or not, can equally lead a “normal” life with dignity.
When Yamashita met Pastor Ulrich Paul, chairman of the v. Bodelschwingh Foundation Bethel, he was asked, “Mr. Yamashita, do you think you are a ‘perfect’ human being? What is the difference between you and a person with disabilities? You might find your ideal town in Bethel. Please come and visit us.”
Six months later, Yamashita went to Bethel and visited various facilities during his two-day stay. He was extremely impressed to see many people with disabilities and elderly at work eveywhere in the community, not being treated differently.
Yamashita did find his ideal town in Bethel.
Study Group and University Workshops
In 2014, TEKUTO formed a Study Group on elder care facilities. We invited Ms. Yukiko Inoue, professor at Graduate School of Social Service Management Japan College of Social Work as a lecturer and learned about elder care facilities inside and outside of Japan, their current state, their differences, and diligently visited facilities of significance.
After visiting about twenty-two facilities in three years, the most inspiring facilities were B’s and Share Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture, run by a social welfare corporation, Bussien, and Shobu Gakuen in Kagoshima Prefecture.
B’s aims to create a continuing care retirement community for the neighboring area in walking distance. Its welfare / medical department offers an adult day-care, disabled-care, nursery school and a medical clinic along with community features such as spa, restaurant, fitness club, heated swimming pool and flowershop. It is a place that welcomes all sorts of people to come together and interact. The job opportunities offered for people with disabilities throughout the facilities is another important feature.
Shobu Gakuen is a care facility for persons with developmental, mental and physical disabilities. Various facilities are laid out inside the spacious campus; Living Support Center that offers consultation services, short stay and day care suppport; Work Support Center for employment and vocational training services; home-visit care center; group homes. What makes Shobu Gakuen unique is the integration of art into its activities. Persons with disabilies live in the campus and work at on-site facilities such as the woodwork studio, ceramics workshop, textile workshop, restaurant and soba noodle shop. The artworks created by the residents of Shobu Gakuen are internationally renowned, some of which are even housed in museums.
Building upon the knowledge and inspiration acquired through these visits, Yamashita continued his research by teaching community planning courses for graduate students at Kyushu University.
Designing Elder Care Facilities
In 2016, Yamashita met Satoko Nakamukae, a caregiver and founder of elder care organization Iroha, who runs several senior homes and adult daycare services. Her organization provides person-centered care, as opposed to facility-centered services widely seen in previous elder care facilities in Japan. For example, even if there is a resident who would wander off more than 30 times a day, a staff member will simply accompany that person every time, instead of locking him/her in.
Yamashita found many shared values with her, and designed a shokibotakino* facility named A House in Hirayama in her home town in Kagoshima.
*shokibotakino 小規模多機能 is a type of Japanese elder care facility which is small-scaled and provides multiple services, namely, adult day care, home-visit care and short-term stay.