This guest post comes to us from Dr. Michael Peckitt. Dr. Michael Gillan Peckitt is an academic who lives in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, Japan. He runs the Japan and disability related website ‘The Limping Philosopher’ (https://thelimpingphilosopher.wordpress.com) and you can find him on Twitter @Peckitt. This is an Accessible Japan exclusive and features exerts from Dr. Peckitt’s upcoming e-book – ‘The Chrysanthemum and the Stick’!
13 Hours B.C.
Time has always been important to me. There are only so many hours in the day. I know from experience that that my body will begin to shut down, in about twelve hours from the moment I awake. I have to do all I want to do in that time.
So you may notice that I do not use the clock to describe my day, but something I call ‘B.C’ time. No, I am not waiting for the Second Coming, ‘B.C.’ stands for ‘Before Collapse’.
I do apologise, did I mention I have a disability, specifically, left-sided spastic hemiplegia?
I can of course power through for a few hours or so longer, but not for that much longer, my body will require me to rest, I am living on borrowed time.
And did I mention that I live in Japan?
Yamada Suita 8:41am
How do you begin your day? Does it start with coffee and some carbohydrates, maybe a complaint about having to get up in the morning? I begin the day with this question: Is today a walking day?
Cerebral palsy, or to give the specific variation I have – left sided spastic hemiplegia often leaves me physically encumbered. I may live in Japan and would love to spend every non-walking moment visiting the temples of Kyoto or the metropolis of Tokyo, but given my condition it’s something I really can’t do.
The worst part about with being disabled is this: there are days when you can’t get out and about and yet you suspect that something interesting is around the next corner. Time becomes important to you when you have a disability. I know I have only a few hours of being useful, of being able to be physically active. You have to learn to use your time wisely, you have to plan, and you have to make decisions. Will you be able to get up early? Is today a day you can walk up steps – Japan is home to many a steep staircase. Can you walk up the steel staircase and get back down it?
There are some days when my answer to these questions is no, but there are days when the answer is yes. Thankfully for moment the ‘yes’ days outnumber the ‘no’ days.
9 Hours B.C.
Fear and Self-loathing in an Internet Café
Sometimes I need help. This is something that people with a disability are not meant to say, but the fact is I do sometimes need help. Whether it be difficulties in walking from A to B, or getting a seat on the train, or help with carrying shopping home, here in the Land of the Rising Sun I, as a disabled person am often reliant on the kindness of others and those others are often strangers. Japan, rightly or wrongly is seen as a ‘polite’ country, but even taking that into account, I often think the following: It must be difficult for the Japanese people to help me sometimes.
In the last month or so, my impairment, my cerebral palsy, has been causing me problems, my left leg in particular has becomes so stiff and painful, that I now find it difficult to walk some days. One of the worst aspects of pain is that it can force you to be overly self-concerned, to focus on your body and your own well-being to the exclusion of others. You can become mean, you begin to view the world in a kind of instrumentalist way, you know have to do so much to fulfil your work obligations in a day, eat so much to avoid starvation, hopefully at some point you can schedule some fun or rest. Quite frankly pain can make you socially inert to outright selfish, when you have to focus some much on your body to navigate the world, it easy to ignore world itself. If you are not careful you can become either blind or a little too used to the little acts of kindness that make your day easier, and after a recent visit to an Internet café in Umeda Osaka (where many of my articles are written), I realised that I had allowed my physical malady to turn me into a selfish human being.
Consider the following scene: You work at an Internet café, a middle aged westerner arrives. He walks down the stairs, and asks for a room for a couple of hours. He wants a computer, TV, a non-smoking cubicle and all you can drink when it comes to soft drinks. So far this is a commonplace scenario, many foreigners use Internet cafes, so it’s no big deal right?
Well it is and it isn’t. Let’s modify the scene a little. Let’s imagine you work at an Internet café, and a middle aged westerner arrives. Only this middle aged westerner limps downs the stairs to approach you at the customer service counter, looking like he could physically collapse at any moment. He also asks for computer, TV, a non-smoking cubicle and the all you can drink in atrociously bad Japanese, and staggers towards his assigned place in the establishment. A few hours pass and the physically encumbered westerner turns to leave, he pays his X amount of Yen for his time at the computer and begins to make his exit. And he really struggles walking up the stairs, pausing for a few seconds on every stair. You decide to help him up the stairs, supporting his left side as he walks.
My reaction though, I am sad to say was initially to be afraid. My fear partly came from the fact that I hadn’t noticed her walk up behind me on the stairs until she held me arm, and had prised my rucksack off my shoulders. I almost said what are you doing? It was only when I turned and saw her, all smiles, saying ‘Daijoubu desu ka [You OK?]?’ that I relaxed; I simply was not expecting such a kindness. I felt both silly and ashamed.
Some might think what my little helper did a rather ordinary act; I needed help and was given it, and in an ideal world, we would consider her behaviour to be normal rather than kind, yet I think it takes a special kind of courage. Consider the situation from her point of view, to approach a stranger, who is obviously non-Japanese, so there is a possibility of language barrier, and is physically encumbered (a rare thing to see in a westerner) and offer to help. There are often many reasons not to offer help at the best of times, whether it be a concern for your own safety or well-being, or because you simply have not got the time to help. I’m not sure in all fairness that I could do the same if the roles were reversed, so upon reflection, I see what she did to be most extraordinary.
I only wish I had had the presence of mind to say thank you.
4 Hours B.C.
One Cane, One Umbrella, One Hand
I don’t mind Mondays, but its rainy days that always get me down. When rainy season comes to Japan, it can rain solidly for twenty-four hours, the kind of rain that that Bob Dylan used to sing about. The rain itself really has a kind of beauty of about it, it beats the ground with some force, and when it does, the sound it creates, is a wall of sound of which Phil Spector would be proud. It really is amazing, if only for its duration. Rainstorms, in the country I hail from of at least, rarely last more than two minutes. Here in the Land of the Rising Sun, they last many hours, almost a day.
Of course you carry an umbrella. Really good and sturdy umbrellas are sold at every convenience store. And they are quite wide umbrellas; quite enough to cover your entire body, not a drop will touch you, unless of course you are carrying a walking stick in the other hand.
Welcome to the problem of one, stick, one umbrella, one hand. Not as sexy as two girls, one cup, I grant you, but important nonetheless. I cannot do much with my left hand, I can grab, but I do not have enough co-ordination to move. It is basically a robotic arm,that just happens to be on a human.
My balance goes completely. I attempt to dance the delicate ballet that is the dance of stick and umbrella. It is a rather violent dance which the stick usually wins. I simply cannot walk carrying both. I give up on the umbrella. After all it’s only water, what does it matter if I turn up to work on the brink of pneumonia?
And the rain is rather beautiful.