Origami vending machine in Nikko shines light on disabled artists

Kyodo News reprinted in The Japan Times

February 12th 2018

UTSUNOMIYA, TOCHIGI PREF. – A vending machine selling origami pieces created by residents with mental disabilities has been installed near the famed Toshogu Shrine in the popular tourist destination of Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture.

The unit, a former cigarette machine refurbished with colorful patterns, has proved to be a hit since it was introduced last October by an IT company hoping to set an example by employing people with disabilities in meaningful work.

“We hope it catches on as a Nikko tourist attraction in its own right,” Axis President Satoshi Waki, said. “From there, the idea could be picked up in other offices as a form of employment aid.”

Each box sold contains five pieces of origami — including a crane, a turnip and a ball — for ¥200. The pieces were quickly snapped up after the machine was installed, with customers buying more than 50 sets in the first few days, and around 700 over three months.

The pieces are made by three women at an employment assistance office in Nikko in collaboration with Axis Inc., the IT firm. The vending machine venture has been dubbed the Wings of the Crane Project.

The idea came up during casual conversation at the firm’s office in nearby Utsunomiya, with Waki deciding to pursue it.

Though the five paper objects in production are more or less fixed, organizers change it from time to time to surprise customers and generate a little variety for the three makers.

As a way to introduce the trio to customers, each origami set includes a QR code that links to online photos of the artists and information on the project that employs them.

Yuko Goma, who heads the employment assistance office where the women create the pieces, said she hopes the project will give customers a window into the lives of people with disabilities.

“This could be a chance to reach customers and help them feel more familiar with disabled people,” she said.

During a sightseeing trip in early February with a friend, Kanae Inose, a 21-year-old office worker from Saitama Prefecture, came upon the vending machine beside a road leading to the famous shrine.

Taking the small origami crane from the box after making her purchase, Inose said the delicate work “perfectly captures the spirit of Nikko.”

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