Diversity and Inclusion: A Challenge from Tokyo, Japan
Kayo Kikugawa, TWHC Program Coordinator
Tokyo White Hands Chorus (TWHC) is a socially inclusive choral group based in Tokyo, Japan. Although we initially started with a singing group comprised of hearing-impaired and challenged children, we now also include a vocal group of visually impaired and challenged children.
In Japan, blind children have traditionally had little chance to get involved in collective cultural activities like chorus. Indeed, sighted children are hardly ever in touch with peers with special needs in their daily lives. In the interest of building a truly inclusive society, TWHC has created a singing group in which everyone who loves singing is welcome, regardless of disability; we actively invite sighted children to enjoy music together with people from different backgrounds. This way, brothers and sisters without disabilities can also join in, giving parents an opportunity to feel relaxed with all their children in our class. To learn their notes, blind students use braille, enlarged lyric sheets, and digitalized sound sources—but they mainly rely on their ears to learn the music.
TWHC uses various repertoires, including classical music, pop, and traditional folk songs; the students sing in Japanese and other languages. Before the pandemic, we held various concert events, including a big performance with other choral groups and orchestras.
Our young singers have been practicing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in German, which would have been performed at the World Children’s Music Festival 2020 in early April. When that event was postponed due to COVID-19, we were concerned about sustaining their motivation for months through online classes—an especially difficult medium for choral learning.
In the absence of concert events, producing a video to be part of the Global Ode to Joy Project, an international video project celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday, has been an excellent motivation for our children. As the Global Ode to Joy project puts it, “The world is different, but we can still share joy.” These are words that stay in our minds. All TWHC students, sighted or blind, have unique characteristics and different views on the world. But they all love music and singing. And they are really proud of singing Beethoven’s masterpiece, because they think of it as “cool” music!
Our teachers passionately pursue the best teaching practices for all children, rather than simply satisfying those with special needs. We are discovering that routine teaching methods are not always suitable for all children; we need to consistently review our teaching style, widening our perspective on society in order to help transform it.
TWHC has expanded the horizon of music education with the aim of creating an inclusive society. By continuing to center the children who cannot easily use musical scores, we reaffirm our vision for diversity to serve those who receive fewer chances to participate in group-based cultural activities like choral singing.