Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

A Memory in Wuhan – the Other Side of the “Walls”
KANEKO Masahito  / Senior Officer, Asia and Oceania Section, Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchanges Dept., The Japan Foundation

February 18, 2021
I worked in Beijing, China until December 2020, and recently came back to Japan. During my tenure, I visited many sites of cultural exchange in China, but if you asked me which visit was the most memorable, it would be the visit to Wuhan.

In October 2019, I took part in “2019 East Asia Disability Studies Forum”. Japan, China, Republic of Korea and Taiwan take turns organizing this forum every year, and this time it was hosted by an NPO and an institution* affiliated with Wuhan University, both of which specialize in public policy. The main theme of this year was “Inclusive Society for All”. As the title indicates, the program consisted of reports and discussions concerning “disabilities”.
When I arrived at the venue, I found that there were various people –in a wheelchair, wearing sunglasses, or wearing an artificial ventilator. It meant that many of the participants and presenters themselves also had “disabilities”.

In the symposium, the presenters reported situations and approaches regarding disabilities in China, Korea and Japan. After each report, we had a Q&A session. In one of the sessions, a Chinese man who sat diagonally in front of me raised his hand. When the moderator tried to hand him a microphone, he declined it with a hand gesture.
He started to ask a question by sign language. I realized he was deaf.
“I am a student currently studying law. I want to be a lawyer in the future. However, under the present system of legal examination in China, deaf people are not allowed to take part in the exam. What is the reason for this?”
His question was translated into Chinese first, then Japanese, and lastly Korean, and was displayed on a screen so that everyone could understand. His question gradually reached every person in the room, as if a cloth was slowly soaking up water.
I was shocked by the fact that he could not achieve or even aim for his goal despite his enthusiasm, because of the “disability” that he could do nothing about.

When I was having lunch after the session, someone in front of me tapped on my desk. It was the deaf man who had asked the question in the morning. He gave me a piece of paper.
“Can you speak Japanese?”, it said. He seemed to think I was Chinese, even though I talked with people around me in Japanese.
I wrote “No, I am Japanese.” in Chinese. He responded, “I am studying Japanese sign language.”
I was impressed again by the fact that he was studying Japanese sign language in addition to law. I could not help marveling at and admiring his enthusiasm for learning.
We exchanged contact addresses and continued the conversation by messaging each other on our smartphones. “What job are you doing?”, “Where are you from?”. It was a strange “conversation” – although we were only a few centimeters away from each other, we conversed by typing letters on a screen.

After several exchanges, it was time for me to leave the venue. As my last message, I wrote on a piece of paper, “Good luck on your studies in law and Japanese. 再见 (See you again).”, and handed it to him.
He looked at it, stood up straight, and put out his hand with a beaming smile.
We shook hands firmly.
Our nonverbal conversation took much more time than a normal conversation, and the amount of information we could exchange was limited. However, my heart was filled with a warm feeling which was difficult to describe.

Looking back, I think that the feeling stemmed from a deep sense of achievement: I overcame the “walls” that I had unknowingly built. I had built in my mind “walls” that would prevent Chinese and Japanese people, or “abled” and “disabled” people, from communicating with and understanding each other.

The underlying concept of the symposium was “the social model of disabilities”. This concept perceives disabilities not as the problem of the disabled individual, but as an issue of society that creates a disabling environment.
In order to put this concept into practice and to improve our society, we must pay attention to various “disabilities” embedded in our society. Throughout this process, we must notice the voices of the people on the other side of the “walls” and listen carefully to them. This way of thinking can also be applied to the practices of international cultural exchanges, which is an endless attempt to break the “walls” and build bridges among people and societies, surpassing boundaries and nationalities.
On the other side of the “wall,” we will find a warm and gentle place for each other. I believe that various dimensions of social inclusion can be realized by never-ending attempts to find such a place.

Under the pandemic, the world has never been more divided. People may associate Wuhan with the pandemic, but for me, Wuhan is a place that gave me hope to overcome these “walls.”

* Wuhan East-Lake Institute for Social Advancement, Wuhan University Public Interest and Development Law Institute

Masahito Kaneko is Senior Officer, Asia and Oceania Section, Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchanges Dept., The Japan Foundation.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

金子 聖仁 / 国際交流基金 日本研究・知的交流部 アジア・大洋州チーム 主任

2021年 2月 18日

2019年10月。武漢で行われた「第9回障害学国際セミナー」に参加した。日・中・韓・台が持ち回りで毎年開催しているもので、この年は「すべての人の社会的包摂(Inclusive Society for All)」をテーマに、武漢大学附属の公共政策を専門とするNPOおよび研究所(注)が主催した。文字どおり「障害」に関する研究報告や討論が主な内容だった。








筆者は国際交流基金 日本研究・知的交流部 アジア・大洋州チーム 主任
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > A Memory in Wuhan – the Other Side of the “Walls”