Notes from the Obstacle Course
Dr. Michael Peckitt
(An audio version has been created by Dr. Peckitt and can be found below)
This weekend, October 10th – 12th, the weekend plus Monday is taikunohi or Sports Day. The boys and girls as well as young men and women, of every town and city in Japan, will be out for the whole extended weekend engaging in sporting events. They can be be seen for the entire extended holiday, decked out in their appropriate entire. Some are bound for track and and field events, others might play soccer and others could be practicing a martial art, such as judo or karate.
My area is no different. All the youth of my area swarm towards trains and the monorail, a stadium or arena awaits, and they are bound (hopefully) for sporting glory.
The area I live in, perhaps because it is near a university (and its medical school and university hospital) has a large amount of residents who have learning difficulties, there appears to be a lot of people with Downs Syndrome, Asbergers or OCD. They are all have carers with them.
The last Sports Day, I had an interesting encounter with someone, I’m afraid I never caught his name, but he clearly had Downs Syndrome. He approached me – I was standing near the station entrance, where the good WIFI is, and he spoke to me in English.
Now, he wasn’t fluent, but he was better that some non-disabled Japanese people. We spoke for about two minutes. Long enough for him to inquire whether I was English and ask whether I came from London. I responded that I didn’t come from London, but had visited London many times. He asserted that London had really nice buildings that were very tall. I said that, London does indeed have nice tall buildings but Japan has nice tall buildings as well, the Tokyo SkyTree, for example. My interlocutor confidently asserted that London buildings are better than Tokyo buildings.
And then, two men, who were evidently his carers, approached us. One held him firmly by his left hand, apologized to me ‘Gomennasai’ ‘Sorry’ and bundled my debating partner on to a train.
Maybe the carers were used to having to apologize for perceived threats from the general populace and thought and apology was necessary, I don’t know. I’m sure they were just doing their job, and maybe they had a schedule to keep, but the swiftness of their response, and their need to apologize still troubles me a year later. He was hardly dangerous, mistaken in his beliefs about the niceness of London buildings, perhaps, but mostly harmless, and in possession of decent English. It is worth noting I think, that the carers apologized in Japanese.
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.