If this day has a title it must be “Africa becomes enlightened”. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Today is Tuesday, July 17 in Japan, and Monday, July 16 in Novato. As usual, I was up at 6 AM. I checked a couple of voice mails and then called Karen to check in. It was around 2:15 PM on Monday when I reached her. Great joy! Tony was back and feeling better. She and Karen were working hard on a variety of projects preparing for selling quilts in San Rafael Thursday evening at the open market. We chatted for a bit just catching up and being together even if it was only electronically. Actually I know we are always together spiritually so that helps.
I know I am sounding repetitive, but once again we had a wonderful Japanese breakfast. Yoshie added and some Japanese roasted egg which is just a little egg patty with the consistency of Jell-O. Actually, it tasted great! I have been trying to eat traditional Japanese food because it is definitely lower in cholesterol and with the serving being smaller it is better for me. I have only had a couple of small suites since I have been here so I’ve been keeping the sugar intake as low as possible. We’ll see what happens when I checked the scale at home Sunday night.
We left the Okayama View Hotel at nine o’clock after checking out. Our first stop was the Okayama blind school. I was asked to first speak with a class of blind students for about 40 minutes. And then to speak to those same students with the addition of multi-disabled kids for about another 40 minutes I was told that the second session would be less formal and that rather than simply speaking I was going to be asked to play some games with the children in order to hold their interest.
I decided to talk for just a few minutes about myself and my life. Mostly I made this a Q&A session. The kids ranged from elementary through junior high. Lots of questions pertained to guide dogs, how they work, why I had one, and was a guide dog right for every blind person? With about 5 min. left to go in the first. I had a bright flash. I asked the students if they would like to meet Africa close-up. Of course, there was lots of enthusiasm for this. So, I removed her harness and invited everyone to come visit Africa. At first, Africa did her usual bouncing around, wagging her tail wildly, and greeting everyone in sight. It was is if she did not know where to turn next. No matter how many people she greeted, more kept coming. Suddenly, Africa stopped, lay down on the ground, and flipped over on her back. It was as if she suddenly realized, “why should I do all this work when they’re coming to see me anyway?”. She remained almost motionless for three or 4 min. until the students moved away. Never let it be said Africa isn’t smart. Enlightenment has come to Africa. Why work so hard?
Near the end of this display the second group of kids began joining the first group.
Once everyone settled own and class began I was asked to take just a few minutes to talk about Africa and me. After this, Africa and I walked around the room where all the students were placed in a circle, and we said hello to each and every one separately. A couple of these kids were crying and told me that they had never touched a dog in their life. One said that she had never touched a dog’s foot and didn’t even know that they had toenails.
Then the children sang some songs including “London Bridge is falling down”. It was interesting to hear it and Japanese. After singing, the children were asked once again to sing the song with me, but this time I was asked to walk around the circle slowly and when the music stopped I was requested to ask the child to whom I was nearest what food they liked. Everyone enjoyed this game. Three out of the four children I questioned said they liked Rice. The fourth said that he liked cookies.
We ended our time at the school close to noon. I should say that at this point our team included Africa and me, Yoshie, Mr. Shirai, and Teddy who had returned to Okayama with us the previous evening.
We left the school and went straight to lunch. As usual, we had a good selection of Japanese food and a few Chinese dumplings thrown in just for fun. While at lunch I learned something very interesting. In Japan, there are truncated domes and solid race lines along most sidewalks and on the floors in public buildings, airports, train stations and other major structures it is the law that these raised “pathways” are there to guide blind people. The person who invented this system was a blind man who lived in Okayama Japan. In the morning on the way to the blind school we stopped and took a picture of me in front of his statue, but I did not learn the full story of his invention until later. The presumption is that blind people can use these raised lines and dots to successfully walk along a sidewalk and in a building to find a specific location. I now know where the silly truncated domes used in the US came from. While in the US strips of these domes are used to indicate edges of platforms or ends of driveways going into streets this system is used heavily in Japan to delineate actual pathways as well as edges of curbs and platforms.
I was in one public building where the raised pathway began at an elevator and went about 50 feet ending at the entrance to a very busy cafeteria why in the world would someone need a special pathway and special markings on the floor to show them the way to the cafeteria from the elevator when all they really needed to do was to use proper cane techniques or their guide dog and listen to the sounds that a cafeteria makes. I realize that this system was invented by a blind person, but as we all too often see blind people can be their own worst enemies. Many millions of dollars have gone into the implementation of this special pathway system. It is another example Japan has learned about the true capabilities of blind people.
I realize that my thoughts probably our controversial here in Japan. My challenge, I think, is to somehow get people to think beyond these limiting pathways and get them to consider that blind people are more capable and should be challenged just decided people are challenged. In Japan there are three jobs for which blind people are mainly trained. They are piano tuning, work in massage, or being an acupuncturist. Blind people are not challenged to go to college and take on the more traditional roles of successful people who can see. To paraphrase “Thunder Dog” people here are letting their site get in the way of their vision. I will have to mull over if and how I want to discuss this in upcoming speeches.
After lunch we headed to a Christian high school where I spoke to 400 children in the 9th grade. The original plan was for me to speak to all 1600 students. However, the air-conditioning in the gym was not working. So, I got the ninth graders. I had the opportunity to speak with them for two hours.
Mr. Shirai and the YMCA people have enjoyed me showing a video during my speech. This time I decided to do a different video. Rather than showing a video about me, I first asked the children what they thought blind people could not do. I was looking for a particular answer, and this time I got it. One of the children said they did not think that a blind person could drive a car. When I said that all of the examples they gave were things that a blind person could do I said I have a video to show you about a blind person driving a car. I then showed the NFB blind driver challenge video with Mark Rick about oh driving around the Daytona Speedway race course. After talking a bit about me and blindness I opened the floor for questions. We spent about an hour and 15 min. of the two-hour. Asking and answering questions and in general making the session a dialogue rather than a lecture.
Clearly the kids and teachers were impressed with the video and the discussion. I also had learned that many of these kids had read “thunder dog”. Clearly what they read had a positive effect on them, and it made for better questions.
From the Christian school we went straight to Santa Hall where I was to deliver the last speech of the day. We arrived there around 5 PM. We were invited to the offices of the Sanyo television network where I met the director and the president of the company. We chatted for almost an hour. It was an honor to be able to spend so much time with these very busy people, but they kept plying me with questions. Somewhere during the conversation I asked if they were going to record my speech since after all this was the home of a television network. They had not thought of recording the speech, however, as soon as I mentioned recording the speech and said that it was fine with me to make a recording so long as I got a copy suddenly people left the room without another word. The president, Yoshie, Mr. Shirai, Teddy, and I kept talking. Within 5 min. the director and other staff were back and announced that all the arrangements were made. I asked them half in jest what they plan to do with the recording. They said that they didn’t know, but as soon as they found a sponsor they would broadcast the speech. (Everything must be paid for, right?)
At around 6 PM we left the offices of the television station and went across the building to the office of the president of Sanyo newspaper company, LTD. We chatted with him for about a half-hour. He mentioned that the “blind blocks” had been invented in Okayama. He asked me what I thought of them. I said that I think a lot more work needs to be done in addressing other issues so that blind people could have true independence. We talked about the fact that job options for blind people are limited. I told him how blind people were active in most every work environment in the United States. I said I saw no reason why blind people could not have the same opportunities in Japan, but that much education would be required.
Just before 6:30PM we went down to the building meeting hall where I was to speak to 700 people. Once again I spoke for about 45 min. including showing the KGO video. We opened the floor for questions and I spent almost 50 minutes interacting with the audience. Every speech I give includes a component about what blind people really can do. I describe how blind people in the US are working at almost any job imaginable. I talk about the positions I have held and I speak a little bit about how I do my work and described some of the technology. In fact, most all of this technology except for the K NFB reader mobile is available in Japan.
At eight o’clock we had to cut off questions in order to get to the station in order to board and 8:46 PM train bound for Fukuoka. The trip took an hour and forty minutes. When we arrived we were met by the director of the Fukuoka YMCA. He invited us all to dinner. Mr. Shirai neglected to tell us about the dinner plans. He also bought us sandwiches on the train. Yoshie asked if dinner was obligatory, and Mr. Shirai said that it was not. This was fine with me as I was quite tired after delivering 3 major talks plus participating in several high level discussions. On the way to dinner, Yoshie and I were dropped off at the Nishitetsu Grand Hotel. This hotel was quite nice especially since it had larger rooms than those we had experienced over the past few nights. I fed Africa, took her out, and was in bed by Midnight. Tomorrow would be another busy day with two speeches and then an airplane trip back to Tokyo.
I am having a wonderful time. I am disappointed about some of the conditions I am finding concerning blind persons. I hope I can make some friends who will work to help people think about reexamining their lot of blind persons in Japan. I must travel a tightrope as I do not wish to make enemies, but I do think I need to talk about what blind people can do and I think it appropriate to push the envelope a bit.