In Himeji (1952-1972)

2012-01-07

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I was born in Himeji City in 1952. I was taken on a train to Osaka University Hospital where I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.  On the way back, my mother was about to jump from the platform of a running train with me in her arms.  My grandfather stopped this just in time.  From this time onwards, it seemed to be the family rule to keep me at the center of the family.  In addition to the 7 family members, namely my grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, older sister, and older brother, I grew up with many people around me including 5 or 6 people who worked for the family business apparel and uniform sewing factory, a live in maid and my grandmother’s niece who was also a seamstress.  Even with this many people helping to take care of me, my older sister stayed with relatives from time to time even before school age when taking care of me took up more of the adults’ time.  This is the opposite of what happened in other families at that time where sending children with disabilities to institutions were common practice.        In 1959, I entered Nozato Elementary School, the local public elementary school.  There, I attended the regular classes.  My grandmother came with me every day to school to make this possible.  My grandmother’s niece (or at times one of the store clerks) would take me and my grandmother to and from school every day in a bicycle.  I sat in a child seat set up in front and my grandmother rode on the luggage rack in the back.  In the first grade classroom, my grandmother and I sat in the back of the classroom with our desks side by side.  In arts and crafts class, my grandmother helped the other children as well.  This made me very popular in class.  After school many classmates came to my house to play.

In June of 1960, when I was in second grade, Shosha Special School for the Handicapped opened.  It was the first school of its kind in Himeji City.  Students attending special education classes of the various school districts were all collected to go there. I was attending the regular classes but was forced to transfer.  If I had to go to this special school, since it was a school that catered to special needs, I thought that at least I would not have to have my grandmother come to school with me every day.  However, special schools in those days made parents come with the children if the children could not do things on their own.  Toilets were traditional Japanese style where you had to squat.  Of course, there were no wheelchair accessible toilets.  That was the situation.  My grandmother understood my thinking, and instead of coming to school with me, made arrangements where she paid a parent of one of my classmates to help me when I needed to use the bathroom.  I was the only one in school with this kind of arrangement. When I was in my last couple of years of elementary school, I went to a carnival with my older sister.  In those days, carnivals had freak shows.  The barker would shout out “This child must have been born this way as punishment of the parents’ sins.”  The shows featured the names of popular Japanese ghosts like “the women with the extendable neck” or “three-eyed monk boy.”  When I told my sister I wanted to go see the freak show, she told me “They’re all fakes, don’t you know.  You’re much more interesting to look at.  Why pay money to see fake ones when I have a real one right next to me.”  I remember this episode as the roots to who I am today.  Since this point onwards, I never stopped asking myself “what it means to be me.”

In 1965, I was in 3 oil painting gallery exhibitions in Himeji City.  I received words of encouragement from the Prefectural Governor and my painting was used in the Himeji Credit Union calendar.  But it bothered me that my paintings were always introduced with words like “despite her handicap.”



In 1967, I entered the High School Division of Harima Special Boarding School for the Handicapped.  Also this year I took on the responsibility of purchasing for the family business women’s clothing store.  In 1970, I entered the Oil Painting Department of Ashiya Fine Art’s School and moved to Ashiya City.  (I use to travel alone or with a friend.)



 

 

 

 

In 1972, I participated in the Executive Committee for the West Japan screening of “Good-bye CP” directed by Kazuo Hara.  This is a 1971 documentary portraying the self-assertion of people with CP trying to live in the community in Japan where people with CP were seen as the ones who should not exist.  This film enlightened me to my way of living i.e. to live with an aggressive attitude sending out the message “What’s wrong with being a person with disabilities?”   In 1972, I hosted the screening of “Good-bye CP” in Himeji City.  This screening was supported by the teachers and parents of Shosha Special School for the Handicapped.  About 100 people came to the screening.

One of the teachers who came to the screening said “Don’t you want to get the graduates of this school who have nowhere to go after graduation together and do something?”  We were able to use one of the classrooms of the school every Sunday and formed Group Ribbon, a group for the independence of people with disabilities.  We also formed a friendship organization called Group Gorilla.  We called this group of people without disabilities gorillas to say “you move your arms and legs but don’t say a word” because we didn’t want them to think for us and tell us what to do, we just wanted them to help us out with our physical needs.  This idea represents the principle of how people without disabilities can support us.

この投稿文は次の言語で読めます: Japanese

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