Breaking down physical and mental barriers – Super Welfare Expo 2020

The Super Welfare Expo 2020 was held partially online, partially in Hikari-e, Shibuya, Between 2 – 8 September, 2020. The expo mixed in person exhibitions and various events online. Aiming to break down physical and social barriers for people with disabilities and other minorities, the expo featured a diverse mix of people sharing their experience and knowledge and innovative products with the latest technology.

BY Karolina Höglind

super welfare

What is the “Super Welfare Expo”

The Super Welfare Expo is an expo all about creating a better society – for all. With the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in mind, this annual expo ran from 2014 to 2020. The expo, based in Tokyo’s fashion hub Shibuya, wants to raise awareness about the difficulties people with disabilities face in life. Furthermore, by showcasing innovative solutions and fashionable designs, they aim to inspire people to get involved with the process of creating a more inclusive society. Prior to this year, the event attracted more than 270,000 visitors. Major international companies including Microsoft, Apple,  and Toyota have participated in the expo.

The expression “Super Welfare” strives to take a step away from the word “welfare”. Many people have a strong image that they associate with the word, and in Japan that image tends to be somewhat negative. While the super welfare expo does touch upon topics related to things generally associated with welfare, it is also far more than that. Innovation, technology, and design are a central part of the event that tackles most social issues concerning minorities in Japanese society.


While some focus on improving technology and design, others focus on finding new ways to create a more inclusive society. From this year’s exhibit, the SOUND HUG offers a new way to experience music. Embrace the SOUND HUG and feel the music through vibrations and see it visually through light.

Most of the products displayed at the event involve some mix of functionality, cutting-edge technology and intriguing designs, like the above SOUND HUG (Watch the English Amazon series featuring the product here). Just because an item works as a helpful tool in one’s daily life doesn’t mean it can’t be something one can enjoy as well. This is where design plays a big role and one reason why the expo is in the fashion-forward Shibuya.

Alongwith inclusiveness, the expo also puts a lot of focus on diversity. A big part of the event is related to the many social barriers and challenges minorities, including LGBT people and foreigners, in Japan face. Although most panel discussions are mainly in Japanese, the expo’s website and exhibit in Shibuya includes a lot of English information.

The Super Welfare Expo is not only for people with disabilities or minorities in Japan. Anyone can benefit from participating in the expo. Through hands-on experiences, exhibitions, and panels, you can learn more about the challenges some people face in their daily life. Let the innovative solutions and fashionable designs show you the exciting possibilities of the future. Find motivation and inspiration to get involved in a fascinating new kind of welfareーSuper Welfare.

super welfare hikarie

The Super Welfare Expo 2020 sign outside of Hikari-e in Shibuya.

Super Welfare Expo 2020 ー “Your turn, Super Welfare Player”

This year the Super Welfare Expo was held between 2-8 September, with the theme Your Turn, Super Welfare Player. The expo was divided into three categories, exhibits, events and symposiums. Each category covered a wide range of topics concerning people with disabilities and other minorities in the Japanese society.

For its final year, the event faced a new challenge—bringing the event online. To make sure people could participate in the event without having to make their way to Shibuya, all talk sessions were streamed online. People also had the opportunity to explore exhibitions and join workshops through various online platforms.

A small part of the exhibit was still on display in Shibuya’s Hikari-e department store. Areas which last year made up part of the exhibition space were this year made into live-stream studios. Each of the four studios from this year’s event has their own official YouTube channel where all content streamed throughout the event will continue to be available after the event for the foreseeable future.

super welfare studio

Super Welfare Expo 2020 official YouTube channels (Japanese): Studio A, Studio B, Studio C, Studio D.

Most of the content is only available in Japanese, but you can get subtitles by using the YouTube auto generated translation function. Be aware that the translation might not always be 100% correct.

Super Welfare Expo 2020 online

A big part of the online content for this year’s expo was the symposiums. The many sessions covered a wide range of topics, with titles such as “The future workstyles for people with physical disabilities,” “Designing a community where disabilities don’t exist,” “The challenges of using technology using Ontenna and sport prosthetics in the society (Japanese),” and “Bringing more ‘blind soccer’ into the society (Japanese)” . Like other years, topics related to diversity and other problems in the society were popular. For example: technology and design in elder care, the future for working moms, LGBT, and even SDG related topics made up for a big part of this year’s talks.

Studio A

People who attended the expo in Shibuya could watch the talk event at Studio A live.

One, maybe not so surprising, difference in the line-up compared to previous years was the theme COVID-19. How has the pandemic affected minorities, and what a post-corona future might look like, were some questions brought up for discussion. This time of difficulties has brought big changes upon society, which might lead to people overlooking the needs of the smaller voices. However, it can also be an amazing opportunity to change things for the better and create a more inclusive society. That is why creating platforms like this is even more important, to give people a place to share their thoughts and ideas based on first-hand experiences.

online blindsoccer

The events streamed online featured real-time subtitles in Japanese so people with for example hearing difficulties could easily follow the conversations.

Holding the event online comes both with new possibilities and limitations. One important part of the expo is to give people the chance to experience both what living with disabilities can be like and the possible super welfare solutions. This year’s event did not offer as many hands-on experiences as previous years. One event presented an inclusive AR game which lets you play by only using your face. This game makes it easier for people with mobility difficulties to join in on the fun—and it is perfect for playing online. 

For anyone interested in meccha design, one of the highlights was the online-only exhibition More Than Human. The art project creates prosthetics and limb support pieces that look like they came straight out of a sci-fi. Using a 3D printer, they aim to turn prosthetics into beautiful creations people will want to show off, rather than hide away. See the stunning photos from the project on its exhibition page on the Super Welfare Expo website.

Type PegasusⅠ

‘Type-Pegasus Ⅰ’ (2014)―a 3D printed mechanical prosthetic mockup from a collaboration between More Than Human and Ken Endo with 3D printing support from Stratasys.

Super Welfare Expo 2020 in Shibuya

While the events and symposiums part of the expo focused more on discussing issues and possible solutions, the exhibition part was all about turning innovative ideas into usable products. Each item exhibited in some way helps to create a barrier-free society.

super welfare main exhibit areas

With the previous year’s main exhibit areas turned into live studios, this year’s exhibit area was very limited with only a few of the main products on display.

From the latest technologies to eye-catching designs, the exhibit in Hikari-e showcased items which can help improve the everyday life of people. The first thing to greet you by the reception was a replica of the iconic Hachiko statue made out of soft matter. The robot provided more than just a cute welcome, it monitored the body temperature of by-passers and barked when someone had a risky high temperature.

super welfare hachiko

Robots don’t have to be hard and shiny. Soft matter robotics, using soft and flexible materials, can make robots more efficient and personable. In this case it is used to make Hachiko feel less intimidating and more welcoming—important for many facilities in these worrying times.

hachiko thermometer

In Japan, demand for body temperature screening tools has skyrocketed due to many facilities’ strict COVID-19 precaution methods.

One important part for the Super Welfare Expo is to learn from what people have achieved in other countries, as well as sharing Japanese innovation to the world. One foreign company participating in the exhibition was Denmark-based Oticon, a company creating hearing aids. Their impressive hearing aids separate important sounds from noisy background sounds. But that is not all. They have created a hearing aid you can integrable with IoT. This way your hearing aid can feed you live information about things happening in your home, even if you can’t hear it yourself. It can tell you when someone is at the door or when the water is boiling on the stove.

super welfare hearing aids

Behind the minimalistic design lies a world of technology that will make life easier for people experiencing hearing loss.

During the days leading up to the expo, people in Shibuya could see a mannequin seated in a sleek-looking wheelchair in the store window of popular clothing store Ships. The project started with the idea that one day one day it will be normal for wheelchairs or prosthetics with fashionable designs to be displayed besides the latest fashion trends in window displays.

super welfare shopwindow

The project puts emphasis on the lack of representation. It is a way to raise awareness about an issue that many probably never considered.

super welfare wheelchair

The wheelchair in the shopping window was also on display in Hikari-e where visitors could try using them.

The end of the era but a new beginning towards a barrier-free society

The Super Welfare Expo leaves behind a legacy of innovativity and creativity. It gave people a place to learn about problems, share their stories and technology, and get involved in creating solutions. With the world shifting to a more digitalized society, this year the Super Welfare Expo gave some insight on how we can tear down barriers in both the real and digital world.

There is still a long way to go, but the expo has paved the way for people to approach social issues in a new way. One can only hope that many more will follow and that there will be other, similar events to look forward to in the future.

Karolina Höglind
Swedish 7 years living in Tokyo

Sweden born and bred Tokyoite. She started her journey to Japan as many others, through watching Sailor Moon on TV from a young age. Now her interest stretches out to culture, food and social issues. While studying at a Japanese university, she worked as an editor for a Tokyo-based culture magazine and as a radio host. She now spends her time as an office worker by day and Tokyo explorer by night.

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