Day 8. July 17, 2012
I cannot believe it! It has already been more than a week since I landed in Japan. This is really been an exciting trip and the time is going by so fast. Today we are in Fukuoka which is part of Kyushu. Over the past two weeks this area has been ravaged by storms. At last report 29 people have died from the rain and floods. While it is humid we are not experiencing any rains and the latest typhoon warnings have been lifted as the storm moved to the South and West over to North Korea and China.
I was up and Adam at 6 AM as usual. This seems to be my habit here. After checking my voicemail through Skype and returning some phone calls I called Karen to catch up. She and Tony are working hard preparing for Thursday’s market. They seem to be getting pretty excited and I hope they do well.
After preparing for the day and walking Africa Yoshie and I went to breakfast. Most restaurants and hotels seem to have a buffet with a variety of foods including Japanese, some Chinese, and some “Western foes quote foods”. The Western breakfasts usually consist of a very thick bacon which seems a bit more like ham to me as well as some scrambled eggs. As far as I am concerned, when in Japan eat Japanese food. So I had fish and Rice, and I threw in a couple pieces of bacon. I noticed that I have been drinking a lot of water here which is, I guess, to be expected with all the heat. As usual, I also had some Japanese tea. Sometime this trip I am going to have to break out the PG tips tea for Yoshie.
10 AM found us at theFukuoka Youth Science Museum Hall where both lectures of the day were to be given. I learned that the audience would be made up of approximately hundred 50 students and 150 members of the public. The format for each presentation was for me to give a speech followed by the usual Q&A. This time, however, the questions would be led by Rep. students from local high schools. In the morning, all the student leaders and interpreters would be from girl schools. I believe that all of the schools are private schools.
We did not show a video at the beginning of the speech in order to allow more time for questions at the end. I spoke for about 45 min. talking as usual about blindness and adding in some of my experiences and my observations since coming to Japan. I used the stories of March 11 of last year and the Japanese earthquakes to show people and especially students the importance and value of teamwork rather than the adoption of a self-centered standard of living. In talking about my guide dog I emphasized how both Africa and I have jobs to do and only one the team works as a cohesive unit can we each do our job successfully. I really want people to understand that it is not the dog who knows where to go but rather that is my job. I get this information by asking for directions and for travel information or from my previous memories.
At the end of the speech several students, (all girls) came up on stage. They introduced themselves in both Japanese and English. All of them had read thunder dog so I am told. The format for the questioning was to be kind of like a news press conference. First the girls each asked me their questions and I answered them. Several of the questions were about my “spirit” and how it might have changed since 9/11. I told them that my love for my wife and my value of teamwork and trust has grown stronger since 9/11 I explained that I tend to be less tolerant of people, especially politicians, who are out for their own interests and are not out for the interests of their country. There were questions about Africa and Roselle which I was happy to answer.
After the girls ask their questions they opened the Q&A session to the floor in general. Each questioner from the audience would ask their question in either English or Japanese. The student interpreters would translate as appropriate. I would then answer with Mike comments being translated as appropriate.
The first question from the audience was from an English speaking young man. Later I got varying reports as to whether he was a student or a teacher. I was also told he was British. In any event, he asked me about all the research being done on creating eye implants and chips which might permit blind people to see in the future. He asked how I felt about such research. I responded that I thought that such research was fine and we should certainly pursue any legitimate scientific endeavor to help anyone. I said, however, that while the research was good it was also important to remember that there are many people who are blind today and that any research done now would not eliminate blindness in the next 50 or more years. As a result, I said, I felt it was extremely important to continue to promote and fight for the rights of blind people around the world. I sai that we have social and economic problems today and that no matter what research was done we still needed to grow as a world to recognize that the poor attitudes and strong barriers sighted people have raised against the capabilities of the blind had to be addressed.
More questions followed along more traditional lines again about Africa, Roselle, what happened on 9/11, and how I liked being in Japan. These audiences, I find, are more engaged and engaging than many audiences I encounter in the US. Here, in Japan, we always have to cut off questions before people are done. At noon, the morning session ended and we went off to lunch in a small side room.
Before I could get out the door I was surrounded by 10 guide dogs and their users who had come to hear my speech. Yoshi had told me that they were there. As I spoke and answered questions I worked to make sure that I directed remarks toward them to encourage them to stand up and work as advocates to change the system in Japan concerning blindness. It only takes one to start a process and it only takes a few to make a movement. When I know blind people are in the audience, which is most of the time, I talk about Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and the founding of the National ederation of the Blind in 1940. I hope some blind person will be similarly inspired by me, “Thunder Dog”, or by their own dreams.
All other guide dog users wanted pictures and a time to chat. We talked for a bit. And then I was ushered away to lunch. I entered the room and sat down. Almost immediately a newspaper reporter came up and introduced himself and said that he was here to do the speeches and talk with me. Before we can get started Yoshie came into the room leading some of the guide dog users who wanted to spend more time with me. I really didn’t have a choice because I was surrounded and no one seemed to be indicating to Yoshi that these people were interrupting an interview. So, I made the best of it and talk some more with the guide dog users.
After they left, I found that a “Japanese lunchbox” had been put in front of me. It was kind of a traditional bento box but in a little bit smaller scale. Before I had a chance to eat anything the door opened and some other people came in who happened to be relatives of Yoshie, some of whom she had never met. Yoshie’s husband’s family was from the Fukuoka area. He was the odd one, and I gather a bit of the black sheep, because he moved to Hokaido, married a Hokaido girl, and then chose to remain in Hokkaido. After lots of hugging and screaming, Yoshie introduced me. Her relatives brought me some small presence which I never really got a chance to examine. These presents will be Karen’s and my adventures to explore when I return home.
By the time the visiting was over I was only able to eat a few pieces of shrimp and chew my before going back on stage. I wasn’t really hungry anyway so it didn’t matter.
The afternoon session was the same as the morning and format there were a few guide dog users in the audience but I think in general the students were older.
This time when it came time for the student interpreters and questioners to come on stage I found that we had a mixture of boys and girls. The girls did outnumber the boys 2 to 1. I got the same kinds of questions for the most part, but I thought that the questions were good representative well thought out once. One questioner asked me to summarize my most important message to the people of Japan. I gently said that I felt the most important thing that I could tell the Japanese people was to treat blind people as equals and not to assume that we needed special protection because we could not see with our eyes.
At 4 PM we left for the airport at Fukuoka for the return flight to Tokyo. As we traveled around the airport I found the obligatory blind blocks which seem to start and end without rhyme or reason. Oh well, mine is not to reason why at this point. The airline people wanted to stick me in the bulkhead row as usual. I convinced Yoshie of the difficulty and problem with this from a safety standpoint. She finally convinced the counter agent on my behalf to change my seat. Instead of sitting in 1 A I sat in 2C, the aisle seat. After we got our boarding passes we stood around and said our goodbyes. After about 10 min. of this people suddenly realize that we only had 10 min. to get to the airplane.
We rushed to security and went through a similar boarding pass and examination process as we find in America. Everyone was polite and well mannered. The one thing I did notice that was when Africa’s harness set off the metal detector the security people did not bother to examine her. Oh what a disappointment to Africa! She loves to be checked by security agents.
When we boarded the aircraft I put Africa under the seat and then, I think, true enlightenment came to Yoshi I think this because immediately she wanted to show everyone how Africa was much safer and better under the seat in front of me. She called the flight attendant and she drew attention to Africa from all of the people around us. Yoshi and I spent the hour and a half flight talking and relaxing together. She told me a lot about how Japanese women are treated. Although there have been advances, women still do work like carrying men’s bags has Yoshie was wanting to do during our trip. I try to encourage her to let me help and I explained to her during our conversation on the airplane why I felt I can carry my bags and she had bags of her own. We did have help from Kenji and I think that Kenji’s assistance was the rationalization she used for not carrying my briefcase all the time. Oh, I should say here that while Kenji traveled with us he used my iPhone to take lots of pictures which I will get up as soon as I can.
We took off at 6 PM and landed in Tokyo at 730. After getting our luggage we went straight to the Daichi Hotel. The joy of having a decent size room again. Unfortunately, the compromise on the other side was that the air-conditioning fan was set to not blow much cool air. The result is that I am constantly a bit warm in this room. My understanding is that this is the Japanese way and hotels throughout most of Japan. Oh well, this is a small price to pay for fun.
By the time we got settled we discovered that the restaurants in the hotel had closed. There are three restaurants, and none of them remain open after 9 PM. for an international hotel it seems to me that this is a bit strange. I wonder why they close so early.
Oh well, we just walked around the block and found an open restaurant where we had another round of “Japanese tapas”, at least that’s what Yoshie calls them. For the most part the food was not fried, and at least to my taste, the food was good. I guess everyone thought so because they ate large quantities. At the airport we had been joined by Mr. Ujita and his son. We saw a lot of Mr. Ujita during our first time in Yokohama and Tokyo. He is a very close friend of Mr. Shirai. As I recall, he was one of the people who came over to America to meet me last October. I will have to check on this.
After dinner we headed back to the hotel just around the block. I walked Africa one last time and went up to bed. I quickly fell sound asleep somewhere around 11:30 PM. So ended my eighth day in Japan.