Day 9. July 18, 2012
Were back in Tokyo after a whirlwind trip through part of Japan. It has certainly been an amazing ride so far. Today I actually get to rest a bit, or for me it really means I get to write and catch up a little. I actually slept in all the way until 7:30 AM. I got a good seven hours of sleep, something I think I really needed. Even so, I haven’t had the opportunity to do much catching up on e-mail much less just sit and meditate for a bit. A day of slowing down is always good for the soul.
It is Thursday here in Japan, Wednesday in California. I checked in with Karen and found that everything is fine at home. I called Celia black, my publicist, to check in. I haven’t done this since I came to Japan. Actually, I’m getting things out of order as I spoke with Celia later in the day, but I’ll put it in now.
The only planned activity was the speech at Yurakuchyo Yomiuri Hall. Mr. Sampa, the director of life investment planning and former president of Sony Life Insurance, had come to the Daichi Hotel at noon to meet us and escort us to the venue. We arrived at the hall about 12:30 PM. We traveled through a bustling lobby, got in an elevator and went up to the floor where the meeting Hall was located, and exited to a noisy din of people shouting and hawking their wares. It sounded like a trading floor on Wall Street, but it wasn’t really. Some people were selling food to the people and workers. Others were selling some things to help raise money for the earthquake victims of March 11, 2011. Mr. Sampa had arranged for these people to sell items and raise funds on behalf of Sony Life Insurance.
After passing all the noise we went into a small room where we had a bite of lunch. While talking with Mr. Sampa I raced a question that had been puzzling me for several days. I had learned that blind people could not purchase life insurance in Japan and that all insurance for them was provided by the government. Knowing could give me a really good solid reason for this. I thought that Mr. Sampa might be able to shed some light on this topic. When I broached the subject, he explained that the basic reason why people could not buy life insurance was that blind people were not allowed to sign legal contracts in Japan. I was incredulous and asked him why. He said that the feeling of the government and of the Japanese people came down to the fact that since blind people could not read contracts they could not possibly know what they were signing. They could not know, for example, if someone was reading the contract to them correctly. He said that the decision was made to “protect” blind people by not allowing them to sign contracts. He further explained that the government provided life insurance for blind people.
I said that such a decision puzzled me. I asked him if it was his feeling that sighted people had ever been cheated when they signed a contract? He paused for a few moments and then finally admitted that sighted people have been cheated. I then asked why sighted people were allowed to sign contracts since clearly they had been cheated. He thought for a few moments and then said that he didn’t really have a good explanation except for what he had told me. I explained that in fact there were a number of ways blind people could use to read contracts including getting the documents electronically, listening to them, printing them, and then signing the print copy. I said that in reality it ought to be the blind persons choice if they decided to have someone read the contract because the blind person could then choose who they trusted. I indicated that there should be no special requirement for a witness for a blind person unless such a witness was required for anyone who signed a particular contract. I think Mr. Sampa left our discussion moved and thinking about the issue. At least I hope so.
My speech this afternoon is to be given to 300 workers and guests of Sony Life Insurance. The workers are all life planners, investment counselors, and insurance salespeople. Management staff was also invited, and this happens usually in Japan and they came since an “invitation” is really pretty much of a mandate.
I was asked as usual to talk about my life, my philosophy, and 9/11. Also, I was asked to talk about the upcoming children’s book as well as the signing of the “Thunder Dog” movie contract. I have been in Japan long enough to have a fair understanding of some of the blindness issues. I decided it was time to contrast and compare Japan with America when it comes to blind people. I thought it was important to talk about the good and the bad on both sides. I especially wanted to talk about the issue of signing contracts as well as blind blocks.
After I was introduced I explained briefly who I was and introduced a video. This time instead of the KGO video I chose to use the Michael Hingson intro video. I chose this video because I wanted people to see that I speak in a wide variety of situations. I hope that there might be a possibility in the future to work with Sony Life Insurance again or that some of the people there might have other contacts they would refer to me. After the video we got right to it. I started talking about my life. I first told the audience how my parents had been encouraged to “put me away” when it had been discovered that I was blind. I explained that my parents bucked the system and the prevailing attitudes of the day by refusing to send me away and decided to bring me up like any other kid including my brother who was two years older than I. I explained that although my parents did not know about the National Federation of the Blind they had independently adopted the same basic philosophy which was that blind people could do whatever they chose to do and that, (my words now), the real disability of blindness is not the lack of eyesight rather the poor attitudes and misconceptions that people have about blindness and blind people.
I talked a bit about the history of blind people in America and about some of the work of the national Federation of the blind which is brought about some real legal changes. I told how blind people used to not be able to purchase life insurance, but because of the efforts of the national Federation of the blind it is now against the law for blind or other persons with disabilities to be denied life insurance at any rate not afforded to other persons. In other words, disability could not in of itself be used as a factor in determining the price or amount of life insurance provided to any person with a disability unless it could be scientifically proven that the disability in question caused by it self a change in the life expectancy for that person. My purpose in telling the story was to talk about how blind people brought about this change and that along the way they invited other disability groups to join in the fight. I knew that, as usual, there were a number of blind people in the audience. I want to start getting blind people to think about taking more control over their own lives. No matter what the culture change has to start somewhere.
I talked about the issue of blind persons in Japan not being able to sign legal contracts. I explained that in America blind people could sign contracts although sometimes people tried to put roadblocks in our way. I explained that there was no law that said that blind people could not sign contracts.
I also brought up the subject of “blind blocks”. I talked about the differences in the cultures in the US and Japan concerning blind blocks. I did my best to demonstrate how blind blocks were really a pathway to the past and how they did not truly promote independence. Again, I am hoping to just plant seeds.
I talked about my work and how I travel throughout the world independently, but I did explain that I was perfectly willing to ask for help when I needed it. I also explained that we all need help from time to time. I cited to them Gandhi’s quote which goes like this: “interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as is self-sufficiency”. I had been told that the Japanese people weren’t quite as team oriented as they used to be. I was encouraged to talk about teamwork and interdependence as the topic seemed to resonate with audiences.
After speaking for 45 or 50 min. I opened the floor to questions. As usual, Yoshie was translating away and doing a great job. She is a gem.
I got several questions about the capabilities of blind people. Many of the questions came from blind audience members. One of the executives from Sony asked me to help them understand why it didn’t seem like I was afraid as I descended the stairs on 9/11. I explained that I was is afraid as anyone else, but I also had a job to do. I told him my job was to support Roselle and encourage her. I explained that Roselle and I worked as a team and because of our very close bond and interdependent relationship Roselle gave me something on which to concentrate so that I didn’t have to think about my fears as much. I told the story from “Thunder Dog” about my real fear of being stuck on the stairs with thousands of light dependent functionally blind people if we lost our power and lighting. I explained how I told people that if we lost the power and lights that they should not worry because Roselle and I were here and we were offering a half-price special to get them out that day. I explained that I was deliberate in using humor, but that I also was serious.
We wrapped up the session at about 3:45 PM. We then went back to the hotel where I was to meet with some members of the press for some private interviews. The first interview was with a gentleman from a pet magazine. He wanted to talk about Roselle and her behavior on 9/11. He wanted to get his readers a real view into the various aspects of the human-guide dog relationship. We talked a lot about guide dogs and how they seem to differ from a “normal pet”. I explained that in my opinion more pet owners should learn from guide dog users and provide more rules for their pets annotates to spend more time truly bonding with their animal friends.
The second interview was with a Tokyo newspaper which is equivalent to the Herald Tribune. The questions were a bit more general, but this gentleman had listened to my interview with the pet magazine reporter, and so he also asked some questions about the human animal bond. The interviews wrapped up at about 6 PM. The second reporter wanted to spend some time talking with Yoshie learning about her experience of translating “Thunder Dog”. I left Yoshie and went up to my room to feed Africa. The plan was that Mr. Shirai, Mr.Ujita, and Mr. Cho were going to visit the major Japan tech center, Akihabara. You could buy anything technical at this center, and you could buy it at a reasonable price. The best way to describe Akihabara is to picture it as a major shopping mall simply for electronics stuff. Best Buy beware.
I had some concerns about not taking Yoshie along as she spoke better English than all the guys. They were supposed to give me a good look around and let me search for things and possibly buy something. However, when we got there, we went into one camera store, I got to touch one smart phone, (something I had no interested in purchasing), and then they all decided that they wanted to go to dinner. We went to a restaurant called En. This restaurant also has a facility in New York City. The food was great. I let them do all the ordering. We had lots of fish, some pork, and the usual rice and Misu Soup. I should explained that the reason Yoshie was not with us was that when I returned downstairs after feeding Africa Mr. Ujita told me that Yoshie was tired and needed to rest. It turned out that Mr. Shirai also did not come with us. This all seemed just a bit strange to me, but I went along with everything. After all, I’m just a singer in the band.
Anyway, when we got back to the hotel and I walked Africa, I returned to my room and began to write this entry. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. I opened the door to find a very angry Yoshie who asked where I had gone and why I was gone for so long. The original plan had been that the guys were going to take me to Akihabara and return within an hour. I told Yoshi that I never thought that we could do it in an hour. Yoshie explained that she had never been told that the plan was to take me to dinner so she had been waiting in the lobby for nearly 2 hours. Ruko, (or Mrs. Wi-Fi as Yoshie now calls her since this nice lady gave me her Wi-Fi access box), showed up so Yoshie had some company. Nevertheless, Yoshie had no idea what was going on. I had also not expected to be taken to dinner. I explained all this to Yoshi and she was a bit more calm. Yoshie and I chatted a bit about the vagaries of Japanese men and then we decided to call it a night. Since we had a 10 o’clock speech in the morning we decided to get together at 7:30 AM for breakfast.
The weather continued to be hot and humid in Tokyo just like it had been when I arrived and just as it had been throughout my trip in Japan thus far. I’m going to have lots of cleaning and laundry to do when I get home. The dry cleaners are going to be happy with me. Oh well, that’s for another day. By about 10:30 PM I was in bed. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.