Special Prize (for Elementary and Junior High School Students) (Japan)
“Thank You”
Osaka Prefectural Special Needs Education School for the Visually Impaired, Junior High School, 3rd year
Remi Tsujimoto (15; female)

“Thank you.” I wasn’t able to say these words straight out until two years ago.
Since I was born with my disability, my parents and many people always helped me out. When I had trouble doing something, someone would always approach me and help me with it.
Through these experiences, I started to think that being helped by others is nothing special. I stopped saying thank you to people who helped me out. Even though I didn’t say thank you, people around me helped me out anyway without being offended.
I took advantage of these people’s kindness, and I stopped saying thank you even more.
Seeing me like that, my mother always told me “Help from others isn’t something to be taken for granted. So you must have a sense of gratitude for people. No one hates to be told thank you.” I didn’t understand what she was saying at all.
I always thought to myself, “What is sense of gratitude? How does it feel?”
Even when I became an elementary school student, I still didn’t have an idea what my mother meant. I thought it was nothing special even when my teacher picked up something I dropped or when someone made way for me. But as I entered into upper grade, I gradually realized that I was helped out a lot by people around me. So I started thinking “I should say thank you since they’re helping me out.” But since I was embarrassed and didn’t know when to say it, I had a hard time saying it loud and clear. I tried to say thank you when somebody helped me, but I’d lose my voice or could only say it quietly.
Even when I graduated elementary school and entered the school for the visually impaired, I couldn’t change. My mother repeatedly told me to have a sense of gratitude for people. And each time I thought to myself “I want to say it but I can’t. And what is sense of gratitude anyway?” I used to quarrel with my mother many times back then.
This continued until one day, I made a friend for the first time at school. My friend always helped me out when I had trouble. When she helped me out, I felt really grateful for the first time. So I found the courage to say thank you to her. Then she smiled and said “You’re welcome” to me. That’s when I finally understood what my mother said by sense of gratitude. I realized that sense of gratitude is the grateful feeling you get when somebody helps you. At the same time I realized that I didn’t feel grateful to the people who helped me out all this time. It made me feel so ashamed and foolish.
One day, I gave my friend a birthday present. When I handed her the present, she shyly but happily received the present and said “Thank you.” Then I realized how happy it is to be told thank you. I was so happy it made me smile.
Right after that, I thought about if I was ever told thank you from anyone in the past. I thought about it for several days, but I couldn’t recall memories of being thanked. The only thing I could remember was when I helped my parents with something or when I was able to do something by myself, everyone around me told me, “Good job, Remi-chan” and praised me for what I did. When I realized that I thought to myself, “So that’s why I wasn’t able to say thank you to people.” At that moment, the feeling of shame that was inside me until then gradually disappeared.
After that, little by little I was able to say “Thank you” loudly. Whenever I said thank you, it always made the person smile just like my friend did when I gave her the present. Seeing this, I realized that the words “Thank you” are the magical words that make people smile. I finally got an idea of what my mother meant by saying “No one hates to be told thank you.”
Since then, I became able to say “Thank you” naturally every day. When I say thank you to someone who helped me, I think of the lyrics from a song sung by ARASHI. There’s a line that says, “I want to send my appreciation to you, softly and secretly” in the lyrics. When I first saw this lyric, I thought the “you” in this song is everyone who supported me until now. And I still think so.
I know that I would probably need the help of many people in my years to come. For this reason, I will retain my sense of gratitude and will keep saying thank you with confidence and smile to all the people who helped me.

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