Fine Work (Japan)
"Living a Meaningful Life as a Minority"
Kenji Katayose (60, male, teacher) Nara City
I start every day with a walk in the morning. I’ve kept this up for more than 20 years, except on rainy days or days when I have a particularly bad hangover. I walk for 40 minutes from my house to the nearest station and back. The route is the same every day and is safe for walking. Walking takes care of my hangovers and lets me think about my plans for the day or the content of the text I’m writing. It also allows me to taste the fresh air in the morning and notice the changing of the seasons.
Perhaps because they think it’s unusual to see someone walking with a white cane in the morning, quite a few people have wished me “Good morning!” since I began my walks. Some of them have been greeting me for more than 20 years.
After getting home from my walk, I do some exercises following a program on the radio, have breakfast, and then leave for work. As I follow the same route back to the station, schoolgirls greet me with their cute voices. I try to reply as cheerfully as possible. Their greetings give me a boost for the rest of the day and make me feel that we should leave a peaceful world to the younger generations.
After I finish my work at the blind school, I go straight to a stand-up pub in front of Tsutsui station. It’s the one nearest to my school. I’ve been going to this pub almost every day for more than 30 years. The owner and patrons of the pub are all very kind, so it feels like an oasis of relaxation that eases my stress and tiredness. With our joking and chatting about social news and sports, it’s a place where we enjoy communication through drinking. Along with the regular customers, first-time customers also appear to be interested in me as a blind person. Talking with me, they are impressed that I can light my own cigarettes and cook for myself. It seems that some of them look forward to talking with me when they go there.
This way I communicate with a lot of people every day. Whether for good or bad, I realize that we visually-impaired people stand out as a social minority.
When I was young, I used to feel the burden of always being watched by people around me. But now I’m more thick-skinned, and I can make an effort to bring a positive spirit to the wider community.
In 1980 I ran a marathon in Oume. Part of the reason I ran it was to show people that the visually impaired, while we may be a minority, also want to participate in events alongside regular citizens. The organizers wouldn’t allow me to participate officially, owing to rules that prohibited runners from receiving any kind of special assistance. The real reason, however, was that they thought I would be a danger to the other runners. Being young, I argued with the organizers and created quite a stir. I think I was right to insist on being allowed to participate. The same spirit of equality is behind today’s anti-discrimination legislation, which helps promote the reasonable accommodation of minorities. It’s rare now for visually impaired people to be prevented from participating in public marathons held around the country.
When walking by myself, I encounter all kinds of social situations. Compared to before, many people now offer me a helping hand. But sometimes I have bad experiences. One time I bumped into someone riding a bicycle on the braille ground markers. While I apologized, the other person said nothing and just rode off. Another time, as I was walking past a woman, she said out loud, “Oh, scary!”. Encounters like this reflect continuing problems in our society.
But when I have experiences like the one I had the other day, my faith in the goodness of people is restored.
I was on my way back home on Sunday March 2nd, after having finished running a marathon in Kyoto for the visually impaired. I was on a Hankyu train heading to Shijo station from Nishi-Kyogoku Stadium station. Because the train was rather crowded, I was standing near the door. I was about to get off at Shijo station, and a couple was standing next to me. I heard the man say to the woman, “Why don’t we get off here?”. They got off the train with me, and as soon as we stepped on the platform, the man held my hand and led me to the stairs. He’d left the woman waiting on the platform while he was helping me, so I asked him if he was supposed to get off at this station. He replied that, actually, they were going to get off at the next station. I felt indebted and embarrassed. He told me not to worry and that the next train would arrive soon. He then guided me to the bottom of the stairs and explained the way to the ticket gates.
I guess he had noticed that the train door was a long way from the stairs and he acted on the spur of the moment. I found it touching that a stranger would instinctively look after someone else like that.
When I was two years old, both of my eyes had to be removed due to retinoblastomas, a kind of childhood cancer. Since then, I have lived as a minority for almost 60 years. During this time, I think the status of disabled people has changed. Before, we were hidden from view; then we were given special protections; and now we are able to live alongside regular people.
This year I’m lucky to be reaching the age of retirement. Thanks to braille, I read around 20 books or magazines a month and have been able to write some textbooks for a physical therapy course. I can’t see the cherry trees in full bloom, but I’m thankful that I’ll be able to celebrate my 60th birthday despite being such a heavy drinker. Through my later years, while being conscious of my status as a minority, I hope to live an easygoing and respectful life. The world must be at peace in order for us all to live happy lives.