Fine Work (Japan)
Akiko Yanagihara (35, female) Takamatsu City

“If only I had a magic charm.” I used to say this kind of thing to my friends. Now I realize it’s an impossible and silly thing to say. But it was fun at the time. There’s even one wish I can still remember clearly. It went like this: “If I had a magic charm, I would make a moving walkway from my home to my school. That way I could get to school without having to walk.” This is a typical thing for a child to think. But today, 25 years later, the very thing I imagined is a reality. Countless people at stations and airports use moving walkways every day. What I had merely fantasized about has come to be real. Even now, I sometimes wonder, “If only…”. If only I could see.

Three years ago, when I was 31 years old, I lost my sight. I’d had ten operations, but all ended in failure. I felt abandoned and isolated. I didn’t want to see anyone or even talk to my family. I built a wall around myself and felt empty inside. I didn’t do anything; I just watched the time pass. After two years, my mother gave me something. She told me, “I picked this from the garden. Try it.” I realized at once it was a strawberry.

It smelled sweet and sour. When I ate it, it tasted nice and brought back memories. The strawberry was just like the ones I ate as a child. Then the thought occurred to me. Strawberries have always been strawberries, and I have always been me. I haven’t changed at all except for the fact that I can’t see. So then, what am I doing? Even though I can still move, I’m not doing anything. I felt as though I was just sulking like a child. There and then I realized that I wanted and needed to change my attitude. I needed to change for the sake of my father, who died young; for my mother, who had worked hard taking on the burdens of the family on her own; and for myself. I tried to think of what I wanted to do and what I could do.

The answer was sitting right in front of me. When I touched a package that had been sent to me, I noticed something rough on its surface. It turned out to be braille. It was the first time for me to touch braille. It felt nice under my fingers, so I kept touching it for a while. Seeing me, my mother said, “I wonder what the braille text says.” Naturally, I didn’t know the answer at the time. But I thought that learning to read braille would give me a chance to grow. I told my mother I wanted to learn braille. I wanted to do something by myself for the first time in three years. The sooner I started, the better. There was no delay: I started braille lessons straight away.

My teacher was a 75-year old man with a surprising amount of energy for someone his age. He laughed while saying that he had been blind since he was young, so he had no idea what a beautiful woman looked like. But he seemed to be enjoying his life—not looking back, just looking ahead. He could read braille very quickly and confidently, and knew everything about it. What impressed me even more was that he could walk anywhere on his own. He was able to make you think he could actually see. I learned a lot by listening to him.

I told him that sometimes when I drop things on the floor, I can't find them. Time passes and eventually I get disheartened. He said, “You’re still very young. Nobody can work it all out at the beginning.” His words were enough to convince me. From his perspective, I’m still a child. Even if I could see, he’d still think of me that way. The only thing that matters is experience. He taught me that it’s no good worrying about trivial things and that if we open our eyes to what’s around us we can feel free and easy. It’s only been half a year since I started learning braille. I’m still slow at reading, but I want to keep on learning. I’m aiming to be able to read everything fast, just like my teacher.

Something I’ve started doing with braille is to put braille markers everywhere. For example, I put notes in braille on my clothes hangers telling me the color of each item. Different kinds of food in the refrigerator often feel the same, so I write what they are in braille. This way, I don't need to ask someone every time to find out what I’m holding. I can work it out myself. This is a very small point, but it gives me a sense of progress. From here, I can keep going forward.

There are still only a few things I can do at the moment, but what I need to do now is to learn to be satisfied with small accomplishments, rather than feeling frustrated about things I can’t do. I am grateful to my family and a lot of other people for their support, and also to the strawberries that helped me realize an opportunity. I want to express my sincerest gratitude.

I no longer wonder what it would be like “if only I could see”. This is because I now accept myself and like myself as someone who cannot see. I have chosen to live in a world I cannot see. However, if a time comes when I can see again, I want to be smiling and optimistic. That’s how I feel at the moment.

Our dining table at home smells like sweet and sour strawberries today.


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