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Ryukyu Mura provides day of fun for Handicapped kids and families

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-05-09

A total of 23 handicapped children, along with their parents all visited Okinawa's Ryukyu Mura for a free day on the park's premises. The children were all from the Okinawa Children's Handicapped Development Center of Okinawa City, and the day was sponsored by Ryukyu Mura. It was the second time for most of the children to visit the park. Ryukyu Mura first invited the kids to their theme park last year, and because of its success decided to sponsor the event again. The children were all kindergarten and elementary school students, and most of them need a wheel chair for their everyday lives. The day provided them with a fun filled outing with their families, and gave them a chance to get away from their usual routines at the Children's Handicapped Development Center.

The children arrived on a special bus at 11 am, where two giant kijimuna mascots from Ryukyu Mura awaited with other staff to greet them. (The kijimuna is a mischievous Okinawan folklore character that resembles an elf.) Immediately, smiles came across the faces of all the children, and set the tone for the rest of the day.

Ryukyu Mura's President, Toshio Uechi, explained that his company had always brought in groups a few times during the year free of charge, but the community service was mostly provided for the elderly. "The elderly from nursing homes would always have a great time. I thought that we should not only have the elderly come to enjoy themselves, but also give some of the enjoyment to handicapped kids." It was last year that Uechi decided to bring in the first group of handicapped kids free of charge, and have Ryukyu Mura completely sponsor the event. "I think this is something we have to do every year," Uechi added.

The children first saw a live Okinawan song and dance performance at the stage area of Ryukyu Mura. The highlight was the shi shi lion dance, where the shi shi went into the audience, creating many surprised and amazed looks among the onlooking children. The very last performance was the Kachashee dance, where the entertainers joined with the audience. Although the children watched from their wheel chairs, it was clear that they were dancing with everyone else. The kids also received a bag of toys and snacks at the end of the show, courtesy of Ryukyu Mura.

Lunch was then provided inside one of the Okinawan houses that are on display and used for various purposes all around the village park. Soba and a rice dish were prepared for all the kids, parents, and staff. The kids enjoyed every bite, and were really happy when ice cream was brought out for dessert. After lunch, the group proceeded to see the rest of the park, and then departed for the Center at around 3 pm.

Most places in Japan are not equipped to deal with wheel chairs, which is a problem for handicapped people who want to leave their homes for entertainment or a day of fun. Stairs, small entrances and toilets prevent handicapped people from enjoying many restaurants, amusement parks, and other places. Sanae Tamanaha, who is a teacher for the Children's Handicapped Development Center, commented that "It's getting better. The situation on Okinawa is also much better than in other places in Japan, but we need more places that take into consideration the needs of handicapped people." Finding places that have proper facilities for handicapped people can be difficult because of lack of information, and there is still the problem of getting there. "We can go to places on Okinawa, but to go further away like Disney Land is a problem. Many hotels are not prepared for handicapped people, so staying overnight somewhere is not easy," further explained Tamanaha.

Many of the parents expressed their thanks to Ryukyu Mura at giving their family the opportunity to enjoy something together. The mother and father of a three year old boy named Shoya, who can not hear, explained that they must be with their child all the time because of safety reasons. Ryukyu Mura gave them the opportunity to be together and bring some smiles to their faces. Everyone agreed that it would be nice if more places also recognized that there are many handicapped children and adults that would like to go out more, and that some consideration and a little planning by others can make it possible.

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