Everyday Heroes: Yusuke Kawarai’s Mission to Make Helping Others a Normal Part of Life

Everyday Heroes: Yusuke Kawarai’s Mission to Make Helping Others a Normal Part of Life
Gourmet Partners Co., Ltd. / Sharing Bank Co., Ltd.
Representative director
Mr. Yusuke Kawarai

In 2021, Colorful Kid Models launched a crowdfunding campaign to create a society where children with intellectual disabilities can shine in the advertising world. We received support from 94 people, including Yusuke Kawarai, who is featured in today’s interview.

Mr. Yusuke Kawarai, a long-time friend of our CEO Miki Uchiki, has provided tremendous support over the years. He offers advice, encouragement and help in many different ways. He has contributed financially, participated as a photographer in our photo contests, and lent cameras from his company for free.

“If someone needs help, I want to help them, especially if it’s a friend who’s trying hard. I’m just doing what’s normal for me. There might be more people like that than you think.”

If more people were like him, it might become normal for our colorful model kids to shine as “unique models” without the label “with intellectual disabilities.” With this hope, we interviewed Mr. Kawarai.


Yusuke Kawarai
Gourmet Partners Inc.

Mr. Yusuke Kawarai faced challenges attracting customers while managing restaurants. In 2011, he founded a specialized advertising agency focused on food with the goal of becoming someone who could attract customers effectively. The company aims to ensure everyone in the food industry is satisfied, addressing various challenges to boost customer traffic and sales.


Additionally, Mr. Kawarai launched TORUNO, a monthly subscription service for old lenses, through which he shares his passion for the distinctive qualities and elegant designs of vintage lenses. TORUNO offers a diverse selection, catering from beginner-friendly lenses to highly sought-after rare models.


──You lent lenses for our photo contest featuring colorful models and also participated as a photographer. How did you decide to support us?

Hanaichan (our CEO Uchiki’s old surname) has been a friend of mine for many years, and I’ve been following and supporting the colorful models’ activities through Facebook. Whenever I can lend a hand, I’m always eager to help out. So when I learned about the contest, I offered to bring cameras and also participated as a photographer to contribute to the event.

I’ve always had a passion for photography, but at work, I mainly focus on capturing images of food. In my personal life, I occasionally take photos of my family, but my primary interest lies in capturing landscapes. Since I use a manual camera, I admit I struggle with photographing moving subjects, so taking portraits isn’t exactly my forte (laughs).

──The photo you took in this contest in 2022 won the Osamu Fukushima Prize. It’s a wonderful photo where the natural expression of the model shines in gentle light.

Thank you. Staying true to the contest’s theme of “as it is,” I aimed to express the pure atmosphere they naturally have, recognizing their disabilities but photographing them with an open mind.

──As a father of two, what was your experience like interacting with children with disabilities?

I had heard about their various sensitivities to sound and unique personalities, so I kept that in mind, but I didn’t feel much difference compared to non-disabled children. Some kids are happy to chat, while others may be shy. I’m also not great at talking to people I just met, so it’s the same for me (laughs).

──What are your thoughts on supporting the activities of colorful models?

I don’t really feel like I’m “supporting” them. If a friend is doing something meaningful, I think it’s natural to help if I can. I can’t do everything, but I want to help where I can.

I don’t worry much about others’ opinions of me. If I believe something is worthwhile, I do it; if not, I don’t. Even if someone disagrees with my views, I just think, “Oh, everyone has different opinions,” and leave it at that.

──We appreciate your natural involvement without hesitation. You’re also actively engaged in your local store association’s activities. These are community groups found throughout Japan neighborhoods. Composed of shop, business owners and people who reside in a specific area, these associations work together to revitalize their local communities.

Yes, exactly. I serve as a director for the local store association in Asaka City, Saitama Prefecture, where I reside. I’m increasingly involved in initiatives I believe are beneficial, such as station-front clean-ups, crime prevention patrols, and planting flowers. Initially, some people felt hesitant, saying they were embarrassed or unsure about participating. However, now everyone, including busy CEOs and mothers with children, is actively joining in.

──It seems common in volunteer activities that many people want to participate but find it hard to take the first step.

There are numerous individuals who simply lack the opportunity to engage. Many wish to contribute to society or support those in need. Given a conducive environment, I sense more and more people are willing to participate, even if they don’t initiate it themselves.

I believe actively seeking volunteers for “colorful model” activities is beneficial. Clearly stating what’s needed can encourage many to step forward and get involved.

──How do you recruit volunteers for the local store association?

We’ve set up an official LINE account for the local store association, where the general public can register. Those interested in receiving information will join, so our task is simply to keep them informed. For instance, when we announced a clean-up operation, parents and children eager to participate registered and made it a lively event. Similarly, we used LINE to promote a mochi contest at the station, which garnered enthusiastic participation.

When supporting children with intellectual disabilities, it’s effective to clearly explain the purpose and significance of your efforts. Simply mention, in a casual manner, that you’re seeking individuals who can contribute in specific ways. This approach tends to attract many willing helpers!

──When seeking volunteers, it’s often tempting to be overly formal. However, having a clear purpose and goal while adopting a “let’s do this together” approach might work better.

I believe that’s true. Set the goal and direction, outline the activities, and specify the support needed. Then, simply ask for help openly.

You don’t need everyone to want to join, just those who align with the purpose and are willing to lend a hand. Clearly stating what kind of support is needed is a key.

──What about gaining corporate support?

Business owners are just people too, so it’s basically the same. You won’t get everyone’s support, but many want to contribute to society.

I supported the colorful models’ activities without hesitation because a friend started it. Besides friendships, creating connections in the community or common goals like “for the children” can encourage many companies to cooperate.

How money is spent matters a lot. If I had 100,000 yen to spend, I wouldn’t feel fulfilled using it just for myself. Using it to help others within my means feels like a meaningful use of money. Many people share this perspective.

──Thank you for your valuable advice! Finally, can you please share a message for the parents of colorful models.

Since I’m not with you every day, I can’t fully grasp the challenges you face. However, I imagine it’s difficult to keep going day after day without seeing an end, experiencing both highs and lows repeatedly.

If there’s anything we can do to assist or if altering the environment can bring some relief, I’m committed to doing whatever I can without hesitation. Let’s persistently do what’s within our power.

=== A word from Miki Uchiki, CEO of Hanahiraku ===

When I worked as a sales representative, Mr. Kawarai was one of my clients. He was easy to talk to, and our friendship grew because we were similar in age. Even after we both left those jobs, we stayed connected through social media and discovered we were both involved with restaurants businesses.

That’s how our friendship has lasted for 17 years. He supported my Colorful Kid Models crowdfunding initiative wholeheartedly, always offering precise advice and words of encouragement.

During this interview, I not only felt Mr. Kawarai’s warmth but also received practical guidance. I’ll remember to keep moving forward consistently, doing what I can.

Interview and text by Kaori Kidoue

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