Reading and Writing

Hey all!

It’s Sunday, and that means that it’s time for a new blog post!

This past week I had the opportunity to venture out of the house on a couple of occasions and (re)unite with friends and academic advisors from various points in my career. I also began to write the first chapter proper of my dissertation, which focuses on the history of accessibility in Japan between 1920 and 1945.

On Monday, I got together with Dr. Scott Kupferman, a professor from the University of Colorodo whose research focuses on the use of co-design in education and engineering. I first met Scott at the “Co-Design and Tojisha Research Conference” held at the University of Tokyo last week. After speaking at that conference, we decided that we’d get together at some point in the near future and chat about our work in greater detail. We ended up meeting by the Statue of Liberty in Odaiba on Monday morning, and spent an hour or so walking around outside and talking about the history and politics of accessibility in Japan and the United States. It was interesting to hear about the development of Universal Design in the United States, which, surprisingly enough, I was not too familiar with despite my having grown up there. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I knew more about accessibility in Japan than in my ‘home’ country, and I was happy to share what I knew with my American colleague. I also spoke with Scott about my career aspirations and Accessibility Mapping Project, which he seemed to be really excited about. He recommended that I apply for a couple of grants to further develop that project – here’s hoping!

After meeting with Scott, I rushed over to Sophia University to visit the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and grab a cup of coffee with the interim director, Darren Biggs. Darren was a program assistant when I traveled to Sophia as a CIEE student in 2013, and we’ve become close over the years. We had the opportunity to catch up and share stories about the myriad changes in our lives that’d occurred since we last met in 2015. I told Darren about my transition from Buddhist Studies to Disability Studies, and how my work now seeks to create an accessible future by uniting scholars and activists from various arenas in an ongoing conversation about the needs and desires of persons with disabilities. Suffice it to say that we had a really enjoyable conversation, which concluded with Darren suggesting that I might teach a class for CIEE this coming summer if the opportunity arises. We’ll see!

On Tuesday, I spent most of my morning organizing my notes before rushing over to the University of Tokyo to meet with Dr. Satoshi Fukushima, my academic advisor. Dr. Fukushima and I spent the better part of three hours discussing my dissertation research in great detail as well as my current living and caregiving situation. He was fascinated by some of the theories developed by scholars of Critical Disability Studies in the West as of late, and wanted to learn more about how I will use them to analyze the development of disability movements in Japan. After explaining the one-hundred year trajectory of my research and walking through the sources and organization of my first two chapters, we had to call it a day. We ended on a high note, however, as Dr. Fukushima let me know that he wanted to get together again this coming week to hear about the rest of my project. He also suggested that he had many friends in Japan’s disability movement, some of whom have been involved since the 1970s, who he’d be happy to introduce me to for the sake of interviews or anything else I may need. Really, I couldn’t ask for more!

On Wednesday, I sat down to start writing the first chapter proper of my dissertation. All-in-all, the process went much smoother than I’d imagined, as I already had a fair bit of material to draw from in the form of seminar papers and the research portion of my comprehensive exams. I ended up writing about the ‘othering’ of persons with disabilities in Japan between 1920 and 1945 in relation to processes of industrialization, urbanization, militarization, and the rise of eugenic thought. I argued that those processes led policymakers and public intellectuals to identify persons with disabilities as ‘outsiders’ in need of assimilation through two primary strategies: isolation and rehabilitation. The former meant separation from their able-bodied counterparts in educational and vocational settings so as to allow both populations to operate at their own pace. The latter involved the strategic use of therapies and (re)organization of school and workplace settings to capitalize upon the remaining faculties of persons with disabilities. Neither strategy was without fault. Isolation demanded an investment of time and labor that was not always available, and rehabilitation exposed persons with disabilities and those around them to possibilities of compound injury and associated risk. By examining how Japanese policymakers and public intellectuals attempted to negotiate these difficulties, I identified their role in constructing discrete hierarchies of ability, disability, and debility in interwar and wartime Japan that governed the formation of new social movements.

On Thursday, I traveled out to Toranomon to meet with Ms. Masako Okuhira of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and Dr. Gihei Takahashi of Toyo University. Ms. Okuhira is one of the leaders of Japan’s Independent Living Movement, and Dr. Takahashi is perhaps the nation’s foremost expert on Universal Design. We had lots to talk about, ranging from the history of barrier-free architecture to the future of accessibility in Japan. I was really interested to hear Dr. Takahashi’s take on the difficulties of enacting principles of Universal Design. He explained, for instance, that even if designers are able to gather information about the accessibility of a space using a democratic method, they still have to decide if the data they’ve gathered is representative of a larger whole and deal with internal inconsistencies. He also mentioned that many designers who conduct trial sessions and democratic surveys fail to share their data with competitors, leading to a lack of consistency in products on the market. I really look forward to continuing my conversation with Dr. Takahashi and collaborating in the future!

On Friday, I worked on my dissertation chapter in the morning before taking the afternoon to catch up on some reading. First, I re-read Lee Pennington’s Casualties of History: Wounded Japanese Servicemen and the Second World War (2015), which chronicles shifting attitudes toward wounded veterans in Japan between the Meiji period and the end of the Second World War. It also highlights the development of a veteran-focused welfare framework that explicitly excluded many persons with disabilities who failed to qualify for military service. Interestingly, Pennington all but ignores the topic of non-military persons with disabilities, failing to mention how the development of veteran’s welfare affected their lives. An opportunity for my own work, if ever I saw one! After finishing Pennington’s book, I went on to read a couple of articles such as Yumi Kim’s Seeing Cages: Home Confinement in Early Twentieth-Century Japan (2018) and Hanako Fujikawa’s Educational System Plan for the Deaf and Reform of the Tokyo National School for the Deaf by Unosuke Kawamoto in the 1920s (2005).  It was a busy day, but a productive one.

On Saturday, I spent much of my day writing and relaxing. I organized my research notes and worked my way up to completing the first 1/3 of the first chapter of my dissertation. Right now, I’m aiming to produce around 300-500 words a day so that I’ll be able to finish a chapter every two months. With five proper chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion, that will let me finish the first draft of my dissertation in around a year or so, leaving me another year-and-a-half for revisions before I have to submit. I’ve not run into any problems yet, but we’ll see what happens!

Today, I’ve spent much of my day resting and laying around in bed. I realize that my mental and physical wellbeing is incredibly important for my research to be successful, so I’m doing all I can to ensure that I don’t overwork myself. Besides, with everything else that I’ve been up to, I feel like I deserve a break every now and then!

And that’s about it for this week, friends! I have lots coming up next week, including but not limited to: 1) a meeting with Dr. Emiko Tanaka (a professor who’s involved in the Japanese Society for Disability Studies), 2) a workshop on barrier-free consciousness led by DPI Japan, 3) a lecture on the development of facilities for persons with disabilities by Dr. Akihiro Sugino, 4) a joint research meeting with Dr. Shin’ichiro Kumagaya and Dr. Satoshi Fukushima, and 5) a conference at the University of Tokyo on the history of student disability services in Japan. Stay tuned, and as always thanks for reading!

Ms. Masako Okuhira, Dr. Gihei Takahashi, and Me at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation

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