A note on ex-pat life: Re-learning the joys of dependency

[T]he virtues that we need, if we are to develop from our animal condition into that of independent rational agents, and the virtues that we need, if we are to confront and respond to vulnerability and disability both in ourselves and in others, belong to one and the same set of virtues, the distinctive virtues of dependent rational animals. – Alasdair MacIntyre, Dependent Rational Animals

As a foreigner living in Japan and a person with a disability, I think a lot about what it means to be independent.  Most would agree that independence is a desirable state, and that achieving independence, whether it is in a physical, emotional, intellectual or financial terms is moral good.

In a recent article for The Japan Times, Tokyo resident William Bradbury opines about being dependent on others as a foreigner living in Japan, saying  “[a]t the outset, moving to Japan makes an infant of us all, regardless of race, sex or creed. “ (Japan Times, March 12 2014).  Being robbed of language, when we first move here, we are dependent on native others:

“If a Westerner happens to have a Japanese partner, it’s easy to become dependent on them when it comes to dealing with problems, translations, ideas for where to go, phone calls with Japanese-only services and so on. When I took the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) I saw a colleague, an architect in his home country, struggling to figure out the way to the test hall without the help of his wife. It’s pathetic to complain about being helped, but with requiring assistance in everyday tasks comes a feeling of discomfort — emasculation, even.”  (Japan Times, March 12 2014)

As a foreigner, still relatively new to Japan, whose Japanese language ability is still somewhat lacking, I share Bradbury’s concern. It would obviously be nice to have better understanding of the Japanese language so I could let me intentions, beliefs and desires be known. And yet I can’t quite envisage what independence would look like, and if it is truly a desirable state of affairs.  Is it merely just that, the ability to speak and move around if I wanted?  Quite frankly, I have always been suspicious of the word ‘independence’.  What is it exactly?  Webster’s defines it as “freedom from outside control or support”, it is the idea of self-governance, that at its most basic, we all have the ability to move and think and feel how and what we want.

The reason for my suspicion is that some of us  do not have the ability to control our own body physically, having cerebral palsy means that my body is prone to spasm and shiver whether I want it to or not.  We can of course think what we want, but do we really have emotional self-control, the point of emotions like happiness or sadness is that it can creep up on you.

We forget sometimes that as human beings we are always reliant on other people, even hermit requires that people leave them alone.  No matter how isolated or solitary you think you are, you are in fact dependent on a network of other human beings.  Take, for an example, the activity of cooking a meal for one.  Even if you grew your own vegetables and reared your own cattle, your meal was only made possible by a history of human interaction.  Someone built your cooker for example, made your cutlery, perhaps wrote the recipe, no human being is completely independent.

I suggest that dependency is not merely something that disabled people have to endure, but is a pleasure that everyone, although maybe in particular expats should learn to enjoy, the pleasure of being supported.  It is surely good to communicate with other people?  It is not a sign of weakness to be dependent on others, being dependent is in fact, an essential part of being human.


19 prefectures lack plans to train welfare workers to deal with behavioral disabilities [Mainichi News]

Here is the original link: Mainichi News & the original Japanese article in the Mainichi Shimbun

The list of prefectures without plans to better train welfare officers is: Hokkaido, Iwate, Akita, Yamagata, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Chiba, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Yamanashi, Aichi, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Okayama , Ehime, Kochi , Fukuoka, Nagasaki (the list can only be found in the original Japanese article).


Nineteen prefectures have failed to heed central government recommendations to train welfare officers in handling people with major behavioral disabilities in fiscal 2014, the Mainichi has discovered.

These strong behavioral disabilities include frequent self-abuse or attacks on others, and are most often seen in people with autism or serious mental disabilities. Recent research has shown that such individuals, who often have trouble expressing themselves, tend to exhibit the problem behavior when they are unable to make themselves understood. Although they are said to account for only around 1 percent of people with mental disabilities, they apparently account for around 10 percent of mentally disabled people who have been abused.

At the Sodegaura welfare center in Chiba Prefecture, a facility for the mentally disabled, abuse of residents by at least 15 staff members was primarily inflicted on those with these serious behavioral disabilities. A 19-year-old resident who died after allegedly being kicked in the stomach by one staff member had shown signs of this type of disability.

The former employee accused in his death was quoted as telling authorities, “When the boy made some noise, I gave him a warning. But he didn’t listen to me and my stress just peaked.” The Chiba Prefectural Government has pointed to “workers’ poor support skills” as one cause behind the abuse.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare’s program for training welfare workers to handle patients with major behavioral disabilities consists of 32 hours of lectures, group work and other activities. Instructors for this program were supposed to be trained in the fiscal year ending March 2014, with welfare worker training to begin in fiscal 2014. However, the national government provided no funding for the training and left the decision of whether to go through with it up to the prefectures.

When the Mainichi asked all prefectural governments for their plans regarding the training program, 19 of them said that they had no plans to conduct the training in fiscal 2014. When asked for the reason or obstacles in the way of conducting the training, responses included, “More funds are needed to provide effective training,” from Iwate Prefecture, and, “We want the national government to re-examine the salaries for welfare workers handling people with major behavioral disabilities so that we can acquire workers with expertise,” from Kochi Prefecture.

Meanwhile, Chiba Prefecture is planning to start its own training program, and Shiga Prefecture has, without waiting for financial help from the national government, raised the salaries of welfare workers in charge of people with serious behavioral disabilities.

A representative for the health ministry’s welfare for the disabled division said, “We’d like to consider how we can make the prefectural governments more receptive to running the training programs.”

March 15, 2014(Mainichi Japan)



毎日新聞 2014年03月15日 15時01分(最終更新 03月15日 15時22分)










From Chu-hi to Yorkshire Tea: Thoughts on Re-Entering Britain

So in almost a week’s time I shall temporarily leave Japan, the land of chu-hi and AKB48, for Britain, the land of Yorkshire Tea and drizzle. I have mentioned my concerns about returning to Britain before here.  I am still apprehensive, but now I am still really looking forward to it.  As I think about returning, if only for a month, I thought I would make some predictions about what I expect to experience on returning to the UK after almost eighteen months of being in Japan.

I must confess that I am still concerned about Britain disappointing me, for want of a better word.  As I detailed here and here, when I left Britain in late August 2012, I felt it had become an unkind place.  My concern is that I am so nervous about it even now (after all I was beaten up in broad daylight after being told I was a ‘f**king srounger’) that I shall be simply unfair on Britain as a country.  Maybe it is not that really that bad, but after being away for so long, I shall look at every small problem, every minor social infringement with undue emphasis.  And yet, at the same time, part of me thinks that even if I am unfair, that I am entitled to do be so, not just in here in Japan, but in every country, people, whether or not they have a disability, should be able to get around without fear of violence.

My other concerns are what you might call ‘re-entry issues’.  Britain is a very different place from Japan; the natives do things differently there. When I first arrive, I expect to be saying ‘sumimasen!’ instead of ‘sorry!’ when I bump into people on the bus or street, or forget that on said bus, one must make one’s way to leave before the bus stops, as buses in Britain never wait for you, unlike in Japan.  Maybe I will bow instead of say thank you if someone helps me in the street with shopping or the like, which did, despite what I said above, happened reasonably often last time I was there.  Maybe I shall also wonder why most convenience stores are open for business for almost twenty-four hours, as opposed to around twelve to fifteen (In Japan, apparently things can be too convenient!), but that no one greets you with ‘irrashaimase!’ or ‘Come on in!’, when you enter that convenience store.

I certainly expect a sense of the uncanny, of the world being strangely familiar as well as familiar but strange, maybe a sense of disconnection, of not being quite there. However, it would be mistake to think that such a feeling would be bad, a negative facet of being back in Britain.  As a disabled person, I have always felt an outsider, even in Britain, but yet I am still bemused that people often view the outsider perspective as not just being a lonely place (a party is far more enjoyable from within after all), but also somehow deficient, as if the view from that lens reveals no good exposure, as after all (and forgive the trumpet blowing), but it produced this.

I shall certainly report on this blog what I actually experience, as in one week’s time, I won’t need to wonder, I shall be in Britain.  And it certainly should fun and interesting.  And Japan, I’ll bring you back some Yorkshire Tea and English Mustard, you keep the chu-hi on ice.

Japan: An Attempt at Re-imagining (or how I write about Japan)

A thousand books have been written about Japan; but among these, -setting aside artistic publications and works of a purely special character,- the really precious volumes will be found to number scarcely a score.  The fact is due to the immense difficulty of perceiving and comprehending what underlies the surface of Japanese life.  No work fully interpreting that life,-no work picturing Japan within and without, historically and socially, psychologically and ethically,-can be written for at least another fifty years.  So vast and intricate the subject that the united labour of a generation of scholars could not exhaust it, so difficult that the number of scholars willing to devote their time to it must always be small. Lafcadio Hearn, Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation, 1904

It is has become obvious to me in the last few weeks that the world of Japan non-fiction writers, has altered much since Lafcadio Hearn wrote his seminal Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation in 1904.  Maybe it is just that Hearn didn’t have the luxury of blogging, and the delight of having dozens upon dozens of people throughout the globe writing to him personally, and sometimes in public forums to tell him how closely his book resembles faecal matter of the loosest variety.

Recently, I have been getting emails about my Japan Times article on having a disability and living in Japan.  Most has been positive, along the lines of ‘nice article’ and ‘write more’.  A minority of readers, however, seemed to take umbrage with my offering, not just saying it was badly written, it may well be, but that I had misrepresented Japan in some way. My critics divide into two camps, let me introduce you to them.

One camp thought I had been too positive, that surely life in Japan for a foreigner with a disability cannot be that good.  Surely, the pointing and staring must get to you; surely life is not really that sweet.  You must have made this is up, Japan can’t be that positive an experience for someone like yourself.  The second camp, somewhat bizarrely in my view, thought I’d been too negative, that in writing about being a disabled foreigner, I had somehow failed to attempt to integrate, to become part of Japanese society, as if in Japan, I should set aside such categories as ‘disabled’ or ‘foreigner’.

My direct response to the first chorus of disapproval (a woefully large portion of which seem to be disabled, and oftentimes disabled and living in Britain) I can simply say this: I made no claims that Japan is perfect; indeed it is certainly not perfect.  Japan only recently ratified the UN Declaration on the Convention of Rights for Disabled Persons, and was the 140th country to do so, instead of say, at least in the first hundred, and there are only fifty-three member states left to sign.  The experience of being disabled would be different for someone like my wife, a Japanese citizen who, like me, has cerebral palsy.

I am not quite sure what to say to the second group to answer their criticism except this.  Both groups, in different ways raise the issue of my being a foreigner, a gaijin, as something which acted as a lens in my understanding of Japan, both seem to see the ‘gaijin lens’ as offering a distorted and inaccurate view, even if it is a positive vista that one sees from behind the lens.  And there is an interesting question about the duty of a non-fiction writer, writing about Japan.  Is it to simply report ‘the truth’, what is ‘actually there’, or is it to report what she or he sees, thinks and feels and hears, even if it is from a perspective that may not be shared by all?

I am of the latter school of thought.  No one can simply abandon their pre-conceptions and prejudices, nor perhaps should they do so.  Whilst a good writer, native to Japan like Haruki Murakami may help me understand a point of view that could be called ‘Japanese’, I cannot look at Japan except as a foreigner, as that is what I am, a British subject, who has cerebral palsy, living in Japan, and I report what I experience in these blogs.  The mistake though, is to assume that I think that reportage is an innocent process, and simply ‘true’, that Japan is ‘simply’ how I describe it, it isn’t of course, even Hearn titled his book Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation not Japan: A Description. A journalist’s first duty may be to the truth, but a writer’s is not by necessity. Writers, even non-fiction writers, are telling you a story, much like impressionistic painters they are telling you about the world they see, not the world that is ‘actually’ there. Why is such a world, when presented to some, seen as the opposite of the ‘true’ or ‘real’ world? My being a foreigner, and being disabled, is the only perspective I have, something that Donald Richie understood when he wrote ‘On being a foreigner in Japan’, after he had been living in the country for forty-six years.

One could report events that did not happen, or describe people that did not exist, that would certainly be lie, but when did it become a writer’s job to simply describe what is ‘actually there’, to avoid ‘misrepresentation’ instead of also utilising their imagination to try and bring their subject alive to an unfamiliar audience?

And, oh, sometimes Lafcadio was lucky not to have to deal with the Internet.

NHK secure Paralympic rights in Japan for 2014 and 2016

Original link http://www.paralympic.org/news/nhk-secure-paralympic-rights-japan-2014-and-2016 post January 9th 2014


The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has awarded the exclusive host broadcast rights in Japan for the Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games to Japan’s only public broadcaster NHK.

Under the terms of the agreement NHK, who have a long history of screening the Paralympic Games in Japan will broadcast over 29 hours of coverage from March’s Winter Paralympics in Sochi and 46 hours from Rio 2016 on 2 free-to-air terrestrial TV channels. (General TV and Educational TV)

In addition, for the first time ever in winter games NHK will show live coverage of the Opening Ceremony at their terrestrial TV channel and will screen daily 30 minute long highlights programmes during the Sochi Winter Paralympics. For Rio 2016, the highlights show will be extended to one hour each day of competition.

NHK also has the option to broadcast World Championship staged by IPC sports including athletics, swimming, alpine skiing, Nordic skiing and ice sledge hockey between now and 31 December 2016 and other para-sport events.

Sir Philip Craven, IPC President, said: “We are absolutely delighted to extend our long-term and extremely strong partnership with NHK for a further four years.

“With Tokyo 2020 on the horizon, it is vitally important that we continue to raise awareness of the Paralympic brand in Japan not just during the Paralympic Games, but all year round. This deal, which makes NHK the ‘official Paralympic broadcaster’ in Japan, will go a long way in helping us to achieve this.

“The deal means more Paralympic coverage than ever before in Japan and far greater promotion in advance of the Games. It provides the perfect platform for us to build upon in the years leading up to Tokyo 2020.”

Masayuki Higuchi, Head of NHK Sports, said: “We are looking forward to have the opportunity to work alongside IPC to deliver the excitement of the Games. As a public broadcaster we feel the responsibility in bringing the positive influence towards disability sports. We will strongly commit to push forward the Paralympic movement in Japan that will lead to the success of Tokyo 2020.”

Ahead of both Games, NHK will promote the Paralympics through the creation of dedicated websites, pre-programming and comprehensive and wide-ranging marketing campaigns.

NHK has also sub-licensed some rights to SKY Perfect JSAT, a subscription based satellite channel, who, for Sochi 2014 will create a free-to-air 24-hour Paralympic channel. In total it will show over 200 hours of coverage, made up of 60 hours of live coverage, highlights and pre-recorded programmes.

The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games will take place between 7-16 March and will feature around 700 athletes from 45 countries who will compete in 72 medal events across five sports.

They are set to be break all Winter Paralympics viewing records with TV deals having already been announced for Canada, Europe, Great Britain, Russia and with more to come.

Home Thoughts from an Ingurisshu Abroad

So today I bought airplane tickets for Britain, leaving in early February and coming back in March, as mentioned in previous blog posts, the idea of returning to Britain, has at a times, troubled me, for details I suggest reading by this and this.

And yet there are things I miss about the UK.  Not necessarily particular places, although I do miss the City where I went to University, Hull, where I began my academic and married life, as well as my home town of Rotherham. It wasn’t a simple longing, I certainly cannot even picture a full-time return to the UK for some time yet, and, to speak truthfully, in my heart of hearts I don’t think the economic situation will improve enough for me to live there.  However, I do miss my parents, friends, some aspects of academic (as a Brit for example, it would be nice not to use American English or Ingurish to explain one’s thoughts) and Mars Bars.

What’s that you say, Mars Bars?  One of the things you miss most about Britain is Mars Bars? Well in a way yes, I miss Mars Bars, you can’t get them here, or Twixes, or should that be Twix’s or Twixi?  Either way I’ve never seen them, Snickers yes, Mars Bars and Twixi, no. 

Obviously it’s not all about Mars Bars, although it is often the little things, things like Mars Bars, a pint of Carling, and Yorkshire Pudding, that I miss most.  I probably would not actually eat the Mars Bar, they rot the teeth, I shall simply know they are there to be possibly devoured, but Yorkshire Pudding shall definitely be consumed.  Why the country that has the city with most Michelin stars (Tokyo in case you wondered) can’t have one restaurant that can produce a passable Yorkshire Pudding at decent prices is beyond me, and the same goes for the holy grail that is an oven that can heat up twelve inch Pizzas.   

And it is not all about food of course. It’s the ability to talk in English without needing to speak at three quarters of the rate you usually speak a minute, even if the person you addressing have stayed for an extensive time the United Kingdom or America. And when you do speak to the locals (strangers in a pub, old grannies and taxi’s drivers are especially good for this) not to have the first question be When are you going home? I also have a nephew I’ve never actually met, and would like to see him.

If such a list of things genuinely bothered one that much, one would of course, never really leave one’s country of origin, if you really want English, ultimately, I recommend staying in Britain, I hear the Yorkshire Pudding is tasty there. I’m certainly not ready to go back for good, but I have been in the Land of the Rising Sun since August 26th 2012, and that’s been feeling like a long time recently. So I was coming to the end of the teaching part of the University academic year, and lacking any administrative duties, with the academic year re-starting in April, I decided to temporarily leave the land of rising suns, chu-hi and ramen and re-visit the land of drizzle, cuppa teas and Yorkshire puddings. 

At least my visit will make three quarters of my local watering hole, obaa-chan and taxi driver very happy! I shall blog and make videos about my time as the prodigal son, and in the words of another famous resident of Japan, I shall return.

Follow the Yellow Tactile Road in Japan: In Praise of Tenji Blocks

They are about a foot and smidgen wide, yellow, have ridges, and run through centre of the streets of Japan like a river. I must confess my initial ignorance, when I first arrived in Japan, I had no idea what they were, and I saw them everywhere.  I also thought them quite annoying. It meant it was difficult to walk side by side someone on the street.

It was a good month and bit before I realised their function.  I was leaving a JR station, I forget which one, but it was in the Tokyo Metropolitan area, somewhere on the Yamanote Line.  I was walking and felt a kind of kicking against my leg.  I thought it was a dog, I stopped and moved aside to let ‘the dog’ pass.  A man of about fifty-something strolled passed me, and he was carrying a white stick.

I suddenly realised, the ‘yellow river’ or tenji blocks, where to assist those with vision problems! You fool, how could I miss that!  Though maybe, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, we don’t have so many of them in Britain.  So let me tell you a bit about them.

The tenji block or Tactile Tile, was designed by Seiichi Miyake in 1965 and first used in Okayama City in 1967.  They were quickly adopted by the Japanese National Railway later privatised as JR.  They can be found in the many railway stations, and oftentimes, near shops. Each tile either has lines or dots, embedded in it.  Lines mean ‘Go’, dots mean ‘Stop’. They are mostly yellow in colour, but on occasion, the colour is changed to fit in with a certain environment.  It disheartens me a little that the designer is not better known, or for that matter his friend who was becoming vision impaired in the 60’s, who helped him develop the tile.  A search on the Interweb doesn’t even reveal a decent biography, so it is unlikely he was well rewarded for his invention. And today Seiichi Miyake’s tiles can be found in, China, Taiwan and Korea to list where they are used most extensively, although they can also be found in Germany (Frankfurt only) , France (Paris), Belgium (Brussels) , The Netherlands (Amsterdam), The UK (but only really London).  The most noted recent request for them was during the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

I say ‘Kanpai!’ to Seiichi Miyake, thank you for your tiles!