‘Otherness’ in Japan:
Views of Disability and Difference
Kenny Fries giving a Fulbright seminar on “Demon Amputees and Disfi gured Survivors- Closeted Presidents and Blind
Lovers: Images of the Disabled Body in Western and Japanese Culture,” February 2006.
Kenny Fries, an author and adjunct lecturer
at Goddard College in Vermont, undertook his Fulbright Scholar
research grant to Japan in 2005-2006 to gather material for his book, Genkan: Entries Into Japan. In his book, Fries uses his experience in
Japan as a foreigner with a disability to explore how the United States
and Japan view the body and physical difference.
"One of the most important relationships during my Fulbright was
with my faculty advisor, Professor Ryosuke Matsui in the Social Welfare
Department at Hosei University. Professor Matsui introduced me to
numerous colleagues. These introductions were essential to the research I
was able to do while in Japan. We also developed an extremely important
personal relationship, as he introduced me to his family, as well," said Fries.
A Hosei university graduate student, Takeo Masako, helped Fries
locate material on the history of the disability rights movement in
Japan, which was spurred by the 1970 Yokohama case of a mother who
killed her disabled daughter. The work of historian Amino Yoshihiko,
who focuses on history from the point of view of the marginal,
has been another important source for Fries’ understanding
of ‘otherness’ in Japanese history, as have the articles published on
the survivors of the 1945 atomic bomb known as the ‘Hiroshima
Maidens’. Fries also traveled to Hiroshima to meet the hibakusha (Hiroshima Maidens); an article about this interview was published in
the Chugoku Shimbun.
"Perhaps the most exciting professional event was meeting with Hanada
Shuncho, a scholar and writer with cerebral palsy whose article on images
of disability in Japanese culture I used aft er having it translated. My
over three-hour meeting with Hanada-sensei not only provided a basis
for my research, but was an extremely moving personal exchange. The
communication between us, across cultures, across languages, generations,
and different physical disabilities will always remain with me as an
example of an important cultural dialogue.”
Hanada Shuncho’s work was
an important source for a
Fries gave on his research
midway through his grant,
titled “Demon Amputees
and Disfi gured Survivors—
Closeted Presidents and
Blind Lovers: Images of the
Disabled Body in Western
and Japanese Culture.” Fries’ presentation Representation of Disability
in the U.S. Media was
included in an international
seminar sponsored by the Committee for Accessible Broadcast
Communication at the Japan Broadcasting Association for Persons
Kenny Fries, wearing a blue shirt, dines with Professor Matsui and his family in Japan.
His Fulbright year also provided Fries with opportunities for
creative work with Japanese colleagues. Fries continued his
collaboration with singer Mika Kimula on “In the Gardens of Japan,” a song-cycle for voice and traditional Japanese instruments based on
Fries’ poems. Additionally, Fries collaborated with calligrapher
Yugo Yasuda to produce the tenugui (scroll) that will wrap the CD.
Fries also published two articles (available in Japanese translation) in Normalization, a publication published by the Japanese Society for the
Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities.
The Fulbright was a true gift , not only to me, but to the many I came in
contact with during my stay," said Fries.
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