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

“The 1st-prize winner”
Ryoga Yamaguchi, 16 years old,
Ibaragi Prefectural School for the Blind, Senior High School, Second year (Representative of Kanto, Koshinetsu)
The title: “Smile

I love smiles. Why I love them so much is because of experiences that I have had like this. I had been playing baseball so much, and almost nothing else, so of course when I enrolled into junior high school, I immediately joined the baseball team. I eventually became a captain for the team and enjoyed playing baseball more than studying. “What? Studying less than playing? Sure, of course the most important thing to do for a junior high school student is playing baseball, right”. I was so crazy for baseball to even think that way.

“If somebody took baseball from me, what is there left for me?” I used to think that but suddenly; I was unable to play baseball, which I loved so much, anymore. That's because by the spring of my third year of junior high, I started losing my sight little by little because of a disease. One thing I was proud of was my good vision, but one day, I noticed that I could not see the ball as clearly as I had before.

However, I kept playing baseball and hiding it, but my friends started noticing that little by little I had a harder time seeing the ball until finally our coach noticed. I was told that I could not play in any more games. And even though I was a team captain, I couldn’t play in the final game. I felt so helpless and lonely from not being able to play baseball which I loved so much that I felt like I hated everything after that.

While I was in such desperation, my friends from the team told me to, “Laugh anyway” just stupidly positive words. Honestly, I thought, “Who can laugh?” but actually whenever I was laughing with them, it was always fun. I started thinking that I was such a loser being desperate only because I has lost my sight and couldn't play my favorite sport. There will be a lot of fun things in my future, and I started to think positively and there I was, laughing every day without noticing. Maybe the smiles of my friends who supported me saved me, and that was how I was able to bounce back from that desperation.

That is why I think this way. If we laugh when we have a hard or challenging time, our broken heart will eventually be healed, and because of that, I want to laugh and laugh, and live with joy.

“It's like making a lot of money without doing anything; just to be alive.” This is a quote by my favorite comedian, Sanma Akashiya. He also said, “Because people are born crying and naked, they greet just one pair of pants with laughter as if it is the best moment of their life. That is the best life”.

When I heard this quote for the first time, I felt my heart start to beat faster. I realized that there are people who are so positive, cherishing smiles, and never stop smiling themselves. I thought I want to tell people about this too and I want to be a person who never stops smiling.

Hello everyone in attendance. When do you smile? It is now! Those who smile now, keep that smile and let us smile forever! Smile!

Thank you for listening.

“The 2nd-prize winner”
Hikaru Chida, 42 years old,
Iwate Prefectural Morioka School for the Blind, Senior High School, Second year, (Representative of Tohoku)
The title: “Salute-Kashira Naka”

“This is out of my hands”. It was unexpected what the doctor had just said to me, and then my mind went blank.

It was the spring of 2010; I finished my work and went back home in the middle of the night. Then suddenly darkness came up from under my eyes like a tsunami. “What is this?” I didn’t know what was going on but couldn’t do anything because it was so late at night, so I spent the entire night in anxiety.

The next morning I went to the hospital. The inside of my eyes were bleeding and I got the diagnosis, diabetic retinopathy. My work and my driving which had been always there in my life, everything from my daily life, had now left me. That day, I was lost and had no idea what to do. Then one of my friends told me about Iwate Prefectural Morioka School for the Blind. I went to the school orientation meeting and realized there were people who were older than I was and were totally blind and they were studying so hard to be physical therapists. I was so impressed by them that I made a commitment to go there and told myself, “I shouldn’t keep looking down”.

I go to school at Morioka every week from Ofunato, the south of Iwate. It is the first time in twenty years that I live the student-life again and I am positively enjoying it. I even joined a school club for the Koto (a stringed musical instrument) and I am the president of the student council. Actually, I couldn’t have imagined that I could be like this in my past. I used to get nervous when I stood in public and couldn’t say everything I wanted to say, I was like a 1 out of 10. I was really shy and even a coward for public speaking.

I think what developed my personality and made me change to a more positive and outgoing person who is able to speak in public is the work I did as firefighter for over ten years. When I first became a firefighter, I didn’t know what was waiting for me and how hard it would be. It was really tough physically, connecting many hoses together which are more than ten kilograms each and running several hundred meters to operate a pump. Also at each training drill or during exercise, we had to yell “Kio-tsuke!” and “Kashira Naka!” loudly and salute. It was so strict, as every day started with a salute and ended with a salute, I was so confused, “No way, I joined such a terrible place” but it was too late to have any regrets. Even though I wasn’t that good at it, I continued trying hard and giving it my best. After three years, I joined The Bugle Corps which changed me.

When I first joined the corps, with my shyness, I couldn’t even start conversations. However, being surrounded by those good people with such strong character, and talking to them little by little; I was slowly able to express my feelings or opinions and eventually was accepted as one of them. My trumpet playing got better quickly and then I realized that I had been there for nine years working as corps member. We improved our playing through friendly rivalries and competitions. In addition, we were lucky to have such great opportunities to play at commendation ceremonies and practices hosted by a firefighting team from the Iwate prefecture.

I have learned from those ten years where I met many people and was surrounded by them; even though I was shy, if I opened myself up and talked to people, they definitely open themselves up to me. If you jump to do things you have never done before, always something good returns to you. Even if it is so small the first time, the small “awareness” can be a “variation” and finally becomes “chance” which changes us for the good.

I had to quit the bugle corps because of my eye disease and having to now focus on going to school. Then what was waiting for me was the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. That day was my last day as a member of the firefighters. Of course, my home was affected too but I had my pride as a firefighter, so I stayed with people from the affected areas and spent those cold nights in the darkness with them. I have never forgotten that day and what happened ever since.

Now I have a kidney disease in addition to diabetes retinopathy. It is so difficult to have dialysis treatment every day and will be like this forever. But those images of the fires I saw and the earthquake, when I remember that, each time I think strongly that the most important thing now is that I’m alive. Do not forget that fact; it is not an obvious thing that living our life is natural. We must appreciate our life as it is the only one we have, so we must live hard and do our best for people who are already gone. I will step forward into my future even if there is the difficult path; I have my new goal for helping as many people as I can as a physical therapist.

For the end, I want to say thank you to my parents, my brother, sister, the Ofunato firefighters, and the many friends from Morioka School for the Blind, “Kashira Naka!”

“The 3 rd-prize winner”
Ren Takagi, 14 years old,
Miyagi Prefectural School for the Blind, Junior High School, Third year,(Representative of Tohoku)
The title: “Monday Uncle

“Monday Uncle”. It was last winter when I met the man who I called such a name. I was waiting on the platform of Okuma Station for a train that goes to Sendai.

“Good morning”, Monday Uncle says to me when the train arrives at Okuma station, and leads me so kindly, onto the train. He then finds an empty seat for me to sit. When the train arrives at Sendai station, he takes my arm gently and helps me off the train, goes up the stairs with me, and guides me to the entrance gate. “Have a nice day” he says and then leaves. I don’t even know his name, but this kind guide started on that day and every Monday since then, which now has been six months.

I leave my home every Monday morning to go school and I spend the week in the school dormitory. I have been living like that, coming back home on Fridays and leaving again on Mondays to head off to school again. I feel happy to see my friends and the seniors, but in the meantime, my heart swelled with loneliness being away from my family for a week starting every Monday morning. Monday Uncle being here for me, has actually started to grow on me and it helps me cherish my loneliness.

Monday Uncle and I almost never talk. However, he guides me anyway on Mondays as if it is his duty to do it. Once I tried to refuse, telling him “I’m ok” because actually I can go to the gate at the station by myself with no problem. Nevertheless, I can always count on him eventually saying, with his kind words, “It’s ok, we go together”. The big arm that's around me gently makes me feel so comfortable. I don’t know anything about him but I trust him from bottom of my heart. I know that might sound weird.

“The platform is really dangerous”. I often heard that during my training for walking in public. Recently, so many people are on cell phones and distracted while walking on the platform and it has become a bigger issue. I am frozen with fear about the possibility of falling off the platform by bumping to such people. I have heard horrible stories that some people have even pushed others off the platform. Even though I have been careful when I walk, there are so many dangers on the platform; nobody in the world is truly safe out there. I feel anxiety about such a world, but we blind people have to live in it anyway and sometimes I have to ask some people for help. It is really sad to think if I can trust the person or not when I ask them for help. By meeting with Monday Uncle, I realized people out there still do have warm hearts and kindness and I feel hope for our society again.

There are many various people in this society. It means that not every person has that kindness. I had an experience when some people got really angry at me when I accidentally bumped my white cane into them. That makes me fearful when I deal with people who I don’t know for the first time. However, Monday Uncle’s kind hands give me hope. I feel like they are gently pushing my back saying, “People live and help each other. Step forward without any fear, don’t be hesitant”. People’s kindness gives me courage to step into the world. I think when I walk; I count on my white cane but also people’s warm hearts supporting me.

I don't think I can count on Monday Uncle forever though. I want to tell him I have to walk by myself someday and then I want to say, “Thank you” to him. In addition, I want to tell him of my dream, “I want to walk around the world and meet various people, because meeting you made me realize that it is really important for me to meet new people". Knowing people are out there helping each other live allows me to have better hope for society. Now I want to give those valuable things that you gave me to others. So please watch me from now on and in the future as well. I will be the person who is down to earth and walking forward. I think this could be my repayment to you, Monday Uncle for your kindness. I walk forward now with hope for our society and I will tell people and show people with my actions, the importance of taking care of each other.