Special support for the Speech Contest of the Schools for the Blind86th National Speech Contest for Students of Schools for the Blind and Visually Impaired

First prize

Tatsuya Mochizuki (age 28)
Second-year senior high school student studying manual therapy, Shizuoka Prefectural Hamamatsu Special Support School for the Visually Impaired

Title: Ame (Rain)

What do you do when it rains? Do you use an umbrella? Do you run back home? Wait! Please don't go home today. Well then, what do you do when it's raining in your heart?

Five years after dropping out of university for economic reasons, I was working at a company. Two summers ago, I made up my mind to attend a special support school because of deteriorating eyesight and was thinking about quitting my job and moving back home to live with my parents. Although I had become estranged from my family, they frequently asked me for money and I was paying the hospitalization costs for my diabetic mother, and so I didn't expect any complaints. In fact, my parents didn't object. However, my plan was quickly dashed.

It happened that autumn. My mother, who was unable to observe her dietary restrictions, choked on some food and lost consciousness. When I saw the ashen, emaciated face of my mother at the hospital, I was filled with mixed emotions. This is because I had become estranged from my parents when I was a university student after arguing with them over school fees and, to tell the truth, was unable to feel sorrowful. I was so emotionally detached that I was able to listen dispassionately when the doctor explained that there was a high probability that my mother would die and that, even if she escaped death, she would likely be confined to bed.

However, late at night when I was in the hospital room with my parents, I naturally and spontaneously began speaking to my mother. Although she didn't respond, I continued talking to her hour after hour. When I became aware that I had continued speaking until dawn, it made me realize that my mother, whom I had even thought I hated, was important to me. Come morning, my mother's hand moved in response to my call, and tears of joy welled up in my eyes.

My mother regained consciousness and telephoned me the following day. I was working at the time and unable to take her call. I didn't give it a second thought, thinking I would see her later in the day. However, it turned out that she had exhausted her remaining strength in regaining consciousness, and she passed away. I was overcome with regret, thinking, "If only I had spoken with her more when she was alive or, at the very least, if only I had taken her phone call at the end." For some time, I was stunned with shock.

When it rains, it pours. Three months after my mother's funeral, my father died after crashing his bicycle into a ditch. I had scorned him in life as someone who constantly indulged himself in alcohol, cigarettes, and gambling. Even so, when I went to see the accident site, I was overwhelmed with sadness when I imagined how cold he must have felt in the frigid wintry water and how much it must have hurt when he banged his head. I don't think I will ever forget the icy cold feeling that came over me at the sight of my deceased parents.

When I later settled my parents' affairs, I learned that they had borrowed a large amount of money and that my father had sold the family home before his death. With nowhere to live and no source of support, I thought I would have to abandon the idea of going to school and felt that my future prospects were ruined. Although the company kindly offered to let me continue working as before, I wouldn't be able to continue working there if I lost my eyesight. So, I had no peace of mind. At that time, the rain was pouring in my heart.

Last January, I was working in that emotional state. A concert in Tokyo by a certain singer-songwriter happened to coincide with a day off work. The first time I had heard a song by that artist, I found myself instantly enveloped in a powerful mood, as if burdened by unfathomable anguish. Since staying at home only made me feel depressed, for a change of pace I made my way to a live music venue in Kitasando for the performance. At the show, I encountered a song with rain as a motif that included the lyric, "I know who's making rain fall in my heart." Listening to the entire song, I clearly understood the message that we ourselves cause rain to fall in our hearts: in other words, we are the cause of our own negative moods. The final song of the performance compared life to a sea voyage. It contained the memorable lyrics, "Alone even now on the boundless sea" and "Don't die! Live! Survive!" Listening to these two songs, I felt as if I were being admonished because I was the cause of my own depression and that I must never give up, even if all alone, no matter how bad things become. Then, I determined that I would be strong-willed and develop the strength to survive whatever may happen.

Adversity builds character. I think that no matter how difficult a situation may be, it's a growth opportunity in disguise. I'm now studying acupuncture and physical therapy at school. I renounced my inheritance, completely eliminating the debt my parents left. On school holidays, I work part-time at my previous company. I intend to work, study, and grow strong in order to live and to survive. Someday, I hope to repurchase the ancestral grave that I lost along with the land by renouncing my inheritance so that I can once again stand before the grave and have a long talk with my mother and father.

When I heard those songs in Tokyo, I became convinced that among the 7.4 billion people who live in this world, I'm the only one who can make it rain in my heart. So, I'll just have to make the rain clouds disappear myself. Whether I'm alone, whether I've received help from someone, or whether I've taken a break, I must never give up. We only live once. I intend to take responsibility myself so that when I reach the end of my days, I will have lived cheerfully and enjoyably.

Second prize

Mika Ohashi (age 17)
Third-year senior high school general course student, Hyogo Prefectural Visual Support School

Title: Harmony of the Heart

Have you thought about what it means to "Accept and live with a disability?" Right now, to me it means to live without concealing the way I am.

When I was a second-year elementary school student, I suddenly developed a severe vision impairment caused by the disorder neuromyelitis optica. Being a child, I didn't take it very seriously.

I went on to attend the local junior high school. Since I love music, I joined the brass band and played clarinet. I enjoyed performing, and although I faced struggles such as playing from memory because I can't see sheet music, each day was satisfying and fulfilling. In my senior year, I was named section leader. I was filled with a sense of responsibility and great enthusiasm to serve as a model for the younger students.

One day, one of my younger bandmates pointed to the sheet music and said, "There's a part I find very hard to play." Unable to see the sheet music, I answered off the top of my head, "Sorry. That part's hard, isn't it? I don't know how to play it either." It would have been frustrating and embarrassing to be seen by a younger student putting my face close enough to the sheet music to read it. In that split second, the painful realization that my eyesight is bad struck like a dagger in my heart. During ensemble practice, we were often handed sheet music on the spot. At times I was completely unable to play a part, and the entire clarinet section was reprimanded. I lost confidence and felt awful that I was causing trouble for others. I blamed myself.

I wanted to conceal the fact that I was ill. I hated myself. Even after returning home from school, my head would spin with negative thoughts. Why was I the only one who couldn't see? If I could only see, I'd be able to help the younger students. I wanted to confide my feelings to someone, but was unable to express them.

One day, by chance a television documentary program caught my attention. I was startled to hear a young girl who had become seriously ill say to her sister, "I've become ill and am suffering instead of you." The reason I was taken aback was there were times when I wondered why I had become ill and not my sister. I marveled, "How strong this girl is." At that instant, as if suddenly free from the past, I thought, "It can't be helped that I became ill. I, too, must become strong!"

I couldn't go on the way I was. One day, I mustered my courage and handed a metronome to a bandmate in my section saying, "Will you adjust the pendulum for me? I can't see the numbers." She answered, completely naturally, "Sure thing." I thought, "So it's as simple as that." I was truly happy. My friend's natural reaction filled me with a sense of security and an extraordinary feeling of relief.

From then on, a bandmate would casually offer to help when it was time to change tempo. The music that my friends and I made together won a gold medal in a band contest. That is a cherished memory I will never forget.

I chose to go to high school at a special needs education school for the visually impaired. I may have been weary from steeling myself each day for the struggle to go on living. I enrolled at my school because I wanted to be together with people with the same disability. I'm able to attend class with peace of mind in a considerate environment and freely express my opinions. At school, I've been able to show my natural self. However, the time to leave this comfortable nest will inevitably come.

Am I prepared to live without concealing the way I am? I haven't been able to completely accept my disability. At times I'm hesitant to use a white cane and feel embarrassed in various situations. However, I live with a burning desire to change myself step by step, little by little.

I am who I am today because of my experience in the brass band. I want to always be involved with music, to continue to perform, and to convey the beauty and splendor of music to others.

Furthermore, I want to live my life by creating a beautiful harmony of the heart, meeting lots of people and valuing and emotionally bonding with others.

Third prize

Hiroto Minoda (age 28)
Second-year senior high school student studying manual therapy, Kagawa Prefectural School for the Blind

Title: Living Underwater

It was three years ago. I was married, had a one-year-old son, and my wife was expecting another child. One morning, I woke up to a strange sensation. I felt like I was underwater. I remember to this day the terrible feeling, as if I were immersed in water.

I wonder how other people with impaired vision explain to friends or new acquaintances how the world looks to them. I tell people that everything is blurred as if I have opened my eyes underwater.

In high school, I devoted myself to the hockey club. I won the most valuable player award in the Shikoku tournament and was even selected to compete in the National Athletic Meet. I went on to work as a fashion show and wedding ceremony model . I was leading a very happy life. I married, and we had a child. It happened just as I was ready to work hard and get ahead.

At that time, I was strongly determined to support my family and had no choice but to continue working. There was no time for whining and complaining. However, little by little the water became cloudy. I continued working, deceiving myself and concealing my condition from my colleagues. In my wedding ceremony modeling work, I was unable to read the wedding vows and once nearly injured myself when I missed a stair. All I could do was laugh things off and apologize. I stuck to it, telling myself I had to work for my family.

One day, my wife suddenly said to me, "Why don't you go to a school for the blind?"

I was puzzled. "But, I have to work, don't I?"

"You look so pitiful. I can't stand to see you this way."

"That may be, but what will we do for a living?

"It'll be the same if I work, won't it?"

My wife's blunt words struck a nerve. After working so hard, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It even made me angry.

However, my wife, too, was troubled, and her words had been carefully considered. In fact, five years earlier my mother had enrolled in a school for the blind after her own eyesight deteriorated. She had since graduated and was working energetically. My wife had watched my mother go through this and spoke out, thinking that some sort of path would open up for us.

I enrolled in a school for the blind, half against my will, only to become fascinated by the world of acupuncture and physical therapy I encountered there. At first, all the thumb push-ups we had to do made the course in traditional Japanese massage a painful experience. I had to study about meridians and acupuncture points, which may or may not even exist. I felt anxious, wondering, "Is this really OK?"

The turning point came with a volunteer massage program in which I participated in November of last year. A patient said to me, "Thank you. I feel much more comfortable now." When I heard that, tears filled my eyes.

Since beginning my life underwater, I thought only about the things I was no longer able to do, and my interaction with people had naturally decreased. The words "thank you" brought home to me just how important acupuncture and physical therapy are to persons with impaired vision. I realized that I can benefit others even with a vision impairment, and a feeling of strength welled up in me. After that, I approached practice and study actively, not passively.

I believe in devoting all my energy to a single matter as if my life depends on it, and that's how I approach acupuncture and physical therapy. I believe that putting all one's energy into one thing in this way enables a person to shine to the utmost. When I shine in this way, the resulting radiance bathes the cloudy water surrounding me in a bright light. What do you pour your heart and soul into? What enables you to shine? If by chance you haven't found something to devote yourself to in this way, I hope you discover something. If you've found what makes you shine, I hope you will shine even more brightly.

My vision hasn't changed, and I still feel like I'm underwater. However, the bright light that has gradually illuminated the water has turned it into a comfortable environment. I'm grateful to my wife, who supports me and cheers me on; to my son, who tells me the color of the traffic signals; to my daughter, who calls me Baikinman after a favorite cartoon character ; to my mother, who paved the way and lovingly watches over me; to my classmates, with whom I can engage in friendly competition and enjoy a good laugh; and to my family and all those around me. I intend to devote myself all the more to regaining my shine.