Special support for the Speech Contest of the Schools for the Blind

“The 1st-prize winner”
Akari Kakino, 17 years old
Second year student from the Fukuoka Prefectural Special Needs Education School for the Visually Impaired (Representative of Kyushu)
Titled: “I want to protect them.”

What do you most want to protect now? Is there anything you never want to lose? I have something precious which I never want to lose even it cost me all money I have, or even my life.

I have had amblyopia as well as have been physically handicapped since I was born. Because of this, I have always gotten attention from people by how I walk since I was little. Because of this, I had believed that handicapped people are supposed to be spoken ill of behind their back, but I could never do anything about it. I attended an ordinary elementary school and junior high school. When I was there, I always worried too much about what my classmates thought of me and I was afraid to not be liked. As a result, I felt like I couldn’t ask anything from them even when I started having trouble seeing the blackboard, and just hoped I might be able to borrow their notes. I was just trying to not stand out, not to antagonize my classmates and pretended to not be troubled by my situation. Now, I know I was the one who was handicapped, but I could never accept the existence of myself with a disability.

I have a sister and mother who is handicapped. In those days, I hated my sister for not having a handicap like me and felt ashamed by my mother because she also had a handicap. My soul was really twisted. My mom could do nothing but push my back towards school when I told her, “I don’t want to go school today”. I used to think that she really didn’t understand me even though she had the same disability. “Why am I handicapped? If I wasn’t handicapped, I might have never felt these strong feelings”. I hated my mother who gave birth to me as a handicapped person and hated my sister who was born without any handicap. I hated both of them who are my family, but never understand my pain. Nevertheless, what I really hated the most was my body, which has the biggest disability. I had struggled with this pain and cut the back of my hand many times. I just wanted either one of them, who are the most closest to me, to understand my pain and help me carry it.

After those difficult days, I had quit taking care of myself. I spent most days just looking out of a window in my class, as is my life was “whatever”, and there was nothing to care about. In the meantime, I kept harming myself when I was home and silently shouting to myself “Help me!” “I need a chance to change this situation even a little”. I was exhausted and finally decided to ask my mom for help as my last hope, “I can’t take this anymore”. She took a moment and said,”Do you want to change schools?” What she asked was the happiest thing I have ever heard, more than anything else.

Soon we had completed all of the paperwork to change schools and I started to go to the Special Needs Education School. There were students who were just like me with disabilities. Teachers also accepted me so kindly and I felt like I finally could meet people who are so kind and made me feel warm. While spending those days at school, my closed heart had slowly melted little by little and finally I started to feel smiles on my face. In addition, there were more conversations with my family than ever, which I had never had before.

Then there was one thing that I finally realized. It was not only me who was suffering; my sister also had a hard time in her relationships with friends because of me and really was always tired. My mom also really had a tough time with my struggles but there was nothing she could do about it and what she could do was only to continue pushing me in school. Above all, I noticed that she was exhausted too, both mentally and physically more often than I was.

My heart was ripped out when I realized that my mom and sister were suffering because of me. I hadn’t seen what they had been gone through as I was worrying about myself too much. I think I hadn’t even tried to see it even once. That was the moment that I felt the most ashamed about myself in my entire life.

When I was in the first year of junior high school, my parents got divorced. At that time, I decided to go to my dad’s home because I didn’t want to be a burden on my mom due to her already having her own disability, so told her my decision. Then she replied to me with tears in her voice, “I wouldn’t survive without either of you, Chiaki or Akari, both of you are my life”. She held my hand so tight and so very hard. I now remember that how warm and nice her hand was. Even though she hold my hand a little too strong, it made me so happy…but I had forgotten about that until now. I will never, ever make this mistake again. I will live my life so hard for my mom and sister who think of me as their precious. From now on, I want to be the one who protects them. Whatever happens to me in the future, even though I don’t have any power, I want to protect them.

My sister is innocent but protects my mom and me with her strength. My mom works so hard to raise both me and my sister, but she actually easily moves to tears. Both of them are precious family members of mine who I never want to lose. Now I keep on myself to work hard on what I can do for them and to protect the people that I never want to lose.

“The 2nd-prize winner”
Yosuke Yamada, 17 years old,
Nara Prefectural School for the Blind, Senior High School, Third year, (Representative of Kinki)
Titled: “Change the dream to my power.”

What I am going to tell you now is the story about the two years since I came to the Nara Prefectural School for the Blind.

I had normal eyesight until I was a junior in high school but was attacked by a disease. I think many of you haven’t even heard the name of this disease that often, or perhaps never before. Its name is “Leber” (Leber hereditary optic neuropathy) and it is progressive. At that time, my doctor said to me that he was not sure when, but he thought it was possible that I will be blind in the future.

I loved to read, watch movies, and play sports. I was full of curiosity but felt like I was all alone in the dark. I could feel I was becoming negative. I know I am not in the worst situation for blind people because I only have amblyopia but I still hated that I was the one who had it.

One day in town, one of my classmates called out “Hey, Yamada!” from far away. However, I couldn’t look back to him due to my disease and so I turned and just walked away. I hate that I cannot see things clearly. With this disease, what is going to lead me to my happiness in the future?

The ceremony for my first day of my high school was supposed to be full of joy in April’s warm spring; it was tough to think that positively. I didn’t have any clear goals or dreams for the future. Days of thinking that way had been going on for a while. Now I realize that I was looking for a chance to change myself back in those days. And fortunately, I had the chance to change myself completely.

It is swimming, a sport we all know. I joined the swimming club in high school in the summer of that year. At first I wasn’t sure if I could enjoy it but everyone recommended me to join so I decided to try it. The practices were so hard and I couldn’t improve my swim times very easily. Those days were tough on me but I set my goal for the summer swimming competition and started working on it so hard. The result of that summer was 2nd place, but it was the moment when I got to win something all by myself after I had once lost all of my dreams. I was unbelievably happy and after that I got into swimming more and more. Each time I set my goals for swimming, I entered many competitions, and one by one, my times got faster. The happiness and confidence I got when I achieved those goals allowed me to become even stronger.

One day, my teacher told me about The National Sports Festival for People with Disabilities and it would take place in Tokyo that year. It motivated me more that I could take on the challenge of an even bigger competition, so I started to work hard on that goal with a strong sense of motivation. After a couple of months, one day after school, my teacher told me “Yosuke, you can go to Tokyo”. I remember clearly that I had the “victory pose” in my heart without even noticing! Although after I calmed down, I felt a huge amount of pressure for being the one to represent our prefecture, so I had to mentally brace myself for that. The biggest thing was, all the best swimmers come to Tokyo to compete for five days. Even so, I was very excited to swim with them and couldn’t wait for that the races to begin. Then finally, the race day came. We had the opportunity to swim at the Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center, which is a famous swimming facility. I remember my excitement for the competition clearly even now. It was hard to calm down for me because the hall was filled with exciting and tense atmosphere. It was finally my race, it seemed like all the loud cheers of the announcer and audience was gone, and it all became silent. I don’t remember anything after I dived into the water. Before I realized it, the race was finished and there was an announcement that I had won first place! It was like a flash, I don’t even have a clear memory of it, and surely there was an announcement I had won first place though. I stood on the podium, got the medal around my neck, looked around whole hall and decided that I will definitely return here in six years for the next competition.

I was able to have a big dream because of the Nara Prefectural School for the Blind. Now my biggest dream is winning the gold medal in the Paralympics in Tokyo in six years. Now a lot of swimmers like me have this same dream and are training for the biggest event. We have to lead the world of swimming and I will do my best to compete with them. I don’t know how much I can improve from now but I want to continue making an effort to become a top swimmer in the world.

I don’t think I could have this type of dream if I didn’t join the swimming club at the Nara Prefectural School for the Blind. In addition, I wouldn’t have been able to have this dream in the first place if I didn’t become visually impaired. So I will never again think about being visually impaired negatively, but will continue having a strong will and shall continue to live with ambition.

I will never give up my dream.
Thank you for listening.

“The 3 rd-prize winner”
Jyoji Fuji, 58 years old
Tokushima Prefectural Tokushima School for the Blind, Senior High School, Second year,  (Representative of Chugoku/Shikoku)
Titled: “I live today with my best to be a person who can make others happy.”

“What I have built up until now had all fallen apart and I lost the meaning and aim to live my life”.

That is what I naturally thought when I got a malignant eye disease that afflicts over 20 million people called “Leber” eight years ago. At that time, I was under a deep sadness and the fear of becoming blind one day at a time. Why I am here now is to speak in front of all of you about coming back from such suffering in those dark days. I remembered my motto when I was running my business, “Live today with my best” and strongly thought that I want to try that again.

I had been running a barbeque restaurant in Naruto City. I started the restaurant when I was 20, very young. I had been working so hard on nothing else but I continued on working until I decided to close the restaurant when I was 52 years old. Except two days of a regular holiday in a month, I started stocking the meat at 7 in the morning and worked straight through until midnight. It was a family business, so sometimes it caused my family to endure hard times, but the words from my customers, “The meat from your shop made me feel so happy” got me fired up and I felt the inspiration to work even more. I think my hard work finally paid off though, as my business became successful enough that I could send both of my two sons to college and eventually has become somewhat of a famous restaurant in the town.

During these happy days, the disease came to me quietly and started to eat at me quickly. I realized first when I was 50 years old, eight years ago, it was after the very busy New Year season. Suddenly my left eye lost sight. At first, I thought it was from farsightedness or being tired from working too much, so no big deal, I didn’t think too much about it. My first doctor said it is called “Optic Neuritis” and could be healed with medicine, so I looked at the situation optimistically. In those days, my right eye was working so I could continue my business with only having some inconvenience with my left eye. After some time, my left eye seemed not to be getting any better at all, and then even my right eye started getting worse day by day. Finally the name I heard was “Leber”, such a name that I had never heard before from the doctor at Kobe University, where I finally ended up after looking for the best hospitals. “Leber” is a malignant disease that causes a sudden decrease in eyesight due to a mitochondrial abnormality. I just shuddered with such uneasiness and fear by this diagnosis from the doctor and thought to myself, “What happens from now on for my future?” Only two months later, my visual acuity of my right eye also became 0.01. My heart couldn’t catch up with the speed of the progression of the illness. I tried to keep my business together with my wife and son’s help but shortly our hard work had reached its limit, there was nothing we could do anymore. So I decided to close my restaurant, which had 32 years of history, because I didn’t want to be a trouble anymore for my customers.

After quitting my work, which was my whole life, I felt a big hole in my heart. I felt this obsession, “I have to do something” everyday but facing myself who actually couldn’t do anything. I hated myself for feeling like that and became desperate. In those days, my nurse told me, “One thing you could do is go to a school for the blind”. I wasn’t sure about that idea, but decide to try and go to the school anyway. That was 5 years ago. At the first school, I couldn’t keep up so I had to quit after only a couple of months. I think that when people get a disease or have a disability, they might misunderstand society or what other people do for them. The reason why I quit the school was only due to a small thing, which was that the high school students were loud when I got to school and it made me frustrated.

After I quit that school, I bought an electronic magnifier and read a lot of newspapers and novels. However, I never got any satisfaction or felt productive from that, but rather I felt empty every day. In those days, a teacher from the school for the blind suggested to try school again. Even now, I really appreciate that suggestion. What I had been thinking strongly about was that, “I want to work on something hard”. I was proud that I had been working so hard for 32 years and nothing else. I lost my confidence for that work once, but after a while I slowly was getting it back. “The disease is nothing to me”.”I can be useful to people even with amblyopia”. I slowly began to think that I have to change myself in order to fit in our society.

I have now found my goal, “Becoming a person who makes people smile and happy” after entering school a second time. Now I am studying hard to be a masseur in the graduate course of manual therapy. In the pathology or rehabilitation studies classes, there are many difficult words, which I have never heard before so I am struggling with that, but I have a goal to be a masseur who will be told by people, “You made me so happy”. I live hard for today and if I think like that, I am always making progress toward this new goal.

Thank you for listening.