by Cameron Newell

My visit to L’Arche Japan’s Kana No Ie community was one of profound joy and celebration. I had worked as a live-out assistant in the L’Arche Edinburgh community for a year during lockdown, and this was my first time meeting another L’Arche community. I never thought that when I finally did meet another community it would be in Japan! 

The Kana No Ie community is based on the outskirts of Shizuoka, nestled in the foothills of the mountains near Mount Fuji with stunning views all around. All four houses are situated within walking distance of each other, and most of the core members (people with learning disabilities) meet together at the community hub every day to take part in various workshops. Each day core members are involved in soap making, paper making, farm work and gardening, just to name some of the activities on offer. Everybody gathers for lunch together before separating again for an afternoon session of work and creativity. 

The community living at Kano No Ie felt brimming with life and there was a real sense of flow amongst the hustle and bustle of their everyday living together. It was really inspiring to see how much presence, as well as pride both assistants and core members took to their daily work, something that I noticed in Japanese culture as a whole while I was there.

I stayed at Kana No Ie for four days and was hosted at Ibuki house by four core members named Masaichi, Tdoda, Hitoshi, Aono
This was a house for people who lived more independently. Assistants would come in to eat meals with them, but apart from that it was just me and the 4 old boys. It was really special to be hosted by the core members this way as they treated me with such grace and generosity. One of them knew about the Scottish association with whisky so enjoyed sharing a glass with me at dinner, then we would clean up together and sit for a while watching Japanese TV each evening. 

Despite them not knowing who this strange Scottish man was that had arrived at their house, and despite no means of speaking to each other as we didn’t share a common language, I felt total acceptance and welcome from my new housemates. It reminded me of starting as an assistant at the Edinburgh L’Arche Community and feeling the same sort of acceptance from core members at the Skein.

Spirituality was really valued in Kana No Ie's life, and we had morning and evening prayers together every day at the house. Also before each meal, we would go through a scripture reading, and then sing a Taize song together. It was wonderful to hear the same melodies we sing at L’Arche Edinburgh gatherings but in Japanese.

As I don’t speak Japanese I was very grateful to have my fiddle with me during these times, as it was through playing music for the community that I felt I could connect and offer something in return while I was there.  I was in Japan for a music tour, but my favourite and most unexpected gig was definitely getting to play a ceilidh (Scottish folk dances) for the Kana No Ie members. You can get a taste of this in this video that was taken…

One thing is for certain, the Kana No Ie community knows how to party! Many of the core members and assistants there are musical and love to dance. This ceilidh was L’Arche in its fullest; inclusive, chaotic, joyful, and with no holding back.

I have been saying this to all the assistants I have met since this experience, but if you get a chance PLEASE visit the Kana No Ie community, I can guarantee it will be one of the most joyous experiences you will have. Thank you again to Kana No Ie and their leader Gen for welcoming me with such open hearts!