Teaching and Triumphs

Hey all!

In an effort to get myself back on an every-Sunday posting schedule, I’m writing a relatively short entry this week. Don’t let that discourage you from reading, however, as this week was certainly an eventful one!

On Wednesday, I spent most of my morning reading about leprosy literature in prewar Japan and thinking about the structure of the first chapter of my dissertation. There are still bits and pieces of that chapter that need to come together before I submit it for review, but I think that I’m on track to have a completed version by the years’ end. I also used some of my free time on Wednesday to finish my quarterly progress report for the Japan Foundation and write my annual progress report for Penn regarding my dissertation. Still, perhaps the most productive and rewarding part of my Wednesday was a conference presentation I delivered in the evening at the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT). Speaking to one-hundred and twenty representatives from schools across Japan, I discussed the barriers faced by students with disabilities from abroad and ways of dismantling those barriers. I was somewhat disheartened (but not at all surprised) to see hesitation when I asked the room how they would accommodate someone with disabilities like mine in the event that they applied to a study abroad program. After some discussion, I shifted the conversation toward the importance of creating environments where any/all individuals can express their needs, and where negotiations can occur between academics, administrative officials, engineers, disabled ‘experts,’ and other relevant parties. On the whole, I think that the conversation went well and my message got across. Here’s hoping it does something to help someone somewhere down the road.

On Thursday, I woke up early and got ready to head out the door for a long day at Toyo University. After arriving in the early afternoon, I met with Shingo Ashizawa, a professor in the Department of Regional Development Studies who had invited me to give a series of guest lectures to his classes on global dynamics and tourism. Before joining Ashizawa-Sensei’s class, I sat down with him for lunch. It was great to catch up after a long time apart and hear that he’s been keeping busy by traveling the world to advance his research, which focuses on study abroad initiatives between Japan and other countries. After finishing our meal (curry for me, katsu for him), Dr. Ashizawa and I went upstairs to meet with the president of Toyo University, Dr. Makio Takemura. Dr. Takemura was my advisor when I studied at Toyo as a Fulbright Fellow, and I was really excited to see him again. We spoke about the ways in which my work on Japanese Buddhism shaped my understanding of accessibility and desire to pursue disability studies, as well as Dr. Takemura’s recent activities as president. Apparently, Toyo University will be opening a new campus in a couple of years dedicated to (global) interdisciplinary studies.  I can’t wait to see what their faculties look like!

After finishing up my meeting with Dr. Takemura, I followed Ashizawa-Sensei to his third period class.  To prepare for my lecture, I had asked that the students read a short article in The Japan Times about recent access-making activities in Japan tied to the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Much to my surprise, the students had not only read the article but also appeared eager to chat about it. We discussed what it means to make accessibility in Japan today (according to the article) and how we could develop a research question, method, and plan based on the data presented therein. For a class focused on pedagogy, the conversation went relatively smoothly: I had each student develop their own research question, and for those who could not I asked them to consider why it was hard for them to do so. After formulating their question, I had the students discuss possible research methods with one another before talking about access to resources and the development of a feasible timeline. On the whole, I think the class went rather well. But I was even more impressed with the second class I taught in the afternoon. Unlike the first class, which focused on pedagogy, the second class was entirely devoted to content. I gave a mini-lecture on the history of access-making in Japan before inviting the class to consider a fundamental problem borne out of that history: if you can’t create access for everyone, how do you create it for as many individuals as possible? Breaking the class into three groups, I had the students brainstorm ways of addressing this problem. One group suggested the invention of new assistive technologies. Another group suggested asking persons with disabilities about their needs. And the final group suggested coming up with multiple options for persons with disabilities to choose from. I could not have planned such an outcome, but it provided the perfect opportunity to talk about how best to meld these strategies and introduce my own work on co-design as embodied by my Accessibility Mapping Project. The class finished on a high note, talking about our role as users and activists in the creation of an accessible environment, and I left Toyo with a sense of accomplishment and pride. I look forward to coming back to teach again at some point in the near future.

On Friday, I headed to the University of Tokyo to meet with Kiriko Takahashi, a specialist in disability education with appointments at Todai’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology and the University of Hawaii. Dr. Takahashi introduced me to her boss, Robert Stodden, an expert on American disability policy who was visiting Japan on his way over to China. She also introduced me to Amit, another visiting researcher  from Israel who had come to study disability in Japan (along with his wife). The five of us spent the better part of the afternoon talking about our respective research projects and the state of disability police and justice in Japan, the United States, and Israel. It was a really productive conversation, and one that I hope to continue in the future. Alas, it had to come to an end, and I headed home to grab a bite to eat. Before going to bed, I spent some time Skyping with Frank Mondelli, a dear friend who’s currently studying the history of assistive technologies for persons with hearing impairments in Japan at Stanford.

On Saturday, I woke up early in the morning to a house filled with four caregiving companies. After several months and much uproar, it’s looking like I may finally get caregiving coverage at night (and possible more during the day). I won’t say any more (less I jinx the situation), but I have a good feeling about things….

After my caregivers left, I rushed out into the cold to attend a lecture series in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Japanese NGO Network on Disabilities (JANNET). The conference featured a range of speakers, divided into two core sections: “How to set up an accessible meeting?” and “Recent Activities of Disability-Related Organizations.” After a series of opening remarks from Naoji Shimizu, the current chair of JANNET, the first presentation was delivered by Miwa Morikawa, a representative from the Accessible Design Foundation of Japan. Ms. Morikawa’s presentation focused on the barriers to access faced by persons with disabilities when it comes to work-related meetings, as well as ways to resolve those barriers. I won’t spoil everything, but you can read more about her work here. Of equal interest to Ms. Morikawa’s presentation were ensuring presentations by Shin’ichiro Koide (of the National Federation for the Deaf), Akiko Fukuda (of the Japan Deafblind Association), Sayako Nogiwa (of the Association of Aid and Relief [AAR] Japan), and Chiharu Morita (of the Japan International Cooperation Agency [JICA]). Each presentation provided valuable information for my dissertation project related to the history of disability organizations, successes and failures of current disability policies, and the global extension of Japanese standards of accessibility. If there’s one thing that I’ve gained from attending all of these conferences, it’s ammo!

Today, I was supposed to attend a conference dedicated to Anime and Manga Fan Studies oat Sophia University, The event is being hosted by my dear friends Patrick Galbraith and David Slater. Unfortunately, I’m not feeling all that great so I’ve decided not to attend. Sorry guys. Thankfully, this next week looks pretty empty, so I can get lots of rest and recover (when not writing my dissertation, that is).

As always, thanks for reading, and stay tuned!


Castles and Conferences

Hey all!

This past week was fairly eventful: I gave a conference presentation at Nanzan University in Nagoya, was filmed for a Japanese Television show, taught a course about the virtues of Universal Design, and more!

After touring the olympic village in Asaka and giving a lecture on Universal Design (UD) on Tuesday, I had the opportunity to reunite with an old friend on Wednesday: Lekakeny Rumpe. Rumpe and I became friends when I was studying Esoteric Buddhist Philosophy at Toyo University from 2014-2015. At that time, Rumpe was working on urban planning initiatives between his native Kenya and Japan at Toyo, and we spent many nights drinking and talking about life, the universe, and everything in between.  It was good to see Rumpe again and hear that he’s back in Japan trying to drum up business connections for affordable/sustainable development projects in Africa. I hope he has nothing but success!

After meeting with Rumpe, I dashed over to Shinbashi to grab a cup of coffee with four students from Meiji Gakuin University’s Department of Social Welfare. Those students had been given the arduous task of interviewing me about my life and work by their professor, Kyoko Hamashima, whom I’ve become friendly with via my involvement in DPI Japan. The interview went fairly smoothly, and the students and I went back and forth about differences in social welfare systems in Japan and the United States. They spoke about their respective interests in the welfare of children, the elderly, and the poor, and I explained how, in my mind, those interests were all explicitly connected. I urged them to think about how we might develop a comprehensive welfare system, as opposed to a siloed one, and what the implications of both systems might be.

On Thursday, I woke up early and headed to the University of Tokyo to meet with my advisor, Dr. Satoshi Fukushima. Dr. Fukushima and I spent a few minutes catching up before we were joined by a television crew from RHK, a Japanese broadcasting company who filmed us talking about the recent scandal re: the inflation of employment statistics for persons with disabilities by the Japanese government. Apparently, that segment will air before the end of the year, so I’ll keep you all posted. In any case, Dr. Fukushima and I continued our conversation after the cameras stopped rolling, and before I knew it we’d spent the better part of 12 hours together. It was really great hearing his opinion about my work on Buddhism and disability, and although we didn’t have a lot of time to discuss my dissertation I suspect that we’ll have plenty of opportunities in the future.

On Friday, I had a home nurse come out to the apartment for the first time to evaluate my condition. Or, at least, that’s what I thought was supposed to happen. In fact, the nurse came out to have me complete a ton of paperwork over the course of two hours and did not examine me at all before announcing that she’d be unable to return for at least two weeks (and even then, she couldn’t accommodate my schedule). Still, I suppose late service is better than no service. I took the rest of the day off to recover from a busy work week and do a bit of research related to the remaining sections of the first chapter of my dissertation. I knew what lied ahead on Saturday: a trip to Nagoya on the bullet train.

After waking up early and rushing out the door, I managed to get on the bullet train on Saturday morning along with my fiance. The ride itself was fairly uneventful, and we spent most of it watching a movie. It didn’t hurt that we were put in a private ‘multipurpose’ room that was designed to accommodate all kinds of wheelchairs and mobility devices, and we didn’t have to deal with snoring passengers and crying children. After arriving in Nagoya, my fiance and I went our separate ways: she hung around the station to get a bite to eat, and I ran across the street to attend a special lecture on the the accessibility issues surrounding the rebuilding of Nagoya Castle. The lecture was hosted by Takahashi Gihei of Toyo University, who I was glad to see again in a new setting. After the lecture concluded, I got together with a bunch of the organizers for a reception/drinking party. Ten of us went downstairs to a bar and spent around 2-3 hours talking about our impressions about the Nagoya Castle conundrum and our jobs re: the development of accessibility in Japan. It was great to talk about my research in a free and open environment with individuals directly affected by it, but it was even more rewarding to make new friends and feel like I’ve become part of a community.

After the drinking party concluded, I reunited with my fiance and headed to AJU, an independent living center in Nagoya where we were due to spend the night. I was invited to stay there last week after meeting some of the people who work there at the DPI Japan Policy Conference. I was delighted to find that the room we were put up in was not only completely wheelchair accessible, but also had a hospital bed and all of the amenities I needed to feel right at home. I slept well, and I’m glad that I did – after all, I had a conference presentation on Sunday at Nanzan University.

Getting to the conference venue at Nanzan University was something of a challenge. The university itself is located in the mountains, and you have to climb many hills in order to get there. It didn’t help that I was with my fiance, who was carrying our heavy luggage up and down the rugged terrain. Honestly, I feel terrible about the whole ordeal, but I’m glad that we made it in the end. As I walked through the gate to campus, I ran into Jolyon Thomas, my dissertation advisor from the University of Pennsylvania and one of my co-panelists. We walked to the venue together, where I met with Ben Dorman, the organizer of the conference. Ben is also interested in Japanese disability studies, and we had a lot to talk about in terms of policy, kinship, and media. Before we could get too far into the weeds, however, we had to cut our conversation short as my panel was due to start. On the whole, I was happy with my presentation, which focused on the successes and failures of recent access-making activities in Japan. I got some good feedback about my theorization of disability violence, and I hope to use it to refine the fifth chapter of my dissertation somewhere down the line.

After sticking around for another panel and the closing of the conference, I headed back to Nagoya station, where I met my fiance. We grabbed a bite to eat before hopping back onto the bullet train and making our way home. Although our trip was only two days long, it was extremely tiring for both of us, and we felt like we needed a lot of rest by the end of it. We slept well on Sunday, but the madness continued early Monday morning. I rushed to the hospital for my monthly check-up, only to be kept waiting for around 5 hours while my doctor reviewed my blood test results. In the end, everything was fine, but I’d lost a day of productivity. What really made my blood boil (no pun intended) was that I had asked my doctor two months ago to help me secure a ventilator in Japan, and he flat out admitted to me that he hadn’t done any research about possible vendors during the course of our conversation. I told him that I had run out of parts for the ventilator that I had brought with me from America, and he immediately called another doctor, who arranged an appointment for me to meet with a vendor later this afternoon. I’ll be leaving for that appointment shortly, but I wanted to take the time to write and let you all know what’s going on!

So there you have it. As always, a busy week with lots of twists and turns. This next week promises to be equally busy: I’m due to meet with 120 students from MEXT on Wednesday, give a lecture at Toyo University on Thursday, chat with a group of professors from the University of Hawaii on Friday about disability policy, attend a workshop about accessible workplaces at the JSRPD on Saturday, and take part in a conference about fan studies and Japanese anime at Sophia University on Sunday. As always, thanks for reading, and stay tuned!

Nanzan Conference Pic
Speaking at Nanzan University

Existence, Experience, and Employment

Hey all!

This past week was quite busy, and something of an emotional rollercoaster for me. I’ve been helping my fiance with her graduate school applications…it’s like I get to apply for a third time! Still, I managed to accomplish a lot this week and I feel proud, so I suppose that’s something. On to the recap!

As I wrote a blog entry last Monday, I won’t bother recapping that day. Suffice it to say that I needed lots of rest as I was still getting over a fairly nasty bug (I’m fine now, by the way!)

On Tuesday, I spent most of my day inside scouring the National Diet Library’s database for resources about the five main sections of the first chapter of my dissertation, which are dedicated to 1) visual/hearing impairments, 2) infectious diseases, 3) intellectual impairments and psychiatric disorders, 4) physical impairments, and 5) military welfare in Japan between 1920-1945. Although I’ve written most of my first chapter already, I’ve done so on the basis of a broad collection of secondary scholarship without citing as many primary sources as I’d like (maybe 40%?) Still, it’s a start, and a fairly important contribution to the field in my opinion, as very few people (if any) have bothered to look at the development of accommodations for these populations alongside one another. When we do, we find some really interesting results: policymakers and public intellectuals deployed a wide range of strategies for dealing with so-called ‘disabled’ individuals in (inter)war Japan, including but not limited to special education, sequestration, community participation, selective integration, and social welfare initiatives. Responding to processes of industrialization, urbanization, militarization, and the rise of eugenic thought, they tried their best to deal with the ‘problem’ of disability, by reinforcing hierarchies of accessibility based on race, class, gender, and capacity.

Stepping away from my historical inquiry, I jumped into the present with some ethnographic fieldwork on Wednesday at a public lecture hosted by DPI Japan. The lecture was dedicated to the formation of new policies related to dying with dignity and euthanasia. Many famous faces were in attendance, including Shoji Nakanishi, one of the primary players in Japan’s independent living movement. I had the chance to speak with many of the people there (including Nakanishi-san), although there were more than one-hundred interested parties in attendance so I couldn’t get to everyone. Still, I found the debate very interesting: how does one develop an effective strategy for end of life care? Should we develop policies that allow for dying with dignity? If so, who are the players involved in making decisions about such matters? How can we determine free will at any point in time, let alone make such heavy decisions based on prior consent? What factors (technologies, caregivers, etc.) do we need to create an environment where individuals can make ‘free’ and ‘informed’ decisions about the ways in which they would like to die? What about the role of families in making decisions? These are just some of the questions that were explored on Wednesday.

On Thursday, I took the day off to recuperate from the emotional charge of Wednesday’s event. I needed time to process the discussion of dying with dignity, as it hit home in more ways that one. As a person with a progressive muscle condition, I’ve been forced to think through my own future on multiple occasions.  But I’ve rarely been afforded the opportunity to reflect so viscerally on my own fate. What decisions would I make if I were in a position where dying with dignity became an option? Would I want to live in chronic pain with severely limited communication? I’m inclined to say yes, provided I have a supportive environment. There’s still so much I can contribute – and that I want to contribute. That’s how I feel now, anyway, we’ll see where things rest in a couple of years.

On Friday, I woke up early and headed to the University of Tokyo to meet with my advisor, Prof. Satoshi Fukushima. We spent a great deal of time talking about the “existential model of disability” he’s been developing on the basis of face-to-face conversations with many disabled individuals. Dr. Fukushima’s model follows the way that experiences of disability shape our decisions about friends, family, health, wealth, and other aspects of daily living. It resembles some of the scholarship I’ve seen on cripistemologies in the West, especially that introduced by Robert McCruer. During the course of our conversation, Dr. Fukushima and I talked about the relationship between disability and religious intimacy as well as love, self-understanding, self-respect, and self-determination. Perhaps the most exciting part of our conversation was the fact that it was filmed by a crew from NHK, who intend to air it on a TV show called “Direct Talk.” As it turns out, Dr. Fukushima and I will be filmed again this coming Thursday for another TV show on the recent government employment scandal. For those unaware, it recently came out that the Japanese government has been inflating employment statistics for persons with disabilities for the last forty years by including individuals with glasses (as well as other minor impairments) and even the dead as ‘disabled.’

After finishing up my meeting/film session with Dr. Fukushima, I traveled across town to attend an emergency meeting about the reconstruction of Nagoya Castle led by Dr. Gihei Takahashi of Toyo University. The meeting explained in detail the issues that persons with disabilities have with the reconstruction: namely, that the castle is being built such that it includes narrow rooms, many stairs, and no elevators. Officials have argued that the inclusion of elevators goes against historical (cultural) precedent and risks disturbing the stone foundation that remains from the Edo period. However, as many disability activists have pointed out, the castle was rebuilt once before during the 1960s such that it included two large freight elevators. Officials have fought back, arguing that the last time the castle was rebuilt there was less awareness/concern about environmental issues and sustainability, but one has to wonder about the legacy of the castle they intend to create. Who will be unable to tour it? What will their experiences of inaccessibility bring? What precedent are we setting for construction projects in other times and places?

As if to answer these questions, I rushed over to the seventh annual meeting on disability policy hosted by DPI Japan on Saturday. The meeting, officially titled “Toward the Comprehensive Implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)  – Rushing Toward the UN’s 2020 Review,” was attended by more than 200 persons with disabilities and allies from across Japan. After arriving, I had the opportunity to meet with many old friends and former interviewees including but not limited to Jun Ishikawa, Koji Onoue, and Noboru Imamura. We all gathered in a room and talked about many of the issues facing persons with disabilities today, ranging from physical access to reproductive rights. Then, we discussed how the CRPD might be mobilized to address these issues, and where we need further clarification. It was really interesting to observe the whole process and review the materials compiled by the organizing committee, which spelled out the Japanese government’s official attitudes toward the raised issues and put them side-by-side with DPI Japan’s collected data. As much as I enjoyed the actual meeting, I had an ever greater time at the after party, in which I was treated as a guest of honor and obliged to drink until I got drunk. For those unaware, the National Police Agency of Japan recently released a manual saying that electric wheelchair users should not drink as they risk hurting other people. To challenge the blatant discrimination of their ruling, my friends and I drank to our heart’s content.

On Sunday, I took the day off to help my fiance finalize her graduate school applications. The day also afforded me an opportunity to rest and reflect on my own work, as well as to go out and enjoy myself. Nothing says relaxation like a gluttonous buffet dinner and a movie!

On Monday, I headed over to the Nippon Foundation Headquarters to attend the ASEAN Japan Summit for University Students with Disabilities. The conference was attended by around 85 persons with disabilities and allies from across South Asia, who were divided into four groups and tasked with developing a new kind of technology to support persons with disabilities in their respective communities. Some advocated for accessible social media campaigns aimed at improving awareness, while others sought to address issues related to employment by developing and promoting mobile apps. It was really exciting to hover between the groups (occasionally offering my opinion) and see what everyone was up to! In the afternoon, the four groups presented their ideas before representatives from Microsoft, the University of Tokyo, and Yohei Sasakawa, the chairmen of the Nippon Foundation. Later today, they’ll receive a decision about which project(s) will receive grant support to become a reality! I wish everyone the best.

Before leaving the Nippon Foundation building, I stopped by a pop-up cafe on the first floor that was designed to showcase new employment possibilities for persons with disabilities. The cafe featured various avatar robots that could be controlled remotely by persons with severe disabilities including but not limited to Muscular Dystrophy and ALS. The robots busily milled about, performing tasks traditionally assigned to waiters and staff. Honestly, it was really cool to see. I was even given the chance to pilot one of the avatar robots myself! As I’ve written about elsewhere, micro-tasking and tele-commuting present two fantastic avenues for the development of disability employment in Japan’s future, and if the expressions of the patrons of the robot cafe are anything to go by, I’m not alone in thinking that way.

Today, I’m off to Asaka to map the accessibility of the olympic village they’re setting up out there. I’ll also be delivering a lecture about inclusive design and my experiences as a foreigner with a disability in Japan at Toyo University.

The rest of this week promises to be action packed, with interviews, fieldwork, and writing in the future! Stay tuned, and as always, thanks for reading!




Writing and Writhing

Hey all,

Apologies that this entry is coming a day late. I’ve been sick the last couple of days, and I’m really not feeling up to writing right now. Having said that, I want to get the word out, so I’ll offer a brief recap on this past week’s activities:

On Monday, I started to write the fifth chapter of my dissertation. I’m due to present on that material at a conference at Nanzan University in two weeks, so I wanted to make sure that I had a solid draft to go off of. As this is not an ‘academic’ blog, I’ll keep my summary short. Basically, I explore how the installation of elements of barrier-free architecture and promotion of principles of ‘Universal Design’ has manufactured possibilities of prejudice, violence, and abuse toward persons with disabilities in Japan over the last twenty years. Incomplete or inadequate understanding of accessibility tied to an inability to engage all potential users of given spaces has created social, political, and economic tensions between persons with disabilities and their communities, resulting in conflict and calls for reformation. Trust me when I say the idea makes more sense when fully fleshed out with the 120+ articles I’ve collected for it from various newspapers, interviews, and field-sites.

On Tuesday, I got together with a longtime family friend, David Freedman. David grew up with my dad, and although they are not related by blood they share the same humor and mannerisms. David currently works as the English-language producer for a wide array of Japanese animation. He’s worked on projects for Studio Ghibli and other major entities. It was really cool chatting with him about his experiences while we grabbed some sushi from a nearby bar!

After meeting with David, I ran over to Asaka to conduct an access audit for the Olympic shooting range that will be used during the 2020 games. While the range itself was fairly accessible, the walk to it was very dimly lit, had multiple physical hazards (inclined paths with gutters and no rail, metal bars blocking toilets, nowhere to sit and rest, etc.) I hope the information that I gave them will be of use as they continue to prepare for the games!

On Wednesday, I spent most of my day working on the fifth chapter of my dissertation before heading outside to meet with a dear friend from Penn, Kristina Horn. Kristina was in Japan visiting her sister, who is currently studying abroad at TUJ. We had lots to talk about and had a great time catching up over soba. It seems like she’s really enjoying her time at Penn and is currently preparing for her Ph.D. applications. You’ve got this!

On Thursday, I took a few hours out of my morning to Skype with a former student who took my Intro to Buddhism class this past spring. That student and I spent a lot of time talking about her career path and experiences as an undergraduate student, as well as our respective philosophies of life and attitudes toward labor. It was great to have a conversation where I could freely express why I’m so happy to be doing what I’m doing and hear about another person’s way of living. Those conversations are really what being a teacher is all about in my book.

After finishing my conversation with my former student and working on my writing for a bit, I went out to meet a fellow Fulbright alumnus, Jasmine Shiokawa, and a lawyer/disability rights activist who specializes in psychosocial disabilities: Nobuo Sasaki. Sasaki-san and I spent a great deal of time talking about the state of accessibility in Japan, but as has become custom, as soon as I mentioned that I’ve also studied Buddhism, the conversation took a sharp turn. We spent a lot of time talking about Buddhist philosophy and ethics, including how they relate to disability. I suppose that I need to get used to the fact that most people I encounter in Japan will latch on to that part of my study as a topic of interest. Ah well, I suppose I’ll just have to bring it back into focus!

On Friday and Saturday, I spent most of my days in bed with an infection. I’ve been taking antibiotics and trying to keep myself conscious, but if my writing here is indication they’re not doing the trick 100%. Hopefully things will look up as time marches on!

Apologies all if today’s entry has appeared disjointed, stream of consciousness, or simply illegible (grammatically or otherwise). This is a writing of pain, an experiment in  cripistemology so that you can all get a feel for my tired condition.

I look forward to sharing more next week!


Commemorative Photo After Mapping the Shooting Range

Universities and Universal Design

Hello everyone!

It’s Sunday, so that means it’s time for a new blog post.

This past week was fairly eventful – and often in ways that I wasn’t anticipating! Each morning, I wrote a couple of pages of my dissertation, and while I won’t belabor the point I’ll say that I made a lot of progress.

Now, on to the fun stuff!

On Monday, I traveled back to Toranomon where I met with Ms. Masako Okuhira of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and Dr. Emiko Tanaka of Tokyo Kasei University. We spoke about my research into the history of disability movements in Japan as a group before making a list of contacts who might help me and archives I might be able to use. I won’t spoil too much for now, but I will say that the Nippon Foundation has some excellent resources on the social history of Hansen’s Disease and the Japan Disability Forum has some additional materials worth exploring. I can’t wait to dig in!

On Tuesday, I took the train out to Kanda to attend a meeting of DPI Japan’s Barrier-Free Working Group. The meeting focused primarily on Japan’s infrastructural development prior to the Olympic and Paralympic games, emphasizing recent developments in UD (Universal Design) taxis, airport construction,  hotel room accessibility, and route mapping. Perhaps the most important development to come out of the meeting was a discussion about upcoming revisions to the Barrier-Free Law. One recommendation, which I hope makes it into the law, calls for the establishment of a national council on barrier-free development. That council would be comprised of members from several local committees including persons with disabilities, engineers, and other relevant parties who could collectively determine the needs of individuals in various parts of the country and ways of addressing those needs. While it isn’t a foolproof system, it promises better modes of representation that those that currently exist. I’m optimistic and excited!

On Wednesday, I was supposed to travel to Tokyo Metropolitan University to sit in on a class by Dr. Akihiro Sugino, one of the nation’s leading experts on disability theory. Unfortunately, my caregivers did not arrive on time and I was unable to make it out of the house. While missing Dr. Sugino’s class was unfortunate enough, I had to spend an hour-and-a-half waiting in bed for my caregivers to arrive. During that time, I coughed uncontrollably as I was unable to fully sit up and clear my throat. At times, I felt as if I might drown. Truly, it was a dangerous experience that made me realize I need to (re)solve my ongoing caregiver problem as soon as possible.

On Thursday, I decided to stay in and work as I was still exhausted from Wednesday’s ordeal. A bit of writing, tea, and relaxation put me right as rain, and I managed to make it out again on Friday.

On Friday, I took two Skype calls in the morning from colleagues in the United States before rushing over to the University of Tokyo to meet with my advisor, Dr. Satoshi Fukushima. Dr. Fukushima and I spent the better part of an hour talking about the latter chapters of my dissertation and the overall objective of my research before heading over to a conference of 24-hour caregiver support for students in Japanese universities. The conference provided an appropriate venue for me to express my concerns about my ongoing caregiving situation in front of a room full of experts. Most seemed shocked to hear about what was happening and offered to help me formulate a plan. I hope to enact that plan starting on Monday.

On Saturday, I traveled back to the University of Tokyo to attend a conference on the history of academic accommodation in Japan.  The conference was really interesting, covering the fifteen year history of the Office of Student Disability Services at the University of Tokyo and the challenges faced by that office. It also explored potential solutions to those challenges based on American and Korean precedent and sought to address questions like “what is an accessible university?” and “how can universities contribute to the creation of an accessible society?” I really enjoyed taking part in the conference, and I think that my notes will help me in the future.

Today, I’ve spent most of my morning in bed doing a bit of writing. I think I’m going to relax for the rest of the day and take it easy as this coming week promises to be as busy as the last!

As always, thanks so much for reading, and stay tuned!

Reading and Writing

Hey all!

It’s Sunday, and that means that it’s time for a new blog post!

This past week I had the opportunity to venture out of the house on a couple of occasions and (re)unite with friends and academic advisors from various points in my career. I also began to write the first chapter proper of my dissertation, which focuses on the history of accessibility in Japan between 1920 and 1945.

On Monday, I got together with Dr. Scott Kupferman, a professor from the University of Colorodo whose research focuses on the use of co-design in education and engineering. I first met Scott at the “Co-Design and Tojisha Research Conference” held at the University of Tokyo last week. After speaking at that conference, we decided that we’d get together at some point in the near future and chat about our work in greater detail. We ended up meeting by the Statue of Liberty in Odaiba on Monday morning, and spent an hour or so walking around outside and talking about the history and politics of accessibility in Japan and the United States. It was interesting to hear about the development of Universal Design in the United States, which, surprisingly enough, I was not too familiar with despite my having grown up there. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I knew more about accessibility in Japan than in my ‘home’ country, and I was happy to share what I knew with my American colleague. I also spoke with Scott about my career aspirations and Accessibility Mapping Project, which he seemed to be really excited about. He recommended that I apply for a couple of grants to further develop that project – here’s hoping!

After meeting with Scott, I rushed over to Sophia University to visit the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and grab a cup of coffee with the interim director, Darren Biggs. Darren was a program assistant when I traveled to Sophia as a CIEE student in 2013, and we’ve become close over the years. We had the opportunity to catch up and share stories about the myriad changes in our lives that’d occurred since we last met in 2015. I told Darren about my transition from Buddhist Studies to Disability Studies, and how my work now seeks to create an accessible future by uniting scholars and activists from various arenas in an ongoing conversation about the needs and desires of persons with disabilities. Suffice it to say that we had a really enjoyable conversation, which concluded with Darren suggesting that I might teach a class for CIEE this coming summer if the opportunity arises. We’ll see!

On Tuesday, I spent most of my morning organizing my notes before rushing over to the University of Tokyo to meet with Dr. Satoshi Fukushima, my academic advisor. Dr. Fukushima and I spent the better part of three hours discussing my dissertation research in great detail as well as my current living and caregiving situation. He was fascinated by some of the theories developed by scholars of Critical Disability Studies in the West as of late, and wanted to learn more about how I will use them to analyze the development of disability movements in Japan. After explaining the one-hundred year trajectory of my research and walking through the sources and organization of my first two chapters, we had to call it a day. We ended on a high note, however, as Dr. Fukushima let me know that he wanted to get together again this coming week to hear about the rest of my project. He also suggested that he had many friends in Japan’s disability movement, some of whom have been involved since the 1970s, who he’d be happy to introduce me to for the sake of interviews or anything else I may need. Really, I couldn’t ask for more!

On Wednesday, I sat down to start writing the first chapter proper of my dissertation. All-in-all, the process went much smoother than I’d imagined, as I already had a fair bit of material to draw from in the form of seminar papers and the research portion of my comprehensive exams. I ended up writing about the ‘othering’ of persons with disabilities in Japan between 1920 and 1945 in relation to processes of industrialization, urbanization, militarization, and the rise of eugenic thought. I argued that those processes led policymakers and public intellectuals to identify persons with disabilities as ‘outsiders’ in need of assimilation through two primary strategies: isolation and rehabilitation. The former meant separation from their able-bodied counterparts in educational and vocational settings so as to allow both populations to operate at their own pace. The latter involved the strategic use of therapies and (re)organization of school and workplace settings to capitalize upon the remaining faculties of persons with disabilities. Neither strategy was without fault. Isolation demanded an investment of time and labor that was not always available, and rehabilitation exposed persons with disabilities and those around them to possibilities of compound injury and associated risk. By examining how Japanese policymakers and public intellectuals attempted to negotiate these difficulties, I identified their role in constructing discrete hierarchies of ability, disability, and debility in interwar and wartime Japan that governed the formation of new social movements.

On Thursday, I traveled out to Toranomon to meet with Ms. Masako Okuhira of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and Dr. Gihei Takahashi of Toyo University. Ms. Okuhira is one of the leaders of Japan’s Independent Living Movement, and Dr. Takahashi is perhaps the nation’s foremost expert on Universal Design. We had lots to talk about, ranging from the history of barrier-free architecture to the future of accessibility in Japan. I was really interested to hear Dr. Takahashi’s take on the difficulties of enacting principles of Universal Design. He explained, for instance, that even if designers are able to gather information about the accessibility of a space using a democratic method, they still have to decide if the data they’ve gathered is representative of a larger whole and deal with internal inconsistencies. He also mentioned that many designers who conduct trial sessions and democratic surveys fail to share their data with competitors, leading to a lack of consistency in products on the market. I really look forward to continuing my conversation with Dr. Takahashi and collaborating in the future!

On Friday, I worked on my dissertation chapter in the morning before taking the afternoon to catch up on some reading. First, I re-read Lee Pennington’s Casualties of History: Wounded Japanese Servicemen and the Second World War (2015), which chronicles shifting attitudes toward wounded veterans in Japan between the Meiji period and the end of the Second World War. It also highlights the development of a veteran-focused welfare framework that explicitly excluded many persons with disabilities who failed to qualify for military service. Interestingly, Pennington all but ignores the topic of non-military persons with disabilities, failing to mention how the development of veteran’s welfare affected their lives. An opportunity for my own work, if ever I saw one! After finishing Pennington’s book, I went on to read a couple of articles such as Yumi Kim’s Seeing Cages: Home Confinement in Early Twentieth-Century Japan (2018) and Hanako Fujikawa’s Educational System Plan for the Deaf and Reform of the Tokyo National School for the Deaf by Unosuke Kawamoto in the 1920s (2005).  It was a busy day, but a productive one.

On Saturday, I spent much of my day writing and relaxing. I organized my research notes and worked my way up to completing the first 1/3 of the first chapter of my dissertation. Right now, I’m aiming to produce around 300-500 words a day so that I’ll be able to finish a chapter every two months. With five proper chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion, that will let me finish the first draft of my dissertation in around a year or so, leaving me another year-and-a-half for revisions before I have to submit. I’ve not run into any problems yet, but we’ll see what happens!

Today, I’ve spent much of my day resting and laying around in bed. I realize that my mental and physical wellbeing is incredibly important for my research to be successful, so I’m doing all I can to ensure that I don’t overwork myself. Besides, with everything else that I’ve been up to, I feel like I deserve a break every now and then!

And that’s about it for this week, friends! I have lots coming up next week, including but not limited to: 1) a meeting with Dr. Emiko Tanaka (a professor who’s involved in the Japanese Society for Disability Studies), 2) a workshop on barrier-free consciousness led by DPI Japan, 3) a lecture on the development of facilities for persons with disabilities by Dr. Akihiro Sugino, 4) a joint research meeting with Dr. Shin’ichiro Kumagaya and Dr. Satoshi Fukushima, and 5) a conference at the University of Tokyo on the history of student disability services in Japan. Stay tuned, and as always thanks for reading!

Ms. Masako Okuhira, Dr. Gihei Takahashi, and Me at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation

Co-Design and Conferences

Hey all!

It’s been a very hectic week, but I’ve really enjoyed myself! There are lots of developments that I’d like to share on both the personal and professional fronts, so allow me to dive right in:

On Monday, I stayed in and finished reading/summarizing the last of Akira Sugimoto’s book on disability movements in pre/postwar Japan. I was thoroughly impressed by Sugimoto’s meticulous attention to detail in chronicling law and policy shifts related to disability in Japan over the last one-hundred-and-fifty years. Having said that, I found that his book was lacking much in terms of documenting and describing the influence of contemporaneous historical developments. Nowhere to be found in Sugimoto’s text were explorations of convergent discourses about art, culture, science, and technology that held equal if not greater sway over the structuring of Japan’s disability movements since the Meiji period. Indeed, Sugimoto’s incredible focus on social welfare policy seems to have distracted him from observing the implications of such broader discourses on the lives and activities of persons with disabilities in Japan. This is not to say that I found his study to be without merit: on the contrary, I found it to be incredibly valuable in terms of its general periodization of disability justice in Japan. In my dissertation, I hope to build upon the framework it provides by speaking to the influence of some of the convergent discourses described above and also extending its temporal scope into the present.

On Tuesday, I spent most of my morning cleaning the apartment before heading off to class at the University of Tokyo. This week’s lecture focused on the psychological underpinnings of trauma and stigma as related to various theories of mind. Dr. Kumagaya explained that experiences of stigma and/or trauma represent breaks in one’s life narrative that create conflict and demand suturing via introspection and communal exploration. His explanation included a model of the mind which saw experiences of stigma and/or trauma as liable to spread and infect other parts of a person’s psyche. This model, I told him, reminded me of some theories of mind that I had encountered some time ago during my time as a self-identified Buddhist Studies scholar. More specifically, theories of mind related to the origins, spread, and dissolution of defilements like those explained by Kukai in his Himitsu Mandala Jujushinron. Intrigued, Dr. Kumagaya asked me to elaborate on my explanation, and the rest of the class turned into a discussion of Buddhist attitudes toward stigma and trauma. I had a blast.

On Wednesday, I got together with two friends and walked over to the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, which is just outside of my apartment complex. I really enjoyed rolling around and seeing exhibit after exhibit dedicated to robots, cyborgs, environmental sustainability, and data conservation/management. While I was hoping to see a bit more about classically defined assistive technologies, I did see a few things that caught my eye. First, a robot called Asimo that was able to walk, talk, sing, dance, and, importantly, communicate via Japanese Sign Language. I was really impressed by Asimo, but my heart was stolen by an extremely cute therapy robot called Paro. Paro is a robot seal that was originally designed to comfort and assist persons with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and related conditions. It’s since been used by disabled children and adults around the world as well as their ‘able-bodied’ counterparts. I found myself petting Paro for a solid ten minutes before heading upstairs to watch a video in the planetarium. After finishing up, I headed back downstairs and grabbed dinner with a new friend, Lucas, who lives in my complex.

On Thursday and Friday, I participated in a two-day workshop dedicated to Tojisha research and co-design at the University of Tokyo. The workshop featured multiple speakers including but not limited to Dr. Scott Kupferman (Colorado University, Director of the National Collaborative for Disability and Technology), Dr. Shin’ichiro Kumagaya (University of Tokyo, Tojisha Research Lab), Dr. Satsuki Ayaya (University of Tokyo, Tojisha Research Lab), Ms. Harue Kamioka (Darc Women’s Halfway House), Dr. Yukie Nagai (Osaka University, Cognitive Developmental Robotics), and Mr. Ikuyoshi Mukaiyachi (Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, Social Work Division). Now, I’ve written about fifteen pages of notes related to the workshop that I dare not include here. Suffice it to say that each speaker addressed a central theme from their own perspective. Namely, how do we establish a system where persons with disabilities can co-design products and services with experts in various fields and what are the merits of doing so. Their answers were all really interesting, and I’d be happy to share sometime if anyone is interested.

On Saturday, I gave two conference presentations about tangentially related topics. The first was about the status of disability justice in Japan over the last twenty years. Speaking to a crowd of about fifty or so people at the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO), I explained that Japan’s progress towards becoming a ‘barrier-free’ society has not helped all people equally. As life gets easier for some people, it gets harder for others who face increasing stigma and discrimination due to their inability to use the newly developed measures and assistive technologies. Such stigma, I argued, has resulted in a wave of violence and abuse toward persons with disabilities that has largely gone undocumented by scholars, researchers, and members of the general public. Instead, such actors have taken instances of violence toward persons with disabilities in isolation, developing solutions that treat the symptom but not the cause.

The second presentation I gave on Saturday examined one such incident in detail (the Sagamihara Stabbings of 2016) and explained how the countermeasures developed in its wake promise to do more harm than good for persons with disabilities. Speaking to an audience of ten or so people via Skype at the Mid-Atlantic Region Association for Asian Studies Conference, I argued that this reality has allowed for the (re)formation of disability movements in Japan and the identification of new goals and objectives: namely, the establishment of co-development systems like that briefly described above.

Today, I had the opportunity to meet once again with Alisa Shimizu and discuss her undergraduate thesis project about foreigners with disabilities living in Japan. Through our conversation, we decided that we would collectively try and build a digital community for such individuals, as there’s no formal space for collaboration and sharing information at the moment. I’ve just set up a Facebook page toward that end here, so if you or anyone you know is a foreigner with a disability in Japan or an ally thereof, please feel free to join!

Now, before I close, folks, I wanted to let you all know that the Japan Times article I mentioned a few weeks ago has finally come out. You can view it here!

I look forward to catching up with you all again next week! Until then, stay tuned 🙂