Crossing the Sea

Hey all,

I’ve entered the third week of my research here in Japan. This week was filled with transpacific currents and exciting opportunities that I look forward to sharing with you.

1) On Monday, I attended an American Studies lecture series hosted by a group of  Japanese scholars who recently returned from a summer of research in the United States. The event was hosted at the International House of Japan in Roppongi, where, coincidentally, my high-school Japanese teacher Ms. Sharlie Conroy Ushioda was staying. Thankfully, Sharlie and I had the opportunity to meet and chat about her recent voyage across the pacific by boat. Our meeting was particularly meaningful, as this was our first time seeing each other in Japan since I first stepped foot into her class ten years ago. For those unaware, Sharlie was my first Japanese instructor and one of the primary reasons I decided to go into Japanese Studies in the first place. I owe her a great deal, and I was really happy that we finally had the chance to meet in Tokyo. After concluding my meeting with Sharlie, I returned home to have a goodbye dinner with my (now former) caregiver, Jihad, who returned to the United States yesterday afternoon.

2) On Tuesday, I had a very large meeting in the morning about my caregiving services from here on out. The meeting took place in my home and involved nine people representing three different caregiving companies and the city office. After demonstrating how I transfer to and from my bed, shower chair, toilet, and so forth with the assistance of a caregiver, the city hall official concluded that I’ll be entitled to roughly 5 hours of care a day (as compared to my 22 hours of care in the United States). The cutback in hours will certainly curtail many of my desired activities, but I’ll do what I have to do to get my research done!

After finishing my meeting, I dashed over to the University of Tokyo where I met with one of my academic advisors, Shin’ichiro Kumagaya. Dr. Kumagaya and I spoke about my research and the ways in which it intersected with his own for around twenty minutes before he invited me to sit in on one of his classes. The class emphasized the psychology and affect of “Interested Parties” 当事者. After introducing “Interested Person Studies,” a field which grew out of the intersections between “Independent Living” 自立生活 and “Self Help Groups” 依存病自助グループ in Japan, Dr. Kumagaya asked me to think about a problem in my life and take it as a research theme. He told me to write in detail about my first, last, and most vivd memory of the problem in as much detail as possible as well as my attempts to resolve it. By mapping out my successes and failures and identifying patterns in my approach, he said, I could develop a narrative that could be placed in conversation with others around me. Together, we could try and find a way forward.

While I found the idea of personal empowerment through group discovery fascinating, I was personally less interested in the content of Dr. Kumagaya’s lecture than its historical situatedness. I was inclined to ask why he was teaching about the psychology of disability at one of Japan’s most elite institutions. Especially now, at this current moment, when Japan is undergoing a rapid series of changes with respect to its landscape of accessibility. The best answer that I can come up with is that psychology and personal narratives are a gateway to identifying other kinds of barriers facing the nation today – physical, cultural, legal, educational, and otherwise.

3) On Wednesday, I took to working on my article on medieval Japanese Buddhism and disability for a little while before cracking into several new books on disability in Japan that arrived in my mailbox. As I’m due to interview Koji Onoue, the vice-chairman of DPI Japan (who also services as an advisor to the Japanese Cabinet on Disability Rights) next week, I decided to start with his work. First, I read a transcribed dialogue in which Onoue recounts his experiences growing up with cerebral palsy in Japan during the 1960s and 1970s that was published in a special issue of the Japanese Journal of Clinical Psychology 臨床心理学 called “Interested Parties and Expert Wisdom” 当事者研究と専門知. The dialogue was so interesting that I decided to summarize and translate it into English for future use.

4) On Thursday, I had an interview with Reo Kobayashi, a reporter from USC who was curious about the state of education for persons with disabilities in Japan. Reo himself has cerebral palsy and he was very interested in my experiences in the Japanese education system. We spoke at length about my time at Waseda University, Sophia University, Toyo University, and the University of Tokyo, focusing on the barriers I encountered both within and outside of the classroom as well as the ways that I was able to overcome them. Following my interview, I took some time off to grab a bite to eat and do a bit of reading. Sometimes, rest is important, too.

5) On Friday, I traveled to my local ward office to pick up my physical disability pass, which after a month of processing was finally ready. I learned that I am a “level one” 1級 person with a disability, which is the most severe on a scale from 1-6. My designation of level one entitles me to a host of services including a monthly stipend, caregiver support, medical equipment, lower insurance premiums, discounted transportation, and so forth. While I’m glad that I now have my disability pass in hand, I can’t help but wonder how other persons with disabilities manage to navigate the arduous application process – especially if they lack the resources and privileges that I have. Not only did I have to speak Japanese, but I also had to pay out of pocket for all services that I received during my first month. When you factor in all the system barriers that I encountered – physical, legal, cultural, educational, employment, etc. – it’s truly a lot to handle. No wonder there are so few of us foreigners with disabilities jumping around Japan!

6) On Saturday, I said goodbye to my caregiver for the last month before heading over to a couple of local events. First, I attended a car show, “Tokyo Motor Fest 2018.” Then, I went to a nearby Octoberfest for some beer and sausage. By the time mid-afternoon rolled around, I was ready to meet with Alisa Shimizu, a student from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, who’s writing her undergraduate thesis about foreigners with disabilities in Japan. After a four hour interview, in which we discussed everything from my training in Buddhism to my experiences at the convenience store, Alisa and I went to grab a bite to eat. By the time I got home I was ready to pass out (and proceeded to do so immediately upon getting into bed). What an exhausting but rewarding day!

7) And now, today, I’m preparing for an afternoon of reading and relaxation at home.

As always, the coming week promises new and exciting adventures. I’m giving a lecture tomorrow afternoon about my Accessibility Mapping Project to a few universities back home via Skype, and I’m due to meet face-to-face with my primary academic advisor, Dr. Satoshi Fukushima, for the first time on Tuesday.

As always, thanks for reading and stay tuned!

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