Otsuki Award (Japan)
" The Joy of Transcribing Braille in Tandem with my Wife "
Seiji Tozoe (60, male, braille transcription volunteer) Toyama Prefecture
Photo: Seiji Tozoe

I began learning braille in February 1994. At that time, at the age of 44, I had lost the ability to read and write due to a serious eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa.
After studying braille for around a year, I was able to read it smoothly. So I took a municipal braille transcription class the following year, from January to March. This class taught me how to write braille and also nurtured my interest in transcribing braille. Learning the Japanese syllabary alone doesn’t enable you to write braille. Without learning the relevant grammatical rules, you can't write braille correctly.
After finishing the class, I joined a local braille transcription group called “Ten-yu-kai”. Members of the group were enrolled in a correspondence course run by the Tenri-kyo braille library. They recommended that I take the course too. However, I couldn't read the example sentences in the textbook. When I mentioned this to my wife, she offered to read the text for me—a task she was glad to undertake. I never guessed that this would be the starting point for me to transcribe braille with my wife.
Although she had offered to read the text for me, my wife couldn’t read all the sentences easily. Transcribing braille also gave her the chance to discover more about the Japanese language. She would often go to the library to check dictionaries for character readings of difficult kanji or to research the readings of proper names she didn’t know. She would dictate what she had found into a tape recorder, which I would listen to and transcribe into braille. After we had read and checked the transcribed text together, we would send it to the library for feedback.
After a year and a half, I finished the basic course and proceeded to the advanced course. During my studies, the library staff apologetically informed me that blind people could not become braille transcribers. I realized that braille transcription is usually a job for sighted people. But I told them I would continue studying so that I could become a good transcriber. Actually, there are not many proofreaders who can read by touch, so proofreaders are always in demand. And proofreaders need at least as much knowledge as transcribers.
Soon after, in January 1998, they decided that I was capable of transcribing texts in tandem with my wife and I was certified as a braille transcriber. We began transcribing books sent to us from the braille library.
By this time, my wife was able to read and write braille and had effectively learned thegrammatical rules, despite not having been taught them. It brings to mind the Japanese proverb: “The novice monk learns a sutra, despite not being taught it, by merely standing at the temple gate”. As someone who enjoys reading books and who has the kind of methodical personality suited to library research, my wife found braille transcription to her liking. She took the correspondence course and became a braille transcriber in March 2002.
Nowadays in our house, there are at any given time two books being transcribed into braille: one by me and one by my wife.
We start the day at 5 o’clock in the morning. Since I started the correspondence course, I have been in the habit of rising early to make time for writing braille. I’ve also gotten into the routine of doing exercise for 30 minutes. After working up a sweat, I take a bath and then, feeling refreshed, begin writing braille.
Even after retiring from my job at the age of 50, I haven’t changed this habit of getting up early. I’ve actually increased the number of pages I transcribe every day. After my wife finishes the housework, we read and check the transcriptions together. And then she starts her own transcription. Together we also read her transcriptions and send them to the library. Sometimes we have differing opinions about how to transcribe certain words. At such times, we leave them for the ultimate judgment of the library’s proofreaders.
We have been receiving more requests for proofreading braille books from others as well. I read braille books by touch while my wife reads books the conventional way. We work together into the night, sometimes spending all day on braille. It may sound hard, but she seems lively at these times and obviously enjoys it.
When we listen to the TV or radio, we often talk about how we would transcribe a certain word here, or how we would insert a space there. Braille transcription gives us something more to chat about. At mealtimes, we often talk about braille. It helps us enjoy our time together as a family.
Braille transcription has introduced us to books we would never have read otherwise. By leading us to discover interesting books, it has brought us joy and broadened our perspective and knowledge.
Many braille transcribers worry about whether readers can understand such transcribed items as charts and figures. As my wife and I transcribe from the reader’s point of view, we take pride in doing good transcriptions.
How do people find their purpose in life? For those of us with the handicap of blindness, we can often be passive and stay in our shells. By doing that, though, it becomes difficult to find one’s purpose in life. Conversely, if we do now what we need to do or what we should do, it can act as a catalyst in finding our purpose in life.
For my family, the catalyst was my starting to learn braille. This led me and my wife to find a common purpose in our lives. It became a source of happy relations between us.
We have already transcribed more than 60 books. It’s our life’s work and something that may help prevent us from losing our memories. To the tapping sound of our braille pencils, my wife and I will continue to work in tandem transcribing braille books for other readers out there.


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