Building Bridges

Hey all,

If my first week in Japan was “arrival” and my second week was “settling in,” my third week was “advanced preparations” and “preliminary networking” for my research.

1) My father left Japan this past Tuesday, shortly after my interim caregiver arrived from the United States. That caregiver will stay with me until the end of the month, at which point he’ll return to the U.S. and I’ll have to hire someone in Japan to take over. Unfortunately, the process of acquiring disability insurance and caregiving services in Japan is long, complicated, and expensive (at least three months, lots of paperwork, and hundreds of dollars) so I’ll just have to grin and bear it until everything pans out.

2) Speaking of the long (and irritating) process of acquiring disability insurance, I’ve scheduled a physical at my local hospital that will serve as the basis for my application. That appointment will take place early tomorrow morning. Wish me luck!

3) Despite a major typhoon on Tuesday, I managed to have lunch with several friends and colleagues this week. While I enjoyed catching up with a senior graduate student from Penn and a doctor who treated me for lung disease some time ago,  I was particularly appreciative of my time with Josh Grisdale, the founder of “Accessible-Japan.com.” Josh and I rolled around Tsukiji in our wheelchairs, visiting a few temples and shrines before grabbing some sushi and chatting about all things (dis)ability. Josh is extremely knowledgeable about Japan’s current landscape of accessibility, and has agreed to put me in touch with some contacts who might assist me with my research!

4) Besides my interaction with Josh, I also reached out to a number of movers and shakers in Japan’s disability activism scene – past and present. I’ve set up appointments with some of the founders of Japan’s Independent Living Movement as well as representatives from key organizations like the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and DPI Japan. I’ll use those appointments to collect testimonies about Japan’s shifting standards of accessibility and the rise and fall of disability rights movements over the last one-hundred years.

5) Perhaps the most consequential development of this week occurred when I visited my host institution: the University of Tokyo. There, I attended a conference on stuttering hosted by disability studies scholars Satoshi Fukushima (my academic advisor) and Shin’ichiro Kumagaya. The conference featured Shinji Ito, a disability rights activist who shared his life story about coming to terms with his stutter. Mr. Ito divided his life into three phrases: 1) From birth until elementary school, when his stutter did not pose a problem due to a lack of social expectation, 2) From elementary school until college, when his stutter interfered with his interactions with his peers and created a problem, and 3) from college onward, when he reconsidered the nature of his stutter and saw the problem to lie both internal to himself (medical) and external in society. Importantly, Mr. Ito explained that he often refused to speak during the second phase of his life because he believed that a lack of speech was preferable to ‘abnormal’ or ‘problematic’ speech. Mr. Ito hated his disability and blamed it for many of his problems. It was only after attending a thirty day retreat in which he was encouraged to speak alongside other stuttering individuals that he reevaluated the cost of not speaking and embraced his stutter. That profound experience led him to form a self-help group for stuttering individuals, which  has helped upwards of 7,000 people since its foundation in the 1960s. The trajectory of that group – the kinds of events it held, the way it recruited new members, etc. – is extremely fascinating and will surely inform my dissertation research.

Looking forward to this week, I have a number of events lined up: hospital appointments, meetings with potential PhD students, a reception for Fulbright, and many more! I can’t wait to see where things go from here…

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