The Ties That Bind

Hello everyone!

It’s been way too long since I’ve put out a blog post. Apologies for the delay.

The last two months have been extremely hectic, as I’ve spent most of my time preparing to hit the job market this fall! Toward that end, I’ve produced several drafts of cover letters, research and teaching statements, as well as  other supplemental documents. I’ve also reorganized my website to be a bit more streamlined and reflect the kinds of information that potential employers may look for. Hopefully you all can still access it without too much difficulty (please let me know if you have any issues/suggestions!)

Thankfully, working on my job materials hasn’t kept me from diving into other things. I’ve met with many friends and colleagues to discuss new avenues for academic and activist interventions regarding accessibility. In fact, I’ve had more than twenty meetings to discuss collaborative projects in fields like architecture, engineering, performance, art, literature, policy, and law. To go into each of those meetings in detail would take a lot of space and time, and I don’t want to subject my more casual readers to it. Rather, I’m going to spend the majority of this blog post focusing on the projects and presentations that I successfully completed over the last eight weeks.

In terms of projects (and, more specifically, publications), I’ve written several articles as of late. Perhaps the most important among them is a condensed version of the first two chapters of my dissertation, which I’ve submitted to a top journal in my field for review. I’ve been instructed not to share information about that article in any public forum, but I’d be happy to send it to anyone interested if you contact me privately (you can do so via e-mail or the contact form above). In addition my academic article, I’ve also produced a number of public facing pieces on topics like creating an accessible religious community and the consequences of conflating violence and mental illness. Those articles have been published on websites like Accessible Japan and in newspapers like the Japan Times. Additionally, I’ve written a disability studies investigation of sumo wrestling (inspired by a recent trip to the Sumo capital of Japan, Ryugoku), which will be available online soon.

As always, I’ve tried to share my work with specialists operating in numerous fields and the general public. Talks at the Japan Foundation, Kurofune Holdings Architecture Firm, the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers, Susugamo Caregiving, and many universities in Tokyo have helped me accomplish that goal. Casual interactions with educators and technicians at large social welfare events like LIVES2019 have also been a great boon. I’m really excited about future speaking engagements sponsored by private corporations and the US Embassy as well as lectures that I’m due to give in the department of Life Design at Toyo University and the University of Tokyo’s Modern Japanese History Workshop.

While I truly enjoyed my research and service over the last two months, perhaps the most rewarding use of my time at a personal level was my trip back to the United States. For two weeks at the end of August I went back home to visit friends and family. I saw colleagues from Villanova University and the University of Pennsylvania as well as the larger Japanese Studies community in Philadelphia. I also attended a monumental event in my dad’s wedding and had the honor of delivering a speech as his best man. It was truly a wonderful occasion and I can’t express how happy I am for him and my new stepmother (although I’m certain she’ll kill me for describing her as such in this post).

As I now prepare to venture forth into the final stages of dissertation writing and the muck of the job market, I can say that I’m truly happy. Everything seems to be looking up for the time being – let’s hope it stays that way.

Be well, everyone, and I look forward to talking with you soon.

Mark

 

Global Gambits and Domestic Developments

Hello everyone!

It’s been a month since my last blog post and a lot has happened to say the least. Rather than offering a day-by-day breakdown of events here, I thought that I’d provide a brief summary. In the past, I’ve organized my blog around certain themes or ideas. Today, I’ll do so around the three essential components of my academic job application: research, teaching, and service. I’ve chosen this model because the academic job market looms large in my mind at the moment. I plan to apply for jobs for the first time in September!

Research

Over the last month, I’ve written four items worthy of note. The first is a completed version of the second chapter of my dissertation. The second is a revised version of my teaching statement. The third and fourth are two articles that I intend to submit to peer reviewed academic journals. In reading through the submission guidelines for those journals, I’ve come to learn that I have to refrain from describing the content of my articles to allow for blind review. Hopefully you’ll see my name in print before too long!

The last month also gave me several chances to present my research.

A few weeks ago, I gave a guest lecture for Karen Nakamura at Waseda University about disability and technology in contemporary Japan. I took her students on a tour of the surrounding area, during which I pointed out accessibility features (or lack thereof) and discussed how our actions can affect the built environment. The students seem to have taken an interest in my interactive lesson. According to Karen, many have used it as inspiration for their final projects, which aim to elucidate various aspects of access in Tokyo.

More recently, I lead a pedagogy workshop at Sophia University about teaching diversity in Japanese universities alongside four co-panelists, who discussed issues of race, class, and gender in a way that complemented my work on disability. Most of my contributions focused on the troubling implications of teaching without consulting persons with disabilities. I argued that a lack of disabled voices in the classroom (borne out of social, political, economic, and cultural barriers, among others) has led us to teach in a way that produces practical changes in the outside world that often create hardships for persons with disabilities. I suggested that we must develop an awareness of the ways in which our teaching affects individuals within and outside of the classroom and deliberately redesign our pedagogical practices to dismantle barriers to education, employment, and social participation for persons with disabilities. 

Of course, my participation in research events was not limited to the role of facilitator. I also attended many events led by faculty operating in disciplines adjacent to my own. For instance, I went to see lectures by Amanda Seaman and Jennifer McGuire on cancer narratives and the cultural effects of several kinds of deaf education.

Teaching

My teaching this month often assumed the form of academic advising. I spoke with four students who wish to enter the academy and gave them feedback on their application materials. While I won’t reveal their names here due to concerns regarding anonymity, I’ll wish them the best. In addition to my student advising, I also spoke with some of my peers and mentors like Chris Atwood, Edward Drott, Jolyon Thomas, Gregory Hannah, and Christa Bialka about career prospects and the cultivation of a professional persona. Their advice has been invaluable in developing my job application materials, and I hope that I’ve reciprocated their kindness by suggesting practical developments within the academy that may benefit their students. For instance, the creation of an Accessibility Minor (rather than a Disability Studies minor) at Villanova University that would unite students of engineering, business, law, ethics, gender and global interdisciplinary studies via collaborative research projects that tackle barriers to access for everyone.

Service

Perhaps the most exciting aspects of my work over the last month (or at least the most noticeable to those outside academia) fell into the realm of service. Among my many encounters were meetings with domestic entrepreneurs and politicians working in the accessibility sphere. For instance, I was consulted by Kurofune Design Holdings Inc., an architecture firm that hopes to build an international residence that can accommodate persons with disabilities from different cultures. I also met with Keimi Harada (former mayor of Tokyo’s Minato Ward) and shared with him my views on access. Such meetings went a long way to furthering the domestic realization of my research.  But my service activities over the last month were not limited to domestic developments.

Two weeks ago, I met with disability activists Masako Okuhira and Ming Canaday at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation to discuss the creation of accessible environments in Japan, China, and the United States. I was also contacted by the UN Special Envoy of the Secretary General of the United Nations on Disability and Accessibility, who praised my work and suggested that I become involved in a number of international initiatives, including the Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES). The Special Envoy asked me to share the findings of my research with her and her peers at the UN. I can’t say how humbling it is to be consulted by leaders on accessibility from across the globe. I can only hope to live up to their expectations going forward!

Wrapping Up

And that’s about it for this month, my friends. I’m going back underground for a while as I have to prepare my job application materials, but you’ll hear from me before too long. As always, thanks for reading, and feel free to leave a comment or question if you like!

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Colleagues and Conferences

Hello all!

Apologies for falling out of my normal writing rhythm. I fell out of my wheelchair two weeks ago while my caregiver was transferring me to the shower and had to go to the hospital. I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t badly injured, and I’ve more or less made a full recovery. I lost a few days in the process, but hey, what can you do!

Despite my medical setback, I’ve had a busy couple of weeks!

Over the last fourteen days, I’ve written/edited approximately 10,000 words of the second chapter of my dissertation (around 85%). That chapter traces how organizations for the blind influenced the creation of the Law for the Welfare of Physically Handicapped Persons in 1949 by forming strategic alliances with veterans associations, government institutions, and occupational forces.

In addition to my dissertation work, I also wrote a number of access audits for Accessible Japan, including entries for the National Noh Theater and the Kabukiza Theater. While researching those entries, I attended information sessions and special backstage tours for each theater and even had a chance to meet some of the actors and trainers!

Furthermore, I  developed several event abstracts (LIFE2019, MAR/AAS, AAS) and wrote a number of essays that will eventually be published as conference proceedings over the last two weeks. But my time wasn’t spent entirely on writing and research.

The last two weeks also afforded me opportunities to meet with friends and colleagues in various venues. First, I dropped by the Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA) to meet with my friend Fukuchi-san and discuss the possibility of setting up an accessible tourism venture. We talked about my thoughts regarding access and technology and discussed how I could get involved in their accessibility initiatives aimed at developing countries. I equally enjoyed my conversation with Amanda Seaman of UMass Amherst, who sat with me for a cup of coffee and told me about her work on cancer narratives. I had a great time in Yokohama with my girlfriend and Shimokitazawa with my caregiver. And it was nice catching up with old friends after a lecture from Mark Ramseyer at the University of Tokyo.

Perhaps the biggest news that I have to share is that my visa extension was approved through the end of August 2020. Also, my TED talk, “Paralympics as Possibility: The Past, Present, and Future of Accessibility” is now available online.

Noh Theater with Japan Foundation
Noh Theater with Japan Foundation

Papers and Publicity

Hello all!

This past week has been something of a whirlwind. My activities can be summarized in a few short sentences, so I’m not going to belabor the point.

Public-Facing Articles

Over the past week, I put out/was featured in three public-facing articles. The first,  “To Make a More Accessible City, Turn to the Sidewalk” (Smart Cities Dive) explores how crowdsourcing technologies can help us build better cities. The second, “An Olympics Crowdsourcing Project May Be The Answer to Making Japan A More Accessible Country” (The Japan Times) investigates the implications of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo for persons with disabilities around the globe. And the third, “A Pilgrim’s Tale: Religion, Ritual, and Physical Disability in Japan” (Accessible Japan) looks at the relationship between religion, disability, pilgrimage, and community formation.

Reading and Research

Much of my time was spent researching the history of veterans and blind movements in Japan between 1940 and 1950. I read through hundreds of occupation records, as well as magazines and other materials from the National Diet Library. I also investigated resources from the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare as well as secondary scholarship put out by the Japan Lighthouse Association and the Helen Keller Society.

Entertainment

In addition to research and writing, I spent a fair bit of time relaxing. I’m still waiting on my dissertation advisor’s feedback on my first chapter (although initial comments seem positive), so I had time to kill.  I took the opportunity to Skype with friends and go out to Karaoke. I also visited Teamlab Borderless, a digital art installation that immerses participants in the works through lights and lasers. It was interesting seeing how many ‘borders’ I could find in the free-flowing world as a person with multiple disabilities.

Concluding Remarks

This coming week will be my last week of research before I jump back into writing and begin on my second chapter. Wish me luck!

 

Relaxation with my friend Ryo
Relaxation with my friend Ryo

Fun (and Finished Drafts!)

Hey all,

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.

Dissertation Work

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!

Community Outreach

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!

Fun/Relaxation

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!

As always, thanks for reading, and stay tuned!

 

Golden (Week) Opportunities

Hello all!

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.

Dissertation Work

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.

Friends

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!

Traveling

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!

As always, thanks for reading, and stay tuned!

Blindness and Birthdays

Hey all!

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.

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Birthday Dinner in Odaiba