Just to confuse the issue, I am writing this on Saturday, July 14, 2012. Of course, this is Japanese time. It is still July 13 in the states. However, I decided to stay on US time as much as possible. At least I will do so for the dates of the entries. Now back to the real world.
Yesterday, July 13 in Japan, July 12 in the US, was the first real day of work and excitement, yeah right. On this day after another good Japanese nutritious breakfast, (except for the very small croissant I ate), Mr. Shirai, Yoshie, and I prepared to meet with the Yokohama Guide Dog ssociation official who is bringing Africa the card that made her an official guide dog in Japan while she is here. Japan does have guide dog laws which permit Africa to accompany me anywhere. However, as the GDA official told me during our meeting many people do not know about the law and are uneducated about guide dogs. He was worried that we might be denied access so he wanted Africa to be an official Japanese guide dog with all the rights there of. He said that if we had any troubles that I was to do my best to help educate and call him if necessary. I explained that Japan was no different than the US and that we had plenty of educating to do in our own country. He felt better for this.
After our 1030 meeting with the official we filed into a Van for our first trek into Tokyo. The trip took nearly an hour and a half due to heavy traffic, (it’s everywhere). Our trip to Tokyo was for the purpose of having my first press conference to introduce our trip to the media. The conference was scheduled for two o’clock at the federal building housing the health ministry. We arrived early so we went to the 26th floor for lunch. I had some pretty good tuna over rice which I can only describe as a California roll without the avocado and the tuna flattened instead of in a role. I have never gotten the hang of chopsticks so I used a spoon and fork. What a wuss I am.
At 2 PM we entered the ninth floor room where the press conference was to be held. Nine members of the press were already there. Mr. Shirai gave a brief introduction and then it was my turn to speak with translation provided by Yoshie. Mr. Shirai asked me to cover three basic points.
- The similarities of the effects of the tragedies of 9/11 and last year’s March 11 earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster in Japan.
- The use of guide dogs and how they benefit the lives of blind people.
- The physically challenged businessman’s conference that Mr. Shirai has started and that will take place on July 20.
Of course, Mr. Shirai wanted me to talk about thunder dog and show the Japanese version of the book. During my talk four or five more people arrived. We actually had a pretty good conference and good attendance so Team Africa felt.
I spoke about 25 min. and then opened the floor for questions. At first the press was hesitant to ask questions, (go figure). This is of course to me pretty typical of people who are afraid to talk with a blind person. With a little bit of work we got over that and the questions flowed freely. There were some good questions about blindness and about the writing of thunder dog. And all I agree it was a great press conference.
The press conference was over by 3 PM. We all climbed aboard the van and returned to Yokohama and the rose hotel for the “party” which was to introduce me to all the organizations and individuals who sponsored Mr. Shirai’s efforts and made this trip possible. We got back to the hotel about 415. We met in my room for a few moments to go over party logistics. At 5 PM I went down to the third floor room where the party was to be held.
It was pretty quiet when I walked into the room but as soon as I was cited around of applause exploded. 35 people plus wives and Associates were invited.
The first thing on the agenda were a few speeches from the lead sponsors including representatives of Sony Life Insurance, Daiwa House a major housing developer that assisted greatly in providing mobile homes for people after last year’s earthquake, as well as other colleagues, business associates, and friends of Mr. Shirai who assisted in making my trip possible.
Then it was my turn to stand and thank everyone for their hospitality and support. With Yoshie translating I described some of the history of thunder dog as well as a bit about my experiences in the World Trade Center.
Next came a champagne toast. The toast was delivered by Mr. Ito, an 87-year-old man, a member of Team Africa, and a close friend of Mr. Shirai. I was asked to respond and again thanked everyone for their support and said that no matter what I had to say there was nothing better than listening to the wisdom of an 87-year-old man.
After a bit of time for some of the courses of dinner to be served Masako, a book translator was introduced. The surprise she brought was the announcement that she had translated and that Mr. Shirai had published Pamela Bauer Mueller’s book, “Hello Goodbye I Love You”. As some of you may know I wrote the forward for that book. I learned that Mr. Shirai had been bombarded by requests to publish the book from two continents. Masako had contacted him. Also, Pamela had asked me for help in finding a Japanese publisher and, of course, I sent her straight to Yoshi and Mr. Shirai. The book will be released officially on July 17, but copies were available for sale at the party. Most everyone had already read “Thunder Dog” and had copies for me to sign. So, “Hello Goodbye I Love You” was the big seller that night. I now have my own personal copy of Pamela’s book in Japanese.
The party lasted until nearly 730. With the serving of desert, coconut milk, everyone quickly disbanded and went on their way. For me, it was kind of a sudden end, but I guess that is the way things are done here. I am told everyone was quite pleased and had a great time. It seemed that way to me, but it was nice to get verification from Yoshie.
Let me tell you a bit more about Yoshie. As I mentioned in a previous blog, she was the translator of “Thunder Dog”. In addition, she was my primary conduit to Mr. Shirai and all parties Japan during our preparations for this trip. Now, she is my primary eyes and ears when it comes to knowing what people are talking about. I have noticed that when I speak to a group it helps her for me to speak slowly and say only one sentence at a time. She has a bit of a difficult time and keeping up with me so I do my best to make it easy for her. As difficult as it may be for her to interpret my speech to Japanese audiences I think she has even a tougher time translating rapidfire Japanese speech into English for me. Even so, we are both having a great time and keeping up. She also helps me with finding places for Africa to “do her business” and, she keeps Africa out of trouble when Africa goes for chewing gum wrappers and tissue on the ground. As Tony Vucci says, “Africa is part Billy goat”. The joys of managing a five-year-old!
After the party was over Yoshie and I took Africa out one final time and then I headed back to my room for bed. First, I had to call the NFB national Center to speak with Mark Riccobono about an idea for a project. More about that later. The me just say, we came up with an exciting idea and plan to help people learn more about blindness. After conversing, and resting a bit Africa and I went to bed. Tomorrow will be my first big speaking day. It doesn’t get more exciting than this.