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

First prize

Erika Matsuda (age 27)
Third-year senior high school student studying manual therapy, Fukui Prefectural School for the Visually Impaired

Title: I am a Migratory Fish — As I swim out into the vast ocean, I carry my precious happy home in my heart

You have all heard about migratory fish and the salmon is probably the one that comes first to mind. When it is time to reproduce, salmon return to the river where they were born to spawn, homing in on the characteristic scent of their native stream. They do so even though they have spent most of their lives in ocean waters far from the freshwater where they first saw the light of day. But occasionally a salmon may forget the way home, become separated from its fellows, and wander off into alien waters. That is what happened to me when my brother and sister became teachers.

My parents are both teachers. When my brother and sister also embarked on careers as teachers, I became increasingly unsettled at home. Gathered around the dinner table, all my family talked about was school and teaching. I was unable to join the conversation. Every day all I worried about was how to avoid revealing my disability to the people around me and how to avoid causing anxiety to my brother and sister. They were not told about my illness. Whenever I dropped something or bumped into something, they tended to blame me. But my mother was always supportive to me in these situations.

I love my mother and often went out with her. As the years passed, when we met my mother’s acquaintances, they would frequently ask if I also intended to become a teacher. I started to feel increasingly oppressed by the expectations of the people around me and could not help but wish my mother were not a teacher and I were not disabled. Burdened by these negative feelings, I began avoiding my mother. Keeping my distance from her, I spent less time at home.

Several years passed. One day my mother fell ill and told me:

“When you smile, I immediately feel happy. And when you are in low spirits, I feel depressed. I guess you are my heroine!” My mother’s words made a big impression on me. I could not get them out of my mind. Since I was already grown up, I felt somewhat embarrassed about being called a heroine. But with the passage of time, the memory of my mother’s affectionate words warmed my heart and lifted my spirits. What she had said meant so much to me.

Until then, I had lived in a monochrome world where things were either black, white or a shade of gray. My world lacked vitality and was devoid of happy smiles. Feeling like a fish stranded in alien waters, time passed as if I were alone in the middle of a vast ocean. I felt trapped by the feeling that I was a pale shadow of my brother and sister, destined to spend my life in a shadowy world far from the cheerful light of day. I was overcome by the feeling that people with disabilities have few possibilities. Such ideas weighed heavily upon me, robbing me of peace of mind.

But my mother told me I was her heroine. I had forgotten something of truly life-changing importance: I am the heroine of my own life. No one else, certainly not my brother or my sister, can step into that role. Once I realized that I was the heroine, I knew that the light was always with me, illuminating my path. I felt that every moment of my life was a precious gift. I wanted to laugh, express my happiness, and revel in the sheer pleasure of my feelings. I also realized that the climax of any narrative is when the hero or heroine struggles to overcome hardship. Now is the time for me to shine! My mother, always a great teacher, taught me a lesson that has changed my life.

Why was it that for so many years I did not recognize my mother’s deep and abiding love toward me? What a bad heroine I had been. My heart was filled with regret.

I had been a migratory fish that had lost its way home. My home was my mother. My mother’s love for me was what the distinctive scent of the native river was for the salmon. At long last I was able to find my way home. I also realized that the real migration, the real journey, was yet to start. The scent of my native river, which I can sense from anywhere, encouraged me to keep advancing. And this school for the visually impaired came into view.

I am a migratory fish. I am not a gaudy tropical fish. I am a migratory fish pushing forward in heavy seas, swimming as far and fast as I can. My tears were not shed in vain. They formed a stream that became the ocean beckoning me, across which I will chart a bold new course.

My experience at this school for the visually impaired has been thoroughly worthwhile, often exciting and always inspiring. Moreover, I have been able to make a circle of excellent friends. We find happiness together while helping, encouraging and inspiring one another. This supportive environment enabled me to set myself a new goal. I have decided to dedicate myself to the education of the visually impaired, endeavoring like my mother to imbue everything I do with a warm heart.

My migration has just begun. As I swim out into the vast ocean, I carry my precious happy home in my heart.

Second prize

Chizuko Ishii (age 18)
Third-year senior high school general course student, Hyogo Prefectural Visual Support School

Title: Door to the Future

Have you ever felt distressed because you had a disability? Around the time I started senior high school, I began to feel troubled about myself. I was tormented by a question to which there was no answer: Why was I born with a visual impairment?

On returning home each day, I was oppressed by the fact that I was the only member of my family with a disability. I felt increasingly frustrated about trivial everyday situations. For example, when I went out with my family, I was the only one who didn’t know what was going on around me. At a buffet restaurant, I needed someone to accompany me, and even if I went shopping I didn’t know what kinds of products were available. But I bottled up my distress inside myself, never revealing it to my family, because I didn’t want to be a cause of unhappiness to my mother by burdening her with all my troubles. When I felt miserable, I shut myself up in the bathroom and quietly cried alone.

The dam eventually burst. It was during the spring vacation of my first year at senior high school. I finally became unable to contain myself and broke down in tears in front of my family. Like a glass overflowing with water, the tears simply wouldn’t stop. My mother asked, “What’s wrong? Has something awful happened?” I couldn’t open up about my feelings and insisted that nothing was wrong. However, perhaps astonished to see a side of me I had never shown before, my mother pressed me for an answer. In my confusion, I said something terrible to my mother: “Leave me alone. It has nothing to do with you. You wouldn’t understand even if I told you.” Even so, my mother stayed by my side for a long time. After crying for several hours, I confided my true feelings to her. I had never before told my mother how I really felt because I wanted to avoid making her unhappy. But when I finally let loose, I felt that the pain in my heart eased a bit. Knowing what I was feeling, my mother held me tightly and said, “Sometimes life is hard, isn’t it? But things will be all right because your family is with you. Let’s face this together.” At that time, I felt truly blessed to have my mother and father with me. But, even with their loving support, I still felt I lacked the strength to overcome my unhappiness.

At times, without warning, my eyes would brim with tears, and each time I told myself, “I have a loving family.” When I was alone at night, I cried a river of tears. My eyelids became swollen. My head ached.

One tormenting thought constantly went round and round in my head: “Why is it only I who can’t see? If I had normal eyesight, I could go out alone. I could go shopping alone. I could take a lighthearted view of my surroundings. Why only me?” In the end, I would continue crying although it got to the point that I didn’t even really know why I was crying any more.

Then one day it dawned on me: “This is the one thing that can’t be helped.” I realized that it was foolish of me to cry. “Crying won’t make me able to see. It’s not something crying can solve. It’s true my lack of sight prevents me from doing many of the things that other people do as a matter of course. But, instead of dwelling unhappily on the things I can’t do, I will increase the number of things I can do.” I started thinking positively.

I love English. In the future, I would like to do work that involves the use of English. As a first step toward fulfilling my aspiration, I decided to go to university. I want to make friends oversees. I want to travel to Australia alone. I want to study abroad, encounter people from various countries, and experience for myself the local climate and culture. I have set myself goals.

I think that coming face-to-face with myself has enabled me to grow as an individual, helping me become more capable. Life isn’t all peaches and cream. But difficulties and challenges make one stronger. Happiness surely awaits me beyond the heartache. That is my conviction. Well, what will I be doing 20 years from now at age 38?

Third prize

Ayumu Kinoshita (age 17)
Third-year senior high school general course student, Tochigi Prefectural School for the Blind

Title: What Changed Me

I, a big anime fan generally considered to be an anime otaku, experienced a marked deterioration in my vision soon after entering junior high school and transferred to a school for the blind. During the months until the change of schools was decided, I was often tearful, so anxious was I about my eyesight and my future. All the same, once I had transferred to the new school, I was able to make friends with fellow anime otaku and get off to a smooth start.

Participation in junior high school club activities was compulsory. That was how I got involved in the track club. I, who had spent so much time at home watching anime and playing video games, reluctantly took up running. Meanwhile, a high school student at our school competed in the National Sports Festival for People with Disabilities and won a medal.

I thought, “Wow. It’s really possible to compete in the National Sports Festival. Maybe I could have a chance to do that if I really try hard.” So I began training with the National Sports Festival in mind.

I continued running in my third year of junior high and first year of senior high, and in my second year of senior high my physical education teacher recommended that I represent Tochigi Prefecture in the National Sports Festival. There were many applicants, and I wondered whether I stood a chance. Then, one day in July while I was training, my teacher said, “I am ordering a pair of spikes for you.” “Yes!” I did a mental fist pump.

But I didn’t yet know just how grueling the day-after-day training regime was going to be.

From then on, I put in day after day of hard training, following a series of training menus. At times, I expressed dissatisfaction with the training, which I felt was way too arduous for someone like me who was new to strenuous exercise. My shoulders and legs ached, and I often felt like skipping training. In fact, when I trained alone because my teacher was unable to come due to a meeting or whatever, I did sometimes secretly ditch the training menu.

Meanwhile, as I got to know other competitors at the prefectural intensive training sessions and other get-togethers, I was surprised at the amount of training they did. I felt embarrassed, wondering whether I was really cut out for this. Did I, someone ready to skip training at the slightest opportunity, really have what it took to represent Tochigi Prefecture? On the other hand, as the only visually impaired high school student on the team, I was thrilled by the prospect of competing against fast runners, wondering just how fleet-footed the competitors from other prefectures were. From then on, I devoted myself wholeheartedly to training.

Finally the day of the competition arrived. I ran in the 200-meter race. My name was called and I moved onto the track. This seemed to take forever. I was anxious and a prey to negative thoughts, worrying that I might fail. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it would burst. I remembered that I had been told to keep moving my body while waiting, and moving around helped me relax somewhat. Now it was our turn and time for me to show what I was made of. This was a night race and I was anxious whether I would be able to see the lane lines. If I strayed from my lane, I would be disqualified. The moment I thought about that, tension and anxiety welled up in me. I adjusted the starting blocks and practiced my start, sprinting in bursts of a few seconds.

This was the moment of truth. Excitement and expectation, knowing that I was about to compete against fast runners and wondering just how quick they would be, dispelled my tension and anxiety. I started the race in the right frame of mind.

Running in Lane 7, I was completely unaware of the person running ahead of me. As I entered the straight with 100 meters to go, there was someone in front of me. Oh, no! I ran as I had never run before. I edged closer and closer to his back and drew alongside. We breasted the tape. Who had won?

Had it been a dead heat? Had I lost? No, I had come first. I had done it. What a hotly contested, exhilarating race! My family and teammates shared my joy, delighted at my victory.

After the race, my teacher said, “Now you understand that you have rivals all over Japan, don’t you?” At that moment, I felt a connection through sport with visually impaired people nationwide. Until then, I had shut myself up in my own little world and avoided relationships. However, the connection I felt at that moment made me very happy, warming my heart. Could it have been a sense of fulfillment from realizing that working up a sweat in competition with others is what being young is all about?

The following day I ran in the 100 meters, competing against the same runner I had defeated in the 200 meters. I finished second. It was frustrating to be the runner-up in the 100 meters after my victory in the 200 meters.

Participating in the National Sports Festival for People with Disabilities was a life-changing experience for me. I received commendations from the prefecture and city. The smiling faces of my family and teammates made all the grueling training worthwhile. I made friends even among the adult members of the team. I admired their cheerful, confident demeanor, and how they paid their disabilities no mind. I was inspired to emulate them.

Three weeks later, I competed in the Kanto Area Schools for the Blind Track and Field Championships. Unlike the National Sports Festival, there was no detailed grouping according to disability grade, and I competed against runners whose eyesight was much better than mine. I finished second. It was frustrating to learn that there is always someone better! I wanted to come in first regardless of my poor eyesight. I resolved to maintain the tempo of my training in preparation for next year, eager to win again at the National Sports Festival.

My school is small and there are no fast runners to compete against. Even so, I have rivals all over Japan. The thought that someone somewhere else in Japan is training inspires me to put extra effort into my own training.

I had no idea that actively interacting with people would be such a transformational experience for me. Now I want to change my passive self into an active self while always valuing connections with other people.

For me right now, running is the catalyst for changing myself. I aim to be someone who persists and doesn’t run away even when things are tough. No more skipping training!