Castles and Conferences

Hey all!

This past week was fairly eventful: I gave a conference presentation at Nanzan University in Nagoya, was filmed for a Japanese Television show, taught a course about the virtues of Universal Design, and more!

After touring the olympic village in Asaka and giving a lecture on Universal Design (UD) on Tuesday, I had the opportunity to reunite with an old friend on Wednesday: Lekakeny Rumpe. Rumpe and I became friends when I was studying Esoteric Buddhist Philosophy at Toyo University from 2014-2015. At that time, Rumpe was working on urban planning initiatives between his native Kenya and Japan at Toyo, and we spent many nights drinking and talking about life, the universe, and everything in between.  It was good to see Rumpe again and hear that he’s back in Japan trying to drum up business connections for affordable/sustainable development projects in Africa. I hope he has nothing but success!

After meeting with Rumpe, I dashed over to Shinbashi to grab a cup of coffee with four students from Meiji Gakuin University’s Department of Social Welfare. Those students had been given the arduous task of interviewing me about my life and work by their professor, Kyoko Hamashima, whom I’ve become friendly with via my involvement in DPI Japan. The interview went fairly smoothly, and the students and I went back and forth about differences in social welfare systems in Japan and the United States. They spoke about their respective interests in the welfare of children, the elderly, and the poor, and I explained how, in my mind, those interests were all explicitly connected. I urged them to think about how we might develop a comprehensive welfare system, as opposed to a siloed one, and what the implications of both systems might be.

On Thursday, I woke up early and headed to the University of Tokyo to meet with my advisor, Dr. Satoshi Fukushima. Dr. Fukushima and I spent a few minutes catching up before we were joined by a television crew from RHK, a Japanese broadcasting company who filmed us talking about the recent scandal re: the inflation of employment statistics for persons with disabilities by the Japanese government. Apparently, that segment will air before the end of the year, so I’ll keep you all posted. In any case, Dr. Fukushima and I continued our conversation after the cameras stopped rolling, and before I knew it we’d spent the better part of 12 hours together. It was really great hearing his opinion about my work on Buddhism and disability, and although we didn’t have a lot of time to discuss my dissertation I suspect that we’ll have plenty of opportunities in the future.

On Friday, I had a home nurse come out to the apartment for the first time to evaluate my condition. Or, at least, that’s what I thought was supposed to happen. In fact, the nurse came out to have me complete a ton of paperwork over the course of two hours and did not examine me at all before announcing that she’d be unable to return for at least two weeks (and even then, she couldn’t accommodate my schedule). Still, I suppose late service is better than no service. I took the rest of the day off to recover from a busy work week and do a bit of research related to the remaining sections of the first chapter of my dissertation. I knew what lied ahead on Saturday: a trip to Nagoya on the bullet train.

After waking up early and rushing out the door, I managed to get on the bullet train on Saturday morning along with my fiance. The ride itself was fairly uneventful, and we spent most of it watching a movie. It didn’t hurt that we were put in a private ‘multipurpose’ room that was designed to accommodate all kinds of wheelchairs and mobility devices, and we didn’t have to deal with snoring passengers and crying children. After arriving in Nagoya, my fiance and I went our separate ways: she hung around the station to get a bite to eat, and I ran across the street to attend a special lecture on the the accessibility issues surrounding the rebuilding of Nagoya Castle. The lecture was hosted by Takahashi Gihei of Toyo University, who I was glad to see again in a new setting. After the lecture concluded, I got together with a bunch of the organizers for a reception/drinking party. Ten of us went downstairs to a bar and spent around 2-3 hours talking about our impressions about the Nagoya Castle conundrum and our jobs re: the development of accessibility in Japan. It was great to talk about my research in a free and open environment with individuals directly affected by it, but it was even more rewarding to make new friends and feel like I’ve become part of a community.

After the drinking party concluded, I reunited with my fiance and headed to AJU, an independent living center in Nagoya where we were due to spend the night. I was invited to stay there last week after meeting some of the people who work there at the DPI Japan Policy Conference. I was delighted to find that the room we were put up in was not only completely wheelchair accessible, but also had a hospital bed and all of the amenities I needed to feel right at home. I slept well, and I’m glad that I did – after all, I had a conference presentation on Sunday at Nanzan University.

Getting to the conference venue at Nanzan University was something of a challenge. The university itself is located in the mountains, and you have to climb many hills in order to get there. It didn’t help that I was with my fiance, who was carrying our heavy luggage up and down the rugged terrain. Honestly, I feel terrible about the whole ordeal, but I’m glad that we made it in the end. As I walked through the gate to campus, I ran into Jolyon Thomas, my dissertation advisor from the University of Pennsylvania and one of my co-panelists. We walked to the venue together, where I met with Ben Dorman, the organizer of the conference. Ben is also interested in Japanese disability studies, and we had a lot to talk about in terms of policy, kinship, and media. Before we could get too far into the weeds, however, we had to cut our conversation short as my panel was due to start. On the whole, I was happy with my presentation, which focused on the successes and failures of recent access-making activities in Japan. I got some good feedback about my theorization of disability violence, and I hope to use it to refine the fifth chapter of my dissertation somewhere down the line.

After sticking around for another panel and the closing of the conference, I headed back to Nagoya station, where I met my fiance. We grabbed a bite to eat before hopping back onto the bullet train and making our way home. Although our trip was only two days long, it was extremely tiring for both of us, and we felt like we needed a lot of rest by the end of it. We slept well on Sunday, but the madness continued early Monday morning. I rushed to the hospital for my monthly check-up, only to be kept waiting for around 5 hours while my doctor reviewed my blood test results. In the end, everything was fine, but I’d lost a day of productivity. What really made my blood boil (no pun intended) was that I had asked my doctor two months ago to help me secure a ventilator in Japan, and he flat out admitted to me that he hadn’t done any research about possible vendors during the course of our conversation. I told him that I had run out of parts for the ventilator that I had brought with me from America, and he immediately called another doctor, who arranged an appointment for me to meet with a vendor later this afternoon. I’ll be leaving for that appointment shortly, but I wanted to take the time to write and let you all know what’s going on!

So there you have it. As always, a busy week with lots of twists and turns. This next week promises to be equally busy: I’m due to meet with 120 students from MEXT on Wednesday, give a lecture at Toyo University on Thursday, chat with a group of professors from the University of Hawaii on Friday about disability policy, attend a workshop about accessible workplaces at the JSRPD on Saturday, and take part in a conference about fan studies and Japanese anime at Sophia University on Sunday. As always, thanks for reading, and stay tuned!

Nanzan Conference Pic
Speaking at Nanzan University

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