I’m very low on spoons at the moment but I feel the need to upload a brief blog entry to catch everyone up on what’s going on in my life. This post is being written in crip time as a stream of consciousness endeavor and may be jargon laden. Apologies in advance, but I do not have the energy to think about colloquial speech right now.
The last two weeks have been physically and emotionally rough. In lieu of my usual day-by-day summaries, I’ll divide my activities into three distinct categories: 1) work; 2) healing; and 3) life. My decision to use these categories is not random: I’ve been reading a lot about them as of late as they were often deployed by Japanese policymakers working to support persons with disabilities (specifically, veterans) during the Second World War. By mobilizing these categories in relation to my own life, I’ll illustrate how they failed to encompass many important aspects of welfare and support for persons with disabilities. Or, at least, I’ll open up that possibility for a later point in time when I have the energy to convert this blog into a book of some kind. Now then, on to the summaries:
The last two weeks have been an exercise in letting go. I’ve ripped apart my dissertation and tossed away its entrails: extraneous descriptions of different kinds of disabilities. While I had initially hoped to chronicle the effects of shifting socioeconomic conditions on individuals with multiple kinds of bodies and minds over the last one-hundred years in Japan, I’ve come to realize that that goal was far too ambitious. Instead, I’ve limited my analysis to one particular movement (or kind of movement) for each time period that I cover. In so doing, I trace a genealogy of resistance and policy formation that unfolds into discussions of accessibility in the present and invites many questions for the future. For the sake of conserving time and energy, I won’t break down each of my chapters here. I will, however, provide a brief sketch of my first chapter so you can see what I’ve been thinking about as of late.
The first chapter of my dissertation traces the history of blind movements in Japan between 1868 and 1945 to frame the formation of the Law for the Welfare of Physically Handicapped Persons in 1949. To begin, I investigate how domestic and international pressures to disestablish feudal hierarchies and adopt biomedical thinking during the Meiji period threatened the livelihoods of many persons with blindness who had long thrived as members of guilds and practitioners of trades like acupuncture, moxibustion, bonesetting, and massage. I argue that their mutual precarity created opportunities for solidarity and resistance, but that those opportunities could not easily be acted upon due to a scarcity of organizational technologies. While some elites like Kuzuhara Koto developed highly-customized systems for sharing information by using expensive materials and elaborate techniques (i.e. woodblock printing and character embossing), their methods were often difficult to reproduce. Indeed, it was not until Ishikawa Kuraji introduced an adapted form of braille to Japan in 1890 that cheap and efficient modes of communication became possible for persons with blindness. Braille fundamentally transformed the curricula of schools for the blind in Japan and created new possibilities for community formation via the circulation of magazines, newspapers, and other kinds of media. It paved the way for regional resistance movements that went national as Japan industrialized and urbanized in the wake of the First World War. Before long, those movements began to coordinate their efforts and press for issues beyond the preservation of traditional trades, including voting, education, and transportation rights.
By the mid-1930’s, however, another population of persons with blindness with entirely different aims and objectives had begun to emerge in Japan: blind veterans. Unlike ‘ordinary’ persons with blindness, blind veterans were entitled to special welfare privileges that were created to incentivize conscription during wartime. They were often afforded access to rehabilitation facilities and hospitals that offered (here’s the tie-in to my earlier comments) services targeted at work, life, and healing, including but not limited to classes in braille, typing, craft production, and music. At the heart of these classes was the concept of ‘spiritual revitalization,’ which, in theory, allowed blind veterans to ‘return’ to a privileged place in society despite their impairments. While this kind of special treatment caused animosity and strife between some members of the ‘ordinary’ blind community and their veteran counterparts, it also created opportunities for activism and awareness. Many ‘ordinary’ persons with blindness benefitted from the services developed for blind veterans, albeit indirectly. For instance, many used braille dictionaries and encyclopedias first developed for blind veterans. Aware of these cursory blessings, many ‘ordinary’ persons with blindness decided to support the rehabilitation and remobilization of blind veterans despite their differing objectives and outlooks.
The cooperation of ‘ordinary’ persons with blindness and blind veterans would prove to be of critical importance in the immediate postwar period when Japanese veterans were striped of their welfare coverage. Starting in the fall of 1945, SCAP (GHQ) began to issue a series of orders calling for the immediate democratization and demilitarization of Japan. The nation could no longer offer special privileges to its former soldiers, leaving a large population of wounded persons unaccounted for. While Japanese policymakers thought about drafting a general “Law for the Welfare of Physically Handicapped Persons,” they recognized that SCAP (GHQ) would almost certainly refuse to accept any such law as that law would essentially equate to a law for veterans by another name. They needed another population of persons with disabilities to point to as potential beneficiaries of the new general welfare law and ‘ordinary’ persons with blindness fit the bill perfectly. After all, they’d been organized and fighting for ‘democratic’ rights for decades by that point! After some time going back and forth in the National Diet (and Helen Keller’s visit to Japan in 1948), a bill was put together that finally passed muster. The contents of that bill, the “Law for the Welfare of Physically Handicapped Persons,” were enacted as law in 1949. However, it was not until the passage of the Social Welfare Industry Act in 1951 that a system was created for their implementation. My second chapter traces how the formation of that system, like the biomedical system created during the Meiji period, allowed for the consolidation of new movements and media, allowing for additional policy reform and a new era of disability justice.
So there’s a short paraphrasing/summary of what I’ve been writing as of late. I’ve also been up to some other stuff, too. I published an article on Accessible Maid Cafe’s, delivered a presentation to DPI Japan’s Asian Disability Study Circle, conducted an interview with Okuhira Masako (a leader of Japan’s Independent Living Movement), and met with my advisor at the University of Tokyo, Fukushima Satoshi.
My ‘healing’ over the last two weeks can be divided into two major events. First, I visited my hospital at the University of Tokyo and was delivered a clean bill of health. Despite my doctor’s assurances, I did not feel that all was well. I’d been coughing for the better part of two weeks and suspected that I might have caught something. It definitely did not help that I had to wait in a large room filled with hundreds of people for several hours while my doctor prepared for my examination. As an immunosuppressed patient, it’s always a scary prospect to sit and stare at a bunch of sick people! Alas, I had little choice in the matter as my current hospital is the only hospital in Tokyo that treats heart transplant patients (the surgery is still relatively new and uncommon in Japan).
The second ‘healing’ event of the last two weeks was perhaps even more consequential. This past Friday, I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy: a facial nerve disorder that has rendered the left half of my face completely paralyzed. I am unable to close my left eye, control the left side of my mouth, or swallow food correctly. These symptoms have created a lot of hardship for me, and it seems as if they’re not going to go away anytime soon. While my doctor insisted that the disease will most likely subside within two weeks, online reports seem to indicate a recovery time closer to several months. Here’s hoping I’m on the faster side of things! For now, lots of steroids, rest, and relaxation.
Given how busy I’ve been with work and healing, I’ve not had much time for a life over the last two weeks. I’ve Skyped with several friends from the United States and spent a lot of time in watching movies. Otherwise, I’ve gone out a couple times for dinner, and that’s about it. I hope to do more this week as my birthday is on Saturday (April 20th).
So ends my tired rant about this week’s activities. I may come back and edit this post if/when I have the energy to do so. For now, I hope you’ve been able to catch a glimpse of what my life has been as of late, and perhaps what’s missing: bridges and balance between the various sectors, for instance.
Until next time, my friends!