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The Derailleur Brew Works

Akinori Yamazaki
Akinori Yamazaki Image credit: theguardian.com

Akinori Yamazaki (pictured above) is one man who could probably arrange a piss up in a brewery after launching a beer making factory in Osaka, Japan.

What makes the Derailleur Brew Works so special is the workers, a large percentage of employees are living with mental health conditions or disabilities.

Thanks to a nursing-care provider called Cyclo, based in Nishinari, Osaka, people who thought they would never be able to work are being given the opportunity to show their abilities.

It’s fair to say Nishinari isn’t flying the flag when it comes to the best places to live. A growing number of locals are addicted to drugs and alcohol leading to mental illness and there are a significant number of disabled residents.

Yamazaki told The Guardian: “We saw an increase in the number of disabled people among our nursing-care clients a few years ago.

“A lot of them couldn’t find work, even though they had the ability to work. We thought they could put the skills they learned as younger men to good use.”

The brewery initiative can be traced back to a small café run by Cyclo which invited elderly day labourers to start their day with a pint instead of the bog-standard cup of coffee.

“A lot of people came to the cafe and asked us to help them find regular, meaningful work,” Yamazaki explained.

“Some of them used to make their own beer – although they didn’t necessarily do it legally – and suggested opening a brewery here.”

Derailleur brewed its first pale ale, Nishinari Riot, in 2018 after receiving a bank loan from a supporting brewer.

The beer’s name was a reference to the clash between western backpackers staying in town and the fights between police, gangsters and day labourers in the early 1990s.

Around 70 people, currently work at Derailleur carrying out jobs such as brewing, labelling, sales and delivery.

They also serve food and drink at the brewery’s three pubs, two of which can be found in Osaka and the third in the city of Nagoya.

One of those employees is 47-year-old Mr Yamagami – known as Yama-chan – who applied for a job after he contracted vision loss.

The former fishmonger said: “It’s fun to be able to work alongside my friends.

“Handling the bottles by touch alone is the sort of work I can do without any problem. I need help getting around, but apart from that I can do my job freely. I really enjoy it.”

The brewery has been a lifeline for locals with a troubled past.

“The biggest single group are drug addicts who overdosed and now have to deal with physical and mental conditions caused by their addiction,” Yamazaki explained.

“Before they worked here they spent all of their time at home, doing nothing.

“Some are unable to concentrate for long so work for, say, 30 minutes a day. I don’t think they’d be able to find work anywhere else.”

Another employee, Mr Nishizawa – known as Sho-chan – was given a second chance at Derailleur after his drinking problem spiralled out of control resulting in the 55-year-old losing his previous job.

He said: “When I first arrived in Nishinari there were men sleeping in the streets, and there are still people here who drink from the morning, deal in stimulant drugs and gamble illegally. But this is a place that accepts outsiders, and it’s cheap so you can survive even if you’re on benefits.

“My previous life was tough but it’s much brighter now and I’ve started to look forward to every new day. I’m able to live alone and I no longer owe money to loan sharks. The most surprising thing is that I don’t drink much these days. I don’t want to go to work with a hangover.”

The brewery’s beer is sold is sold in local bars, restaurants and supermarkets as well as those situated in Tokyo and Kyoto.

“Nishinari is undergoing a kind of gentrification, but the day labourers aren’t being forced out,” Yamazaki said. “They’re being encouraged to stay and work for new companies opening up in the area. There’s no other place like it in Japan.”

Derailleur’s ales won seven titles at the Japan Great Beer Awards in 2019.