Teaching and Triumphs

Hey all!

In an effort to get myself back on an every-Sunday posting schedule, I’m writing a relatively short entry this week. Don’t let that discourage you from reading, however, as this week was certainly an eventful one!

On Wednesday, I spent most of my morning reading about leprosy literature in prewar Japan and thinking about the structure of the first chapter of my dissertation. There are still bits and pieces of that chapter that need to come together before I submit it for review, but I think that I’m on track to have a completed version by the years’ end. I also used some of my free time on Wednesday to finish my quarterly progress report for the Japan Foundation and write my annual progress report for Penn regarding my dissertation. Still, perhaps the most productive and rewarding part of my Wednesday was a conference presentation I delivered in the evening at the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT). Speaking to one-hundred and twenty representatives from schools across Japan, I discussed the barriers faced by students with disabilities from abroad and ways of dismantling those barriers. I was somewhat disheartened (but not at all surprised) to see hesitation when I asked the room how they would accommodate someone with disabilities like mine in the event that they applied to a study abroad program. After some discussion, I shifted the conversation toward the importance of creating environments where any/all individuals can express their needs, and where negotiations can occur between academics, administrative officials, engineers, disabled ‘experts,’ and other relevant parties. On the whole, I think that the conversation went well and my message got across. Here’s hoping it does something to help someone somewhere down the road.

On Thursday, I woke up early and got ready to head out the door for a long day at Toyo University. After arriving in the early afternoon, I met with Shingo Ashizawa, a professor in the Department of Regional Development Studies who had invited me to give a series of guest lectures to his classes on global dynamics and tourism. Before joining Ashizawa-Sensei’s class, I sat down with him for lunch. It was great to catch up after a long time apart and hear that he’s been keeping busy by traveling the world to advance his research, which focuses on study abroad initiatives between Japan and other countries. After finishing our meal (curry for me, katsu for him), Dr. Ashizawa and I went upstairs to meet with the president of Toyo University, Dr. Makio Takemura. Dr. Takemura was my advisor when I studied at Toyo as a Fulbright Fellow, and I was really excited to see him again. We spoke about the ways in which my work on Japanese Buddhism shaped my understanding of accessibility and desire to pursue disability studies, as well as Dr. Takemura’s recent activities as president. Apparently, Toyo University will be opening a new campus in a couple of years dedicated to (global) interdisciplinary studies.  I can’t wait to see what their faculties look like!

After finishing up my meeting with Dr. Takemura, I followed Ashizawa-Sensei to his third period class.  To prepare for my lecture, I had asked that the students read a short article in The Japan Times about recent access-making activities in Japan tied to the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Much to my surprise, the students had not only read the article but also appeared eager to chat about it. We discussed what it means to make accessibility in Japan today (according to the article) and how we could develop a research question, method, and plan based on the data presented therein. For a class focused on pedagogy, the conversation went relatively smoothly: I had each student develop their own research question, and for those who could not I asked them to consider why it was hard for them to do so. After formulating their question, I had the students discuss possible research methods with one another before talking about access to resources and the development of a feasible timeline. On the whole, I think the class went rather well. But I was even more impressed with the second class I taught in the afternoon. Unlike the first class, which focused on pedagogy, the second class was entirely devoted to content. I gave a mini-lecture on the history of access-making in Japan before inviting the class to consider a fundamental problem borne out of that history: if you can’t create access for everyone, how do you create it for as many individuals as possible? Breaking the class into three groups, I had the students brainstorm ways of addressing this problem. One group suggested the invention of new assistive technologies. Another group suggested asking persons with disabilities about their needs. And the final group suggested coming up with multiple options for persons with disabilities to choose from. I could not have planned such an outcome, but it provided the perfect opportunity to talk about how best to meld these strategies and introduce my own work on co-design as embodied by my Accessibility Mapping Project. The class finished on a high note, talking about our role as users and activists in the creation of an accessible environment, and I left Toyo with a sense of accomplishment and pride. I look forward to coming back to teach again at some point in the near future.

On Friday, I headed to the University of Tokyo to meet with Kiriko Takahashi, a specialist in disability education with appointments at Todai’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology and the University of Hawaii. Dr. Takahashi introduced me to her boss, Robert Stodden, an expert on American disability policy who was visiting Japan on his way over to China. She also introduced me to Amit, another visiting researcher  from Israel who had come to study disability in Japan (along with his wife). The five of us spent the better part of the afternoon talking about our respective research projects and the state of disability police and justice in Japan, the United States, and Israel. It was a really productive conversation, and one that I hope to continue in the future. Alas, it had to come to an end, and I headed home to grab a bite to eat. Before going to bed, I spent some time Skyping with Frank Mondelli, a dear friend who’s currently studying the history of assistive technologies for persons with hearing impairments in Japan at Stanford.

On Saturday, I woke up early in the morning to a house filled with four caregiving companies. After several months and much uproar, it’s looking like I may finally get caregiving coverage at night (and possible more during the day). I won’t say any more (less I jinx the situation), but I have a good feeling about things….

After my caregivers left, I rushed out into the cold to attend a lecture series in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Japanese NGO Network on Disabilities (JANNET). The conference featured a range of speakers, divided into two core sections: “How to set up an accessible meeting?” and “Recent Activities of Disability-Related Organizations.” After a series of opening remarks from Naoji Shimizu, the current chair of JANNET, the first presentation was delivered by Miwa Morikawa, a representative from the Accessible Design Foundation of Japan. Ms. Morikawa’s presentation focused on the barriers to access faced by persons with disabilities when it comes to work-related meetings, as well as ways to resolve those barriers. I won’t spoil everything, but you can read more about her work here. Of equal interest to Ms. Morikawa’s presentation were ensuring presentations by Shin’ichiro Koide (of the National Federation for the Deaf), Akiko Fukuda (of the Japan Deafblind Association), Sayako Nogiwa (of the Association of Aid and Relief [AAR] Japan), and Chiharu Morita (of the Japan International Cooperation Agency [JICA]). Each presentation provided valuable information for my dissertation project related to the history of disability organizations, successes and failures of current disability policies, and the global extension of Japanese standards of accessibility. If there’s one thing that I’ve gained from attending all of these conferences, it’s ammo!

Today, I was supposed to attend a conference dedicated to Anime and Manga Fan Studies oat Sophia University, The event is being hosted by my dear friends Patrick Galbraith and David Slater. Unfortunately, I’m not feeling all that great so I’ve decided not to attend. Sorry guys. Thankfully, this next week looks pretty empty, so I can get lots of rest and recover (when not writing my dissertation, that is).

As always, thanks for reading, and stay tuned!


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