Time and time again, I find that some of the best sights and experiences are the ones I stumble upon. You can't plan for absolutely everything.
On a wander around the Sanjo area of Kyoto, I stopped by a Heart Plaza shop. I'd been stopped in my tracks by the postcards outside. Having picked up a few, I stepped inside to pay and see if there was anything else I wanted.
Almost as soon as I started browsing, one of the shop assistants came over. She explained, in perfect English:
"Everything on sale in this shop was made by disabled people."
I had to sheepishly explain I'd already read the sign. (And then ask if I could take a pic of it.)
Heart Plaza shops are part of a local Kyoto non-profit initiative called Hot Heart. It's a work programme for those with handicaps that prevent them from doing otherwise 'normal' jobs.
There's a small amount of English info on this page of their website.
The quality and beauty of all the items was amazing. Able-bodied me is rubbish at handicrafts. I'm fairly sure I couldn't make anything to such a high standard.
One of the other assistants was presumably officially 'disabled', but I know that's not always visible. I wouldn't have realised, if not for his coworkers having to repeat things a little louder. He was friendly and helpful, offering me a basket for my now armful of purchases.
Given Hot Heart's non-profit status, I guess they can't justify charging too much. Even so, the bargainous pricing in Heart Plaza made it all feel like a steal. And as everything's made by hand with limited materials, each finished item is one of a kind.
I found beautiful coasters made with gold and silver thread, tissue cases in recycled kimono fabric, and some seriously cute hankies. If I had any space here for more cups and bowls, I'd have taken a look at the 'ceramics' area of the shop too.