Maids and Meetings

Hey all!

It’s been two weeks! I hope you’re all doing well.

Sorry for my delayed entry: I spent most of last week recovering from the presentations that I delivered during the week prior. During my week off, I binged Netflix, drank hot tea, and read a few research-related books that I’ve been trying to work into my project. As for this past week, I spent a lot of time reframing my dissertation, chronologically and conceptually. I’ll get into that a bit as I work my way through my daily recaps below!

On Sunday, I woke up at 5:00AM to Skype into my panel at the Association for Asian Studies Conference in Denver, Colorado. While I expected to be overwhelmed by the time difference between Japan and the United States, I was actually very comfortable with my performance. My paper explored how actors in Japan’s various spheres of access-making (physical, educational, vocational, technological, informational, and consciousness-based) currently face significant domestic and international pressures that prevent them from effectively communicating with one another and creating inclusive systems. It argued that crowdsourcing technologies and social media provide potential solutions to these problems by empowering many (but not all) of the nation’s stakeholders and allowing them to share their experiences and opinions with each other. Recognizing the limitations of such technologies and services, I also pushed for diversity in development so as to accommodate the broadest possible range of users. Esoteric description aside, I think that my presentation was fairly well-received and I thoroughly enjoyed the Q/A for my panel, which focused on disability in Japan. My co-presenters, Frank Mondelli and Yoshiko Okuyama, gave interesting talks on ‘technolinguistic poeisis’ for persons with D/deafness and a budding genre of ‘tojisha manga.‘ Our panel chair, Karen Nakamura, and discussant, Carolyn Stevens, offered insightful commentary on each paper and held the room on the edge of their seats. All-in-all, it was a great panel, and a major win in my book as organizer.

On Monday, I spent some time reflecting on the work that I read last week on blindness and infectious diseases in prewar Japan, ultimately deciding that I would shift my project back in time fifty years from the end of World War One (1918) to the start of the Meiji Period (1868). The reasons for this shift are myriad, but the new framing opens up many possibilities for additional research and conforms to a chronology that is perhaps more legible to readers familiar with Japanese history and politics. After plotting out the narrative structure of my new dissertation model I needed to blow off some steam, so I went to the movies to see Captain Marvel. It was a good flick, maybe 7/10 stars?

On Tuesday, I traveled to Kanda from my apartment in Odaiba to meet with Ota Shuhei, a sixty-one-year-old activist with cerebral palsy. Mr. Ota lives in Tokyo and works as the secretary of the Liaison Council for Protecting the Livelihood of Persons with Disabilities 障害者の生活保障を要求する連絡会議(障害連). The Liaison Council was founded in 1976 by a group of persons with disabilities who were connected via community associations and alumni networks of schools for the disabled. Over the next twenty years, members of the Liaison Council campaigned for the reconstruction of Japan’s transportation infrastructure, paving the way for the enactment of the Barrier-Free Transportation Law in 2000. Aware of the Liaison Council’s background, I was truly anxious to meet Mr. Ota. Our interview took place in the central office of the Liaison Council; a space shared by DPI Japan. Mr. Ota and I spoke about his involvement with the Green Grass Society during the 1970s and his efforts to establish inclusive facilities for disabled persons during the 1980s and 1990s. We also touched on a wide range of miscellaneous topics, from religion and philosophy to sake and beer. It was a great experience, and I look forward to seeing him again soon!

On Wednesday, I decided that I needed a break so I took most of the day off to watch Netflix and relax. Never one to procrastinate, I started to transcribe my interview with Mr. Ota during the afternoon. For those unaware, transcription can be a long and unwieldy process, especially if your interview is several hours long, conducted in a foreign language, and marked by points of clarification due to vocal disabilities. Still, I somehow managed to get everything down on paper before the day’s end, so that was a decent accomplishment in my opinion. By the end of the day, however, I wasn’t feeling all that great, so I called a doctor to schedule an appointment for the following morning.

On Thursday, I saw my doctor, who told me to rest and take it easy for a day or two. Indeed, I took another day off sans a couple of Skype calls with my dissertation advisors, Jolyon Thomas and Ayako Kano. Through my conversations with Dr. Thomas and Dr. Kano about the new chronological and conceptual framing of my dissertation, I received some valuable feedback about how I ought to proceed. While I’m still grappling with that feedback and its consequences for the data I’ve gathered so far (alas, it appears as if lots of things that I had hoped to include will have to be cut), I’m optimistic that I’ll find a way to move forward before too long.

On Friday, I woke up early to Skype with a dear friend and fellow activist, Noah Ohashi. Noah is currently working on his Masters in Disability Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). He has had a very interesting upbringing, bouncing back and forth between Japan and the United States. While I won’t give out too many of Noah’s persons details here, I’ll say that he has multiple disabilities and identity factors that collectively create a very unique experience of accessibility for him. I enjoyed talking with Noah about his experience and discussing some of the most serious issues facing persons with disabilities in Japan and the United States today. Among the issues we discussed was media representation and involving persons with disabilities in media production. Noah is uniquely qualified to speak about that field as he has worked as a correspondent on disability at NHK for several years now. After finishing my call with Noah, I gathered my things and ran out the door for an appointment in Akihabara. Well, I say an appointment: what I mean is that I got together with Patrick Galbraith, a leading expert on Japanese popular culture and longtime friend, and went on a Maid Cafe crawl. In search of Akihabara’s most accessible maid cafes, Patrick and I walked around for a couple hours, documenting the (lack of) accessibility of venues around the city. My full report will be published as an article at some point in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

On Saturday, I left for a meeting with Josh Grisdale of Accessible Japan, which took place at my old stomping grounds in Mizue. For some time, I’ve been acting as an impromptu consultant for Accessible Japan, and I was happy to lend my voice to a conversation about the companies’ future. There’s not too much I can disclose at this point, but exciting things are in the works. Trust me!

And finally, I headed out into Yokohama earlier this afternoon to view the cherry blossoms and enjoy a day of rest and relaxation before hitting the books again tomorrow at the National Diet Library.

It’s been a busy week, but I’m starting to realize they all are when you get to this stage. As always, thanks for reading, my friends. More to come next week!

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