It’s been a busy two weeks! I hope everyone is doing well.
This update will be rather short as I’m rather low on spoons. I’ve been trying to take it easy for the last couple of days, but my body is still recovering!
My activities over the last two weeks can be divided into four general categories: 1) dissertation work; 2) preparations for upcoming events; 3) community outreach; and 4) fun and relaxation.
After two-and-a-half months of nonstop research and writing, I finally completed a revised draft of the first chapter of my dissertation on blind movements in Japan between 1868 and 1940 this past Friday. The draft demanded a lot of attention over the last two weeks, including many hours spent sifting through records from the Central Association for the Welfare of the Blind and local newspapers. Most of my writing time was dedicated to Helen Keller’s visit to Japan in 1938 and its role in solidifying a nascent national movement of persons with blindness that went on to play a prominent role in the (legal) construction of physical disability during the postwar period.
In addition to completing a draft of the first chapter of my dissertation, I also spent a lot of time conducting research for the second chapter. More specifically, I read through around 6,000 newspaper articles focused on veterans’ welfare and blind movements during the 1940s. Those articles, which were published in The Japan Times, Asahi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun, and Mainichi Shimbun between 1940 and 1950, yielded a lot of interesting information that I hope to incorporate into my next major project.
Preparations for Upcoming Events
The last two weeks also gave me an opportunity to prepare for several upcoming events. I reached out to some friends in the academic community to organize panels on marginality and difference for the Mid-Atlantic Region Association for Asian Studies Conference and the Annual Association for Asian Studies Conference. I also took care of lingering medical appointments at the University of Tokyo Hospital and began to make preparations for a two-week trip back to the United States in August. Such preparations took time, but they were ultimately trivial when compared with the beast that was filling out my visa extension request. Acting as a liaison between a local visa consulting service and my affiliated universities in Japan and the United States took way too much energy. Although I managed to acquire and complete all requested materials in a timely fashion, it damn near killed me. And to think that I started this process several months ago!
My community outreach activities over the last two weeks involved meeting with colleagues in various fields and discussing interdisciplinary research opportunities. For instance, I spoke with my friends Aiko and Nobuyuki about a collaborative project concerning the intersection of disability and religion in Japan. Aiko and Nobuyuki are both doctoral students in Buddhist Studies at Toyo University. We initially met a few years back when I was a Fulbright scholar in their department. It was great to see them again and get their feedback!
I also had the opportunity to chat with several incoming students and alumni associated with the University of Pennsylvania over the last two weeks including Patrick Carland, Caitlin Adkins, and Kaitlyn Ugoretz. Our conversations covered a lot of ground, ranging from the gendered implications of contemporary disability policy to classroom pedagogy.
Perhaps the most rewarding element of my community outreach was time spent with an undergraduate student, Jeff, who was visiting Japan as part of a class trip. Jeff is a blind, first-generation college student at Olivet College. He’s currently preparing for his MA in medical anthropology, which he hopes to start this fall. Jeff had lots of questions about the history and politics of disability in Japan, especially as pertaining to blind people. His teachers reached out to me a few weeks ago as a resident expert and asked that I take Jeff on a tour of Tokyo and chat with him about my personal experiences and research. Jeff and I had a great time walking around the Shinjuku, Asakusa, and Harajuku areas. We talked about a broad range of topics, from graduate school applications and practical philosophy to the boundaries of religious practice in Japan. I wish him nothing but the best going forward!
Over the last couple of days, I’ve taken some time off to recharge after two grueling weeks. I went to Joypolis and Round One (local arcades), where I wasted a few hours mindlessly playing claw machines and shooting poorly-rendered aliens. I also went to the movies, where I saw Detective Pikachu (which was great), and sang at Karaoke with some friends. To cap everything off, I drank a bottle of red wine last night. Well deserved, if I can pat myself on the back.
And there you have it, friends. Another two weeks done. At present, I’m waiting for my advisors’ feedback on the first chapter of my dissertation. After receiving it, I will begin to write the second chapter. Other than that, I’m just going to ride the wave and see what happens over the next two weeks!
These past two weeks have been fairly busy. I’m pleased to say that I’ve gotten a lot of work done on the first chapter of my dissertation, which I aim to complete by the end of next week. I’ve also taken advantage of Golden Week (a long string of holidays in Japan) to catch up with some friends, do some traveling, and take care of a couple of errands.
Over the last two weeks, I finished a solid 4,000 words of the first chapter of my dissertation. Most of my writing focused on the period between 1905 and 1930. I began by tracing how blind movements borne out of the introduction of braille to Japan in 1890 found solidarity with one another and petitioned the Imperial Diet for social protections including the reservation of traditional trades like acupuncture, moxibustion, bone-setting, and massage for their use. I then explored how blind movements expanded from regional resistance cells to national advocacy networks in the 1920s thanks in part to government-subsidized developments in communications and infrastructure. As blind movements spread across the country, I argued, they need to broaden their demands to appeal to wider publics. They began to push for new objectives like the recognition of braille ballots and creation of a general welfare system based on national surveys. Next week, I’ll illustrate how the successes and failures of such movements for the blind led to significant hardships for some (but not all) constituents during the 1930s and 1940s.
In addition to working on my dissertation, I also used the last two weeks to catch up with many of my friends and colleagues, including Andrew Zhu, Max Hain, Lily Shapiro, Kate Strickland, Kaitlyn Ugoretz, John Grisafi, Frank Mondelli, Ryo Hatakeyama, and Kristina Horn. All of my conversations were enjoyable, but I particularly enjoyed speaking with Andrew and Kate. Both are enterprising undergraduate students who contacted me for assistance with their respective research projects. Andrew is working on a digital interface that will draw attention to the lives and experiences of individuals with rare and orphaned diseases. His project touched me on a personal level as I have lived with an orphaned disease my entire life: Bookman Syndrome (named after my family). The disease affects six people on the planet (that we know of) and is the main cause of my muscle weakness. I can’t wait to see how Andrew develops his project and look forward to contributing to it once it goes live! Likewise, I am equally excited by Kate’s project, which analyzes and aims to improve accessibility at her home institution (University of Texas at Austin). Kate discovered my work through my Accessibility Mapping Project (AMP) and contacted me about including the AMP in her list of suggestions for creating better accessibility at U Texas. I look forward to our continued conversations and wish her the best for her mission to make campus a more inviting place for everyone!
Golden Week also afforded me a great opportunity to travel. Indeed, I was inclined to do so as my home town of Odaiba (a tourist trap) was incredibly crowded. Almost every day, I went to a different part of Tokyo and visited food festivals, beer gardens, and movie theaters. Two trips in particular stand out above the rest in my mind: my trip to Tokyo Disneyland last Monday and my trip to Kamakura this past Friday. I’ll have full articles about both trips online in the coming days, including a five-part miniseries that uses my trip to Disneyland to discuss best practices for creating access at entertainment centers. I’ll upload the links to both sets of articles here when they become available. For now, keep an eye out for “Disabled at Disneyland: Best Practices for Barrier-Removal” and “A Pilgrim’s Tale: Religion, Ritual, and Physical Disability in Japan.”
Errands and Extraneous Matters
Finally, the last two weeks allowed me to accomplish several errands and participate in various cultural activities. I watched the abdication of the Heisei Emperor and enthronement ceremony for the Reiwa Emperor, going out into the streets to celebrate alongside my friends. I also met with my caregivers and representatives from city hall to discuss increasing my caregiving hours from sixteen a day to twenty a day: a necessary development tied to my facial paralysis. While I’ve yet to hear back from city hall, I’m optimistic that my request will be approved, if only partially. Time will tell!
And that’s all I have for this week, friends! Tomorrow I’m due to meet with a blind undergraduate student from Olivet College who want to learn more about disability in Japan. I’m also going to meet with many friends and advisors next week to discuss a slew of upcoming conferences and events. I’ll keep you all posted!
I’m pleased to say that my energy levels have improved a bit since last week. I’m still not at 100%, but all things considered I managed to get a lot done in the space of seven days!
On Tuesday, I caught up with Frank Mondelli, a dear friend who’s currently working on his PhD at Stanford. Frank will come to Japan this fall to conduct research for his dissertation, which investigates the development of assistive technologies for persons with deafness over the last one-hundred years. After concluding my conversation with Frank, I sat down to work my way through the historical archives of three Japanese newspapers: the Mainichi Shinbun, the Asahi Shinbun, and the Yomiuri Shinbun. Scouring each archive for articles with references to ‘blindness’ and ‘visual impairment’ that came out between 1868 and 1945, I refined the narrative that I laid out in last week’s blog post.
In fact, I found some really interesting materials, which I began to incorporate into the first chapter of my dissertation on Wednesday afternoon. For instance, an article about the first national meeting for the blind in Japan, which took place on January 22, 1905. As always, writing for my dissertation took a lot out of me, and I was only able to string together a few paragraphs despite putting in a full day’s effort. Even so, I felt as if I had accomplished a significant feat, battling back the fatigue that had prevented me from writing for more than a week. I was content to take a small victory, especially when the path forward seemed to write itself. Indeed, I’m still basking in that contentment, secure in the knowledge that I just have to “fill in the blanks” before I can move on to my next chapter!
Now, the fact that I’m still enjoying the fruits of Wednesday’s labor has probably led some of you to wonder why I haven’t made any additional progress on my dissertation. The answer is simple: I spent the day at the Kabukiza theater in Ginza on Thursday, celebrated my birthday on Friday, went out with some friends for a second celebration on Saturday, and took the day off today (Sunday) to recuperate!
I’ve written a detailed article about my time at the Kabukiza theater for Accessible Japan. That article, “Accessing Kabuki, Accessing Japan: An Immersive Encyclopedia” features an in-depth walkthrough of the days events and plenty of photos. What it doesn’t include is a description of two of the three plays that I saw on Thursday afternoon: “The Black Mound on Adachi Plain (Kurozuka)” and “The Two Yugiri (Ninin Yugiri).” Therefore, I’d like to devote part of my blog entry this week to discussing those plays in some detail.
“The Black Mound on Adachi Plain” was a story about a group of itinerant monks who stumbled across a fearsome demon. Borne of the spite and malice of a woman scorned by her husband, the demon secluded itself on the wild moors of the Adachi Plain, where it preyed upon unsuspecting travelers. When the demon first encountered the monks, it assumed the form of an old woman and its sins were masked from their gaze. The monks asked the disguised demon if they could stay at its home, to which the demon said yes, so long as they daren’t look inside its hut (where the remains of its victims had been stashed). The demon went out to collect firewood for the monks, but not before rejoicing in their assurances that any being – no matter how wretched – could achieve awakening by praying to the Buddha. Here was redemption at last! Or so the demon thought. As it turns out, the porter who guided the monks to the demon’s abode couldn’t resist the urge to look inside her house. After witnessing the carnage within he told the monks of his discovery, leading the monks to confront the demon beneath the full moon. A fierce battle ensued, and although the demon transformed into a bloodthirsty monster, the monks were eventually victorious: their prayers (nenbutsu) vanquished the beast.
As a scholar with some training in Religious Studies, there’s a lot that I could say about “The Black Mound on Adachi Plain.” Perhaps the most striking element of the story to non-familiar readers is its misogynistic undertones: that women’s wickedness leads them to commit horrible sins and require exorcistic interventions. Such misogyny was (and arguably still is) not uncommon in many strains of Buddhist thought, which identify certain bodies and minds as being more or less capable of achieving awakening. Indeed, Buddhist practitioners have not only characterized women as being particularly susceptible to negative influences (i.e. defilement and pollution) but also other marginal demographics including persons with disabilities. I’ve written extensively about this elsewhere, but purification rituals designed to afford practitioners access to key sites of socioeconomic exchange (temples, shrines, the imperial palace, etc.) have often entailed the chanting of mantra and/or shaping of mudra, which impaired persons simply cannot reproduce. As a result, those individuals have been forced to rely on their communities and kin, creating complex webs of affect and economy that resonate throughout history.
If any of my readers would like to chat about “The Black Mound on Adachi Plain” and my thoughts regarding its implications in greater detail, feel free to reach out to me anytime. For now, I’d like to shift gears and focus on the final play that I saw on Thursday, “The Tale of Two Yugiri.” The tale focused on the story of Izaemon, the son of a wealthy Osaka merchant who was disowned by his parents. Izaemon fell in love with a high-ranking courtesan named Yugiri, who passed away (or so we are told) shortly after their affair. By the start of the play, Izaemon had already started living with a new courtesan wife whose name was also Yugiri. As if a contemporary soap opera, the old Yugiri blunders in and finds her lover remarried despite her long absence (for she was not dead, but hiding from a man who sought to make her his wife). She starts wreaking havoc and causing trouble for Izaemon and his new bride, but is eventually pacified by the wise owner of a local teahouse, Okisa. Okisa convinces the two courtesans not to quarrel with their husband, and the three live happily ever after.
To attach a morale to or conduct a heady academic analysis of “The Tale of Two Yugiris” seems somewhat inappropriate. After all, its the tale’s drama and conflict that makes it fun to watch. So I won’t dive down any rabbit holes here. Instead, I’ll simply recommend that anyone interested in Japanese aesthetics go out and read more about it!
And with that said, I’m going to sign off for this week. As always, thanks for reading, and I look forward to giving everyone another update next week! Cheers.
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.
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!
This week has possibly been the busiest out of my entire time in Japan so far.
On Monday, I started preparing for a lecture that I was asked to give to the Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) Working Group on Asia about accessibility in developing countries. Drawing on my personal experiences as a wheelchair user in Japan and the United States, I’ll identify how disconnects arise between local, national, international, and transnational constructions of accessibility. I’ll emphasize how those disconnects can create problems for persons with disabilities by restricting opportunities for education, employment, and other forms social participation, calling attention to the importance of collaborative design in creating accessible systems. My lecture is still a work in progress, but I suspect that it’ll turn out alright in the end. Thankfully, its not until early April, so I have some time to let it marinate before I need to finish things up. Taking advantage of some of that time, I continued my research on colony formation and patient movements during the postwar period on Monday afternoon.
On Tuesday, I left my apartment early to attend a meeting of the Tokyo Friendship Society of the Deafblind led by Ms. Akiko Fukuda (東京盲ろう者友の会). Ms. Fukuda and I have met on several occasions before. I’ll refrain from giving out too many of her personal details here, but suffice it to say that Ms. Fukuda has led a very interesting life up until this point. She is deafblind and also uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. Ms. Fukuda communicates using Japanese and English, and she is also fluent in multiple forms of sign language. It was extremely interesting watching Ms. Fukuda facilitate the meeting, which was attended by around thirty people. Among the attendees were several interpreters and many individuals with disabilities: visual, hearing, mobility, and otherwise. Each person with a disability had their own degree of impairment and mode of communication, making for a truly unique set of interactions. I was fascinated watching the interpreters translate Ms. Fukuda’s exploration of the topic of the day (universal design) as well as the self-introductions of each person in the room. Still, I was even more awestruck by my own biases and naïveté in conversation. For the first time in my life, I was in a situation where I not only had to announce that I communicate via spoken word, but also had to figure out how to explain that information to individuals who might not be able to comprehend it otherwise due to their sensory impairments. While my advisor at the University of Tokyo is deafblind, our conversations have always been contextually mitigated: I knew he was deafblind, and he knew I wasn’t, so we had a predetermined mode of communication. That was not so at this meeting, where I encountered strangers about whom I knew very little. It was an eye-opening experience for me, and one that I hope to take forward and apply to my work in the future. Indeed, I was so exhausted from thinking about the scholarly implications of my experience that I decided to take the night off on Tuesday and go out to see the most recent Spiderman movie. It was really good, and I’d highly recommend it to any/everyone interested.
On Wednesday, I traveled to the University of Tokyo to participate in a joint meeting of the research labs of Dr. Satoshi Fukushima (my advisor) and Dr. Shin’ichiro Kumagaya. At the meeting, I delivered a two-hour presentation about my dissertation research in Japanese. While I think that I may not have effectively communicated some of the finer details of my dissertation (which covers one-hundred years of policies and movements related to disability in Japan), the overall message rang clear and I received praise from the twelve individuals in attendance. My advisor was particularly pleased with my framing of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games as a prism through which we can understand the past, present, and future of accessibility in Japan. Dr. Kumagaya, for his part, was interested in my decision to emphasize the present condition of accessibility and encouraged me to be more explicit about my framing in future presentations. I’m truly grateful to everyone who attended that meeting and gave me insightful feedback, which I hope to use to continue developing my project. After finishing my presentation and meeting with my advisor for a few minutes in his office, I dashed toward the station and caught a train to the center of Tokyo, where I attended a practice session for my TED talk. The talk took place yesterday afternoon: I talk about it in greater detail below.
On Thursday, I traveled to Mitaka to meet up with Ms. Fukuda once again. This time, Ms. Fukuda invited me to attend a party at her house along with four other motorized wheelchair users and five caregivers. It was the first time that I’d seen more than two wheelchair users fit into an apartment in Tokyo, let alone five! Despite being cramped for space, we somehow managed to fit everyone in and had a great time talking about our interests and experiences. A few brief notes about our conversation:
1) Despite the fact that our ages differ drastically (27, 33, 41, 59, and 94) and we have different conditions, we found that we have lots in common. For instance, we all have problems with our bathrooms that have required us to significantly remodel, renovate, and customize our homes.
2) It was really interesting to hear about how structural barriers in the Japanese education system opened up new opportunities for some of the guests. For instance, one partygoer told me that she was unable to attend regular school due to a lack of accommodation and therefore attended an aftercare program where she learned English, Korean, and French. That she learned foreign languages (and is now fluent in them) because of her isolation from mainstream education is endlessly fascinating to me.
3) I asked my new friends about how Japan ought to proceed if it is to become accessible. Their answers can be summarized as follows: no matter how many laws we enact or policies we create, Japan will not become accessible if the will to enforce those laws and policies is not present. Indeed, the existence of welfare actors and objects (caregivers, wheelchairs, etc.) means little without proper guidance, training, and support. It is often the case that people with disabilities actively refuse assistance from caregivers despite a real need as accepting help from those with improper training can pose an even greater risk than failing to receive any. Scarcity of resources and constant turnover of caregivers makes this a real problem that Japan as a nation has yet to address.
On Friday, I headed to the House of Representatives of Japan to attend a lecture series about cohabitation of persons with disabilities and those without in workplace settings. That the lecture took place in the building of a government that has recently admitted to misreporting employment statistics of persons with disabilities for the last forty years was not lost on those in attendance. Still, the general air was one of positivity and discussion centered on ways of moving forward with workplace integration. The speakers emphasized the importance of capitalizing upon the unique perspective that persons with disabilities can bring to the workplace: how they can accomplish certain tasks that able-bodied users cannot precisely because they are disabled. Emphasizing the value of disabled laborers was of critical importance, as historically that value has often been overlooked in Japan. Indeed, persons with disabilities have often been understood as lacking the qualifications necessary to pursue various kinds of jobs: a condition that is usually attributed to the historical unavailability of education, welfare, and other social services. The transformation of persons with disabilities from “workers with difficulties” to “workers with unique skills” will likely usher in a new kind of economy for Japan, but what will that economy look like? How will it intersect with other global markets? And who else might be affected by it? These philosophical questions remained unanswered, but they drove me to think about the issue in greater detail. Unfortunately, I didn’t have too long to think as I had to rush back to Odaiba to meet with a dear friend, Patrick Galbraith. Patrick and I spent the evening drinking sake and talking about our shared love of anime and manga as well as the state of Japanese academia. He gave me some great advice regarding how I ought to move forward with my job hunt, and for that I’m truly grateful.
On Saturday, I ran out to Roppongi to attend the final rehearsal for my TED talk. For the first time, I got on stage and had the chance to recite my lines while manipulating my PowerPoint. As fate would have it, the auditorium lost power around halfway through my presentation, and I found myself rather off-kilt for the remainder of my speech. Unfortunately, I did not have time for a repeat performance as the remaining time had been blocked out for the other speakers. Still, I wasn’t going to complain, as I was confident with my presentation on the whole. After all, I’d given it many, many times up until that point at home and at informal rehearsals. I sat in the audience for a while and watched the other speakers before running back to Odaiba for yet another dinner meeting. This time, I sat down with Christa Mullis, a masters student at Hiroshima University researching comparative education (history and method) for persons with autism in Japan and the United States. Christa and I spoke in great detail about our respective research interests and overlapping experiences. As it turns out, we both studied abroad at Sophia University through CIEE and know many of the same people. I wish Christa nothing but the best for her project and hope that she finds her way back to Tokyo at some point in the near future.
On Sunday, I woke up early, donned my suit, hopped a taxi, and headed back to Roppongi to attend the TEDxFulbright Tokyo conference. The event featured speakers from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines: academics, politicians, media specialists, and so forth. Presentations were equally diverse, covering issues related to the construction of race, gender, and disability, as well as matters pertaining to immigration, urban design, and technical innovation. Uniting all of the talks and speakers was the conference theme, “Connect the World.” The event was truly wonderful, and I cannot express how grateful I am to the organizers for allowing me to take part. My speech, which focused on the importance of crowdsourcing technologies for creating accessibility, will be uploaded to Youtube at some point in the future. I’ll share a link on this blog as soon as it is available. For now, I’d like to thank the organizers, as well as all of my co-presenters, for their hard work and dedication in making the event a great success: not just for me, but for the hundreds of audience members in attendance. I’m sure that the event was just the beginning of a much larger conversation about the future of the human race, and that it will act as a catalyst for realizing participants’ respective visions of a more benevolent and inclusive world. As I said in my speech, the TED venue provides a great opportunity for speakers and audience members (in person and/or online) to learn how to transform their respective barriers into possibilities. I hope that everyone does their best to capitalize upon that opportunity and work to create a better future.
Today, I stayed home and rested from a very busy week. Indeed, I have more plans starting tomorrow, so I needed a day off.
As always, thank you for reading, everyone. Stay tuned, as I’ll have more updates next week. Cheers.
This past week has been filled to the brim with prep work for the coming two. I’m supposed to deliver at least three major presentations before the week of the 25th, so we’ll see how that goes!
On Tuesday, I made my way through John Dower’s Embracing Defeat (for the fifth time) to find citations and add some context to the second chapter of my dissertation. I also spoke with my friend Josh Grisdale of Accessible Japan about some exciting opportunities for future collaboration and met up with Dr. Michael Gillan Peckitt of Osaka University. Dr. Peckitt has written extensively about his experiences living in Japan as an foreigner with cerebral palsy. I greatly enjoyed our conversation, which touched on numerous aspects of disability history, policy, and activism, as well as educational and employment opportunities. I suspect that my conversation with Dr. Peckitt was only the beginning of a much larger dialogue, and I look forward to its continuation over the coming months.
On Wednesday, I spent much of my day preparing my script and powerpoint for my upcoming TED talk on Sunday, March 17th. After ten or so trial runs, I felt relatively comfortable with my materials and did not need to look at them to get my point across. To put my training to the test, I attended a group rehearsal session on Wednesday night, where I presented alongside Haruko Akatsu (the Dean of Medical Education at IUHW) and Keimi Harada (former mayor of Minato City in Tokyo, Japan). I learned a great deal from the feedback I received after my presentation, and have since incorporated many of my audience’s suggestions into my presentation. One of the most important lessons I learned was about my framing of Japan as a space of (in)accessibility. As a scholar of Japan, I’ve been trained to treat the island nation in relative isolation from the rest of the world, focusing on particular idiosyncratic behaviors and patters: after all, my analysis has to start somewhere. However, this framing of Japan as a space of problems (and solutions) unintentionally distracted my audience from my larger points about the global implications of access making. To correct for such distractions, I’ve since added in a lot of explicit comparisons and theorization of access at local, national, and international levels of analysis. I have another trial run scheduled for Wednesday, so fingers crossed!
On Thursday, my advisors at the University of Tokyo (Dr. Satoshi Fukushima and Dr. Shin’Ichiro Kumagaya) asked if I would be willing to deliver a talk at their joint research meeting this coming Wednesday, March 13. While short notice, I was quick to agree as I’ve yet to have a chance to share my dissertation research with them and their students in a structured setting. I was surprised to learn, however, that my talk was expected to be around two hours in length: one hour of lecture and one hour of Q/A. I wasn’t going to let the length of my talk bother me, however, and I immediately set out to put together materials. By Friday night, I had converted my dissertation prospectus (10 pages) into an easy-to-read outline (5 pages in Japanese) and put together an eighty slide PowerPoint. My talk will be conducted in Japanese, and is in many senses a trial run for my eventual dissertation defense. While I’m still more than two years away from my defense date, I hope to use my talk as a chance to sharpen my presentation skills in Japanese and gain feedback about sources/archives that I’ve yet to tap into (or haven’t tapped into enough).
On Friday, I supplemented my preparation for next week’s talk with work on another presentation that I will deliver on Sunday, March 24th. On that day, I’ll be Skyping in to the Association for Asian Studies at around 5:00 AM to deliver a lecture on “Violent Accessibility” and solidarity trends in Japan’s disabled communities. My lecture is part of a larger panel on Disability in Japan that I put together, which will also feature talks and commentary by Karen Nakamura, Carolyn Stevens, Yoshiko Okuyama, and Frank Mondelli. I really can’t wait!
After finishing up my preparation for both presentations (and having already completed my preparation for my TED talk), I decided that I would go out and get a cup of coffee at the mall. It was already late at night, and before I knew it the mall literally closed around me, shutters and all. While the coffee shop I was in kept its back door open, that door had stairs and I was unable to leave. Panicking, I ran to tell the store manager, and he ran outside to get a security officer to re-open the shutters and let me out. Unfortunately, I was swept away by the moment and forgot my wallet in the coffee shop! I realized around five minutes later and quickly turned around, hoping to catch the security guard before he ran back inside. By this point, it was close to 11:30 PM and it was raining outside. I was physically and mentally exhausted, but I wasn’t going anywhere without my wallet. Thankfully, I found someone to go get the security guard, and was relieved to discover that they’d already recovered my wallet and kept it in the lost and found. Thank god that all of my credit cards and cash remained untouched. Ah, the safety of Japan!
Yesterday and today, I spent a great deal of time digging around the Disability Information Resources System (DINF) maintained by the Japan Society for the Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities (JSRPD). There are decades of articles and untapped materials there for me to look at, so I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. Still, it’s been exciting work, and I’ve already found a lot of exciting things. For instance, I stumbled on photos of Helen Keller from her 1947 visit to Japan! To build on those findings and close out my week, I had dinner with Dr. Yoshiko Okuyama of the University of Hawaii this evening. Dr. Okuyama and I spoke about disability and tojisha manga as well as my own research on the history and politics of accessibility. Our conversation will certainly continue, as we’ll be presenting together on the 24th!
Believe it or not, this has been my ‘rest week.’ Starting on Tuesday, I have major plans each day that blow this weeks’ activities out of the water. At least I feel productive!