Our Papersky -style road trip took us from Fukuoka Prefecture through Saga, Nagasaki, Oita, Kumamoto, and Miyazaki prefectures to our final destination at Kanoya City, on the Osumi Peninsula of Kagoshima Prefecture. We had arrived at the old Sugahara Elementary School, formerly known as the grade school closest to the sea in Japan. Today, the renovated building houses Yukusa Osumi Umi-no-Gakko, a unique facility with shops covering a wide spectrum: lodging, cycling, café, and a kayaking shop. One of the tenants is the chocolate factory Kiitos, run by Aiko and Shinji Oyama. Shinji is the head of a welfare office for disabled people. How did he get the idea of operating a welfare business and making chocolate?
“I wanted to try something new, namely, to make something in a way no one else did. I also wanted to create a setting or system for supporting disabled people and aiding their independence. Chocolate production involves detailed manual tasks, where people with various impairments can use their skills and live up to their potential.”
Many disabled people are good at routine work that requires patience and concentration, like picking out the good beans and separating them into nibs and husks. The quality of their work translates directly into the quality of the chocolate, says Shinji.
“Quite a few people have a talent for package design, too. The curious, eye-catching patterns are an essential element of our originality. Right now, I’m confident that Kiitos is taking full advantage of each worker’s strengths and making high-quality chocolate. All of our staff members share a commitment to making authentic chocolate from bean to bar, and following through to the final stages of packaging and distribution with care and pride.”
Aiko’s and Shinji’s chocolate factory is a positive story that does good while also creating a high quality and stylish product. In the school house next to the sea each bar of Kiitos chocolate is handmade and encapsulates the kindness and love of the Oyamas. We took a bite and felt the rich, resonant, fresh, and fun aroma spread throughout our mouths.