Newspapers and New Connections

Hey all,

This week’s entry will be rather short, as I spent much of my week feeling rather ill. To be honest, I’m still not over whatever I had, so I hope you’ll bear with me!

On Monday, I spent most of my day inside translating a couple of articles about the history of social welfare in postwar Japan. Halfway through the day, I started to feel a bit ill, and I became particularly worried because the back left wheel of my wheelchair had started to  squeak. I called the wheelchair repair company in Morishita, and they told me to come in at around 6PM.  By the time I arrived, I felt as if my back wheel was ready to fall off: it was scary, to say the least! Thankfully, the wheelchair repair company was able to replace my rear tire without much fuss. I was lucky; in the US, that kind of repair could have taken weeks.

On Tuesday, I got up early and headed out to the Asakusa Cultural Information Center. There, I met up with three other wheelchair users: a paralympic powerlifter, the president of Mirairo inc., and my friend Josh Grisdale from Accessible Japan. We waited for a little while for five other people to arrive, including a reporter from the Japan Times. As soon as everyone showed up, the reporter sat down in a manual wheelchair, and the other wheelchair users and I began to give him a guided tour of the area from our perspective. We started with the Asakusa Cultural Information Center itself before moving to Senso-ji temple, Tokyo Sky Tree, Shibuya Station, and Meiji Shrine. Along the way, we stopped for lunch, inspected multiple bathrooms, and explored transportation options like buses and trains. The reporter seemed genuinely shocked about the conditions that wheelchair users face in Japan each day, and proceeded to ask us lots of questions about the buildup for the Paralympic Games in 2020. For those interested, the article is due to come out in early November. I’ll put a link in my blog when it does!

On Wednesday, I travelled to the Inter-University Center for Japanese Studies in Yokohama. There, I met with the president and vice-president of the school to discuss the feasibility of my attending their program next year in the event that my application is successful Thankfully, it seems like the school is mostly accessible and there won’t be too many problems! After finishing my consultation session, I grabbed lunch nearby before rushing off to the University of Tokyo to meet with my advisor, Dr. Satoshi Fukushima. Dr. Fukushima and I spent around thirty minutes or so discussing a couple of clerical matters regarding my position at Todai before heading down to a joint research meeting between his laboratory and that of Dr. Shin’ichiro Kumagaya. At the meeting, I had a chance to meet ten of my colleagues who work on various aspects of disability in Japan. Before long, I found myself having a lively conversation about their projects and interests, and I had an opportunity to share some of my own work about the connection between  religion and disability in Japan. I was told by Dr. Fukushima to save my dissertation for the time being. Apparently, I’ll be afforded a long block of time to share that work with everyone at some point in the near future!

On Thursday, I spend most of my day in bed sick. Never one to waste time, however, I decided to work on an upcoming presentation about disability justice in contemporary Japan that I’m due to deliver at the annual Japanese Student Services Organization Conference. After spending several hours working on that presentation, I found myself too exhausted to continue and quickly passed out for the remainder of the evening.

Friday was similarly uneventful, and I spent much of my day in bed. Having said that, I did receive a new shower chair from a medical supply company in the afternoon that promises to make my life easier in the coming weeks, as I’ll no longer have to rely on the one that I’ve been using (which is built for someone half my size.) I also had a visit from the Ward Office about the possibility of having a nurse come out to check on my health once a week. It seems that they’re worried that the difference in caregiver hours between the US and Japan (22 hours a day in the US vs. 5 in Japan) may have a negative impact on my health. Based on how I’ve been feeling, I can hardly blame them…

Yesterday, I made my way back to the University of Tokyo to meet with Dr. Jun Ishikawa. Among other things, Dr. Ishikawa is a member of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), Chairperson of the Commission on Disability Policy for the Cabinet Office of Japan, and a Project Professor in my department at the University of Tokyo. We met for around an hour, during which time Dr. Ishikawa and I talked about the current status of Japan’s barrier-free development from the perspective of the UN as well as recommendations for the future. Dr. Ishikawa emphasized the fact that we cannot discount cultural attitudes toward assistive technologies when thinking about Japan’s barrier-free development. More specifically, he argued that principles of self-determination favored by the independent living movement in Europe and the United States (and, yes, in Japan as well to some extent) are not always in line with the will and desire of persons with disabilities in Japan who often want to live in collectives/colonies. Thus, when considering the development of Japan’s barrier-free landscape, we have to try and develop technical systems that accommodate both kinds of usage. Toward that end, there are lots of questions to be asked about how to get interested parties involved in the creation process, and to what extent they ought to be involved. Suffice it to say that I found my conversation with Dr. Ishikawa very stimulating, and I look forward to speaking with him again in the future.

As for today, I’m back in bed, doing a little bit of translating. It really takes a lot out of me to get through even five pages of Japanese to English translation, but I hope that it’ll come easier with time. Otherwise, I intend to sleep and get over this nasty, lingering bug. I better, because the coming week looks to be quite busy! Among other things, I’m due to meet with several leaders of Japan’s Independent Living Movement, participate in a lecture series at the Japanese National Diet Building, and attend an event analyzing the technological impact of the 2020 Paralympic Games. I’ve also discovered several new leads for my dissertation research tied to the Japan Forum on Disability that I intend to explore.

I’ll keep you all posted!

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