Special support for the Speech Contest of the Schools for the Blind89th National Speech Contest for Students of Schools for the Blind and Visually Impaired

First prize

Momoka Furuta (14)
Third-year student, Junior High School Department, Gifu Prefectural Gifu School for the Blind
Representing Chubu

Title: Advancing Step by Step

When I was in the sixth grade at elementary school, I joined a local choir. It had over 100 members ranging from three-year-olds to university students. As well as singing, the choir’s activities included dancing and putting on musicals. It seemed that everyone in the choir loved to perform, sang and danced well, and was full of energy. I wanted to be like them. But in reality, because my visual impairment held me back, there were many things I couldn’t do in the same way as they could. I couldn’t see the choreography. I missed steps when moving in formation. I couldn’t see where everyone was. I was late for assembly. Everything seemed to go wrong. When people my age took the initiative in preparing for the lesson, I just hung around, not knowing what to do to help. Sometimes, when my group performed with other groups, I was excluded from the performance because of my general ineptitude. Even though they pointed out where I was going wrong, my vision couldn’t be changed and I felt helpless. So, I lost the little confidence I had. I felt crushed by the thought: “I can’t do anything because of my disability.”

A complicating factor was that I was unsure what I couldn’t see or couldn’t do compared to the others. Consequently, I didn’t realize I needed help. Even when I wanted to ask for help, I was anxious people would quiz me about my visual impairment or write me off as a liability. So I hesitated to seek help.

As part of its regular cycle of performances, the choir was going to put on a musical, The Sound of Music. There was an audition to select six out of more than 20 junior and senior high school students to play the nuns. Having looked through the script, I knew that the role consisted mainly of delivering lines, which appealed to me as I had always been good at public speaking. As it was the one thing I was confident about, I was keen to get the part. To my surprise, despite my disability, I was selected. “My talent has at long last been recognized! I’ve got the kind of role I've always wanted to play.” My prospects had suddenly brightened. But as soon as rehearsals started, once again I felt I was a burden. I couldn’t see the other nuns, who were mostly older than me. The sense that my presence was troublesome to people tormented me. Such confidence as I had simply vanished. I even fumbled my lines.

It was arranged for an instructor from Tokyo to coach us to improve our acting skills. I was very anxious. “What if I can’t see the instructions from afar and can’t respond to them?” But the instructor came right up close in front of me to show me how I should move. I breathed a great sigh of relief, as I was able to follow his instructions in sync with the other performers. A thought flashed through my mind: “The others can see the instructions from a distance. But if I can see the instructions right in front of me, I can understand too.” I realized that I needed to ask for help. “I shouldn’t hold back because people may think me troublesome. I must clearly explain that I need help. I have to step out of the shadows and take the first step forward.”

From then onward, I made it a policy to frankly tell those around me what I found confusing and hard to handle.

“I can’t see the steps. Can I hold your arm, please?” “Of course, you can. Is this OK?” Whenever I asked for help, everyone was so kind to me. Their generosity of spirit was way beyond my expectations. Step by step, I became more relaxed in seeking help and able to focus on tasks, without anxiety. What’s more, the people around me started to keep an eye out for me. They would call me over when it was time to gather or suggest that I take care of tasks I could handle. I always said “thank you” and did my utmost to grasp instructions and do a great job. Benefiting from everyone’s support, I became able to do more and more, gaining confidence with every passing day. I felt far more positive and capable of rising to the challenge. Finally, I felt I was truly a member of the choir.

Whenever the choir performed, my fellow members showed me where I should stand on the stage and how to put on the mike. With support from so many people, I was able to perform with peace of mind, playing my role with confidence. And when I heard a big round of applause, I felt all my hard work had paid off. Overwhelmed by this sense of accomplishment, I shed tears of joy.

Currently taking a break from the choir, I am preparing to attend an ordinary school with my friends. To be honest, I am anxious about the difficulties I may encounter in an environment full of people without disabilities. But I know they will get to know me and things will work out fine if I frankly tell them what I find confusing and hard to handle. Small steps add up to big progress. Be brave and advance step by step!

Second prize

Masayasu Muraki (61)
Third-year student studying massage, Senior High School Department, Osaka Prefectural Osaka-kita Support School for the Visually Impaired
Representing Kinki

Title: Barrier Value for Me

In October 2007, my doctor told me that I would be in danger if I didn’t use a white cane. At that time, I was going on a lot of business trips. Issued a certificate for a level 2 physical disability, I started using a white cane.
“What will others think when they see me with a white cane?”
“Will it affect my work?”
In order to rid myself of anxiety, gloom, and negativity, I decided to chant “Be happy, joyful, and thankful” every time I waved my white cane from side to side.

More than ten years have passed since then. I must have chanted the phrase more than 100,000 times. It was like a spell, a drop of clean water into a bucket filled with dirty water after washing paint brushes. As drops of clean water will eventually replace all the dirty water in the bucket, the chanting was like dripping clean water into the dark pool of my heart. It was an autosuggestion to cleanse my subconscious feelings.

I believe everything has a bright good side and a dark bad side simultaneously. I decided to look at the bright good side as much as possible.

I suffer from retinitis pigmentosa. It is a disease that causes gradual loss of vision. By the end of last year, I couldn’t write as well as I wanted even with the aid of a magnifier. I had to take an exam using braille.
“It’s such a hassle to learn braille at my age.”
Another pessimistic thought had come into my mind.
“Be happy, joyful, and thankful.”
“I have joined a school for the visually impaired. Why don’t I make the best of it by trying to master braille?”

And a new door opened. Because I became visually impaired, I was given the opportunity to study braille. Thinking that way, I began to enjoy the daily practice.

A-ri-ga-to-u (Thank you)” is a magic word.

When I was a first-year student at a school for the visually impaired, in every anma massage class we practiced pressing with our thumbs. Everyone in the class counted to ten in turn while maintaining pressure with their thumbs. There were five or six students in the class and we had to keep practicing. Not only did my thumbs start to ache, but my entire body became strained too. My classmates evidently had the same feeling. There was an oppressive atmosphere in the classroom every time we had to practice pressing with our thumbs.

One day, when it was my turn, instead of counting to ten, I chanted “a-ri-ga-to-u” twice.
Because “a-ri-ga-to-u” has five syllables, if you chant it twice, it is the same as counting to ten.
The atmosphere in the classroom suddenly brightened. I could hear everyone laughing. The teacher was also laughing. There is pleasure in suffering. I think “a-ri-ga-to-u” is a word that turns suffering into joy.

As I make my way to and from school each day using my white cane, someone always calls out to me.
“Can I help you?” “Here’s a seat for you.”
It was only when I became blind that I realized there were so many kind people around. When I think about myself, I wonder whether I have been kind to others. It was only because I became visually impaired that these thoughts occurred to me.

As I gradually lost my sight, I had to let go of the things I had accumulated one by one. But each time I let go of something, a new path seemed to open before me. Because I let go of things, the door of my life as a visually impaired person opened. And I have been blessed with the opportunity to study something in a new field. It was a fresh challenge in my life. I am lucky to be able to enjoy life twice, aren’t I?

I would like to thank all the teachers who are showing me a world that was previously unknown to me.
I would also like to thank the many people who casually call out to me on the street.
A path has opened before me because I became visually impaired. As I proceed along this path, I can bring joy to others through anma massage.

“Barrier value” means transforming barriers into value. When I can say “thank you” from the bottom of my heart to my eyes that have shown me this path, to these hazy eyes, I believe the barriers I encounter will be transformed into value.

I would like to thank my eyes that have worked so hard.

“Be happy, joyful, and thankful.”

Third prize

Shota Takahashi (18)
Third-year senior high school general course student, Miyagi Prefectural Support School for the Visually Impaired
Representing Tohoku

Title: The Secret of My Personal Growth

“You shouldn’t be shy. It’s much worse if you don’t say anything.”

These were the words of the store manager who took care of me during the job experience program last year. With these words, I was able to achieve personal growth. Thanks to his words, I learned the importance of communication and gained the confidence I so badly needed.

Before participating in the program, I used to think communication meant just talking to one another. I had no confidence in myself. When a teacher asked me a question, I was unable to come up with a good answer. In discussion, I lacked confidence in my opinions. I was sometimes stubborn or behaved pretentiously to hide my lack of confidence. Looking back, I realize I was obsessively thinking about myself to the exclusion of everyone else.

This was the first time for me to take part in a job experience program. On day one, I was so nervous, anxious and scared. I hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. I was even more nervous when I put on the apron, the uniform of the workplace.

First, I was taught how to greet customers with a cheerful “Irasshaimase” or “Arigatou gozaimashita.” Naturally, I knew these phrases were the basic tools of the trade long before I participated in the program. However, I was unable to address people in a clear cheerful voice. My voice was so small. It was almost nonexistent. There was no way I could compare myself with other people working at the store. I just wasn’t in the same class as them.

On my first day, I kept looking down so that no one would talk to me. I just about managed to do what I was told to do, displaying products and keeping everything neat and tidy. Even when a customer spoke to me, I found it took a big effort just to respond “Yes...” I couldn’t look at the customers when talking to them. When the teacher from my school came to monitor me, I felt so embarrassed that I wanted the teacher to stop observing me. Time dragged. The day seemed interminable. I kept glancing at the clock, hoping it would soon be over. My lack of ability compared to the others was so frustrating that it almost brought tears to my eyes. At last, the first day was finished. As I was leaving, the manager spoke to me, kindly offering me some excellent advice. “You shouldn’t be shy. It’s much worse if you don’t say anything.”

On the way home, I turned the manager’s words over and over in my mind.

And I made a decision: “Stop being shy! I’ll change myself from tomorrow!”

Next morning, for a start I thought it was important to communicate with the people with whom I was working at the store. So I mustered the courage to greet them in a clear cheerful voice.

“Good morning!”

They cheerfully returned my greeting me with their own “Good morning” in response.

After that, I was delighted to find that I was able to strike up conversations with them, talking to them without hesitation. When conversing with them, the pleasure I felt was different from what I experienced when chatting with friends or family. Finding I was able to ask questions about things I didn’t understand at work, I began to enjoy the work. It became natural to say “Irasshaimase” and “Arigatou gozaimashita” in a clear cheerful voice. I was able to communicate with customers.

Then I realized something that was so obvious it had never struck me before. Not knowing anything about one another is the greatest source of anxiety. Communication is the process whereby we learn about one another, creating relationships grounded in trust and conducive to peace of mind.

From the second day onward, the other workers commented to me, “You have an engaging smile and a natural cheerfulness when greeting people.” Customers also noted this, commenting with approval, “You are cheerful!”

Of all the comments I received from the workers and customers, the one that made me the happiest was “Thank you.” It cheered me up, encouraging me to do my utmost to cheer up others.

On the final day, when not only my teacher but also my mother dropped by the store to see how I was doing, I was all smiles. This job experience gave a big boost to my self-confidence.

It also changed the way I handled life at school. I became able to look other people in the eye when conversing with them. The way I spoke changed, too. Nowadays, I am better at choosing the right words to convey my thoughts accurately while respecting the feelings of others. I am currently involved in the student council, which I used to avoid because I thought I wouldn’t be able to participate effectively. In discussions I can express my opinions confidently.

I am now in my third year at high school. In the future, I would like to work in customer service. So, I am eager to participate in the job experience program again this year. I want to learn as much as possible so that I can embark on the next round of my personal growth.

Yes! To make my dreams come true!