Student Group Excellent Work(Japan)
11th Grade, Kobe School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
“In order to prepare for college entrance exams, the lessons will be taught with more emphasis on regular printed writing. However, Braille will come in handy after the exam so please don’t give up on it. Think carefully on this over spring vacation. Ultimately, you all are the ones who will make the final decision.”
My teacher’s voice resonated in the Hitomi classroom, where visually impaired students receive educational counseling. My class took a mock exam in Braille for the first time in the 3rd term of our sophomore year. The result showed that it would be difficult for us to take entrance exams in Braille. The teachers held several meetings. We students compared our reading speeds and technical skills in both regular writing and Braille, and we all discussed which one should be used in the exams.
When my eyesight became weak as a result of an illness, it was initially much worse than it is now. In learning Braille, I was really happy to know that I could read again. I wanted to go to college, and made up my mind to take the entrance exam in Braille. Since last year, I’ve been forcing myself into a situation where all of the materials around me, including textbooks and notes, are in Braille so that I can master it. When I read out loud during a lesson, I know my classmates were irritated by my clumsy reading. It frustrated me, but I held my temper and followed the dots with my finger, and my desire to read Braille quickly only grew. The past three years have been all about Braille, but I still try to read regular text with my left eye which has not lost its central visual field. I ran out of time during the mock exam in Braille and didn’t score well. I did not know what to do.
Braille or regular writing... In addition to our usual study materials, this was a heavy assignment to give us just before the spring vacation preceding our junior year. This was a time that was supposed to be full of hope. I planned to plant my seed of hope and begin to water it during spring vacation. It would grow during my junior and senior years, and the flowers would bloom in time for graduation. That was how I saw my future. But the difficulty of reading and writing caused by an acquired visual impairment was like a mean north wind trying to block the spring breeze from raising the sprouts of hope. I sat behind my desk idly and let time pass.
Until I was afflicted with an illness and the complications weakened my sight, my dream was to be always surrounded by books. I still love the smell of books in libraries and studies. I also loved to learn new Kanji (Chinese characters) and people used to call me a “Kanji-holic.” I was excited to see seasonal words and difficult Kanji compiled in the “Saiji-ki” (a book of seasonal words for making Haiku). I was always confident to score the highest in the class on a Kanji test. That was who I was, but the illness took the joy of reading away from me. At thirteen, I was completely heartbroken. Soon after that I transferred to a school for the visually impaired and started to learn Braille. I did not give up on it no matter how difficult it was, thanks to the enthusiasm of my teachers and the pleasure of acquiring new writing skills. It was a great joy to learn Braille and to be able to “read” again, even if the process was slow. My dreams and hopes of going to collage grew. All I wanted was to be able to read faster so I could pass the entrance exam. But the period of winter-like hardship continued. The result of the mock exam I took in Braille was disastrous. I was losing hope. It seemed impossible to “think carefully” on this subject.
Thinking would not lead me to the answer. The world of Braille, a world in which letters can be read in the dark simply by touching them, is all new to me. Regular writing in Japanese is very unique. It is beautiful when written. After my eyesight became weak, I read Tanka and Haiku poems using Braille and then conjured the Kanji in my mind to let my imagination run free. This is my new way of enjoying poetry. I do not want to forget the Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana letters that I love so much. I cannot choose between Braille and regular writing. I may be greedy, but I want to use both. I want to have words and phrases resonate deeply in my eyes, on my fingers, and in my soul. How can I do that? I could not do anything during that spring vacation. It was my “silent spring.”
After spring vacation, I advanced to the junior year. On the first day of school, my homeroom teacher asked, “Have you decided on Braille or regular writing?”
I knew he would ask, but I had not made up my mind. What should I do...? Before I could think, my mouth was moving.
“I will take the lessons in the examination subjects in regular writing, and other subjects in Braille,” I said.
Oh, no! I said both, instead of choosing one... I even surprised myself. I am indeed addicted to letters. Japanese offers two ways of writing in one language. I will continue my studies in both. I am frustrated that I cannot read as fast as I want to, but I think I still have some potential to improve my reading techniques. Sailing in a sea of Braille for 3 years was a long and hard journey. I guess it would be a waste to give up now and let the young bud die. The bud of my hope endured the north wind and grew strong. It may grow even more, nourished by my struggles. I have faith that spring will come and the flowers of my hopes and dreams will blossom as I slide my finger along the dots.