I’m pleased to report that I was [at least metaphorically] back on my feet this week and got a lot done. Having said that, I’d like to dive right in to the daily descriptions!
On Monday, I woke up early and made some edits to the first chapter of my dissertation. I received some great feedback from my advisors a few weeks ago, and I felt the need to go back and change a few things. I didn’t spend too much time working on my writing, however, as I had plans to go out and meet with Hiroshi Orito, the director of the Eiyusha Language School. Mr. Hiroshi is an 84-year old Japanese man who has lived and worked in many places throughout his life: New York, England, Milan, and so on. He approached me online last week to discuss his next business venture: a multi-lingual cafe designed to encourage communication between Japanese citizens and foreigners. The cafe, according to Mr. Orito’s description, will provide an informal space for cultural exchange (and more specifically English conversation) to occur. It will exist in stark contrast to more formalized learning spaces such as university classrooms and cram schools, and be open to anyone who would like to visit. I was transfixed by Mr. Orito’s business plan, which he assured me would be made to accommodate persons with disabilities. Indeed, Mr. Orito had requested a meeting with me so that I could advise him regarding how to make the cafe more accessible to persons with disabilities from differing cultural backgrounds: or, at least, that was why I thought we were meeting. In fact, our conversation quickly veered away from accessibility and toward financing the construction of the cafe. Here was an interesting experience for me: I had been called to the meeting via a rhetoric of accessibility, but quickly made to think about other things. How often is the ideal of accessibility used to mask ulterior motives (however noble they might be)? This is the question I found myself asking as I left Mr. Orito at the train station.
On Tuesday, I had a home nurse come out and visit me in the morning before doing a bit more research on apartments. In the end, I decided that I would not move from my current residence in Odaiba. It’s simply too hard (and time-consuming) to find an apartment that can accommodate all of my needs and equipment, and my present arrangement is sufficient for the time being. After making my decision about moving, I filled out some paperwork for the University of Tokyo that will formally extend my affiliation for another year. I’m still waiting to hear back about the status of my visa extension, but I suspect that I should be able to stay through the fall of 2020. Feeling like I had to get something else done besides bureaucratic paperwork on Tuesday, I also made some tweaks to my TED talk script during afternoon. Finally, I grabbed a bite and went to bed.
On Wednesday morning, I woke up and headed to the National Graduate Research Institute on Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Roppongi, where my TED talk will be held next month. Shortly after arriving, I met with ten conference organizers and another presenter to tour the stage/venue. For me, it was incredibly important to visit the venue ahead of time to determine if my wheelchair would be able to successfully navigate the area. I’m pleased to report that there was no issue, and I even had a chance to practice my talk on stage for a bit! I wrapped up before 2PM and grabbed a bite to eat before heading back to my apartment for some reading and research. More specifically, I checked out the newest issue of the Research Center for Ars Vivendi’s newsletter, which features several articles about the Sagamihara Stabbings by Nagase Osamu and Tateiwa Shinya. I was fortunate that Nagase-Sensei was on Skype as I finished reading his piece, and I had a chance to go back and forth with him about his thoughts regarding the international implications of the stabbings as a member of the UN CRPD.
Invigorated by my talk with Nagase-Sensei, I decided to do some more reading and prepare for the second chapter of my dissertation. I read a particularly interesting article, which discusses how Japanese policymakers skirted around SCAP orders forbidding special treatment of wounded veterans by mobilizing blind movements to justify the creation of the Law for the Welfare of Physically Handicapped Persons in 1949. In essence, the article said that Japanese policymakers couldn’t use persons with physical disabilities as justification for the law because they closely resembled (or were) veterans. Therefore, they had to find a group of disabled individuals who could not easily be associated with the war. They ended up settling on blind individuals because 1) organizations for the blind were well structured and had existing in Japan for decades; 2) organizations for the blind had long campaigned for better work conditions and accommodations, 3) blind individuals were explicitly forbidden from becoming soldiers. A convenient scapegoat, organizations for the blind became even more valuable as a tool for justifying policy reform after Helen Keller’s visit to Japan in 1947. Keller was paraded around the country by the Japanese government, who put her on a special train and used her peace mission as an excuse to unite otherwise disparate organizations for the blind and therefore bolster their case for creating the Law for the Welfare of Physically Handicapped Persons. The law, which nominally supported all persons with disabilities, was liberally interpreted to provide welfare coverage to the nation’s many wounded veterans (the exact number is unknown) at the expense of other persons with disabilities.
On Thursday, I was visited by a home doctor who confirmed that my pneumonia seems to be dissipating. To celebrate the good news, I went out to lunch before meeting with four representatives from the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation, and Tourism (MLIT). The ministry reached out to me a few weeks ago and asked if I would be willing to act as a consultant for their newly developed barrier-free guidelines for hotels and hostels. I was pleased to see that the guidelines they developed either matched or exceeded ADA standards of accessibility in many ways, and that they had considered accessibility for individuals with various kinds of disabilities: physical, intellectual, sensory, and otherwise. After two hours of conversation, during which time I provided a fair bit of structured criticism and feedback, we called it a day. All parties seemed satisfied by the end of the consultation session: I know that I, for one, look forward to working with the ministry again in the near future.
Of course, Thursday was also Valentines Day. I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that I spent the evening with my fiance. She gave me chocolates and roses, and we grabbed a nice Korean dinner outside before relaxing at home.
On Friday, I continued my dissertation research by reading several articles about the construction of ‘human rights’ and demilitarization in postwar Japan via the Potsdam Declaration and the Constitution of 1946. The readings provided some critical context for the article I read earlier in the week about wounded veterans and the mobilization of blind organizations to justify sweeping welfare reforms. My reading would be cut short, however, as I had to run out yet again for some exciting plans. At around noon, I met with Heike Boeltzig-Brown (Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston) and Hiroya Banzono (International Christian University) to discuss their new project: “A U.S.- Japan Collaboration on Disability and Self-Advocacy in Higher Education.” Boeltzig-Brown and Banzono asked me to participate in a panel event that will take place this October, in which various students, faculty, and staff connected to disability and education in Japan and the United States will talk about their experiences related to self-advocacy and accommodation. The event will also feature a leadership training and networking session: it looks really promising, and I can’t wait to take part!
On Saturday, I continued reading for my dissertation, but for the most part took the day off to rest and recuperate from a long week. Indeed, I took today off as well, as next week promises to be a long week of archival work.
I must say that the more time I spend on my dissertation project the more enthusiastic I get about it. There are so many interesting connections and factoids related to disability history in Japan that I never would have known without starting this dissertation. It’s really exciting stuff, and its greatly informed my practical work as an activist!