山中信彦随想 神戸新聞掲載 204/11~2015/4


Finding Support in “Ties of a Smile”

  In the fall of 2009, sorrow came to our family. Our daughter, Mizuho, unable to move her arms or legs, unable to speak, unable to eat without our help, but always, always, keeping a smile, left us for heaven at the age of 24. Her last moment was, in a word, beautiful. She shed a tear, and without words, said to her mother, “I had difficulties in my body. But I was never unfortunate. Thank you, Mom, for taking care of me all this time.” Her tear was a complete expression of gratitude to her mother.
The Kobe Shimbun Newspaper carried an article about her, “Miss Mizuho Yamanaka in Sasayama passed away. She lived with severe cerebral palsy. Her constant smile remains in our hearts.” Even now, her smile comes up in my mind every day and I feel my love for her. I brought Mizuho with me when I had lectures. The way she showed the value of life with her presence made me very proud. Now she sleeps in a peaceful cemetery with a view of rural Sasayama.
On her grave stone, a poem is inscribed, which I made next to her bed in the hospital. “We’re all connected in life. Family ties, such a nice word, isn’t it? We’ll live together under one roof. I’m always at your side, always holding your hand in our hearts.” Mr. Hiroyuki Ishida, a singer/song writer in Kobe has set it to music and so it continues to spread.
Twenty years have passed since the Great Hanshin Earthquake. I can understand those who have lost a precious child and are still holding on to their dear one in their hearts. I’m not afraid of death as I was before, thinking now that I’ll see my daughter again in heaven. Until that day, when she welcomes me with her smile, I hope to extend the ties that Mizuho has brought me.


Because we had our daughter

    Our daughter, Mizuho, graduated from the senior high school section of Sasayama city’s special school and started going to Kami-fusen, a small-scale work place for people with special needs. (Kami-fusen is now the incorporated non-profit organization, Inui-fukushi-mura.)
Around that time, requests came in from some schools for me and Mizuho to speak in human rights education classes. Mizuho had severe cerebral palsy and was unable to control her body temperature. She also required the use of an inhalator. Every time we visited a school, a nurse would accompany us.
When I started my talk with Mizuho next to me on stage, children became very attentive and listened closely.  After each class, students wrote their impressions which the school would then send to us.  It was my great pleasure to read them to Mizuho. One student commented as follows:
“Mizuho was coughing but she seemed to be living with all her might. She gave me encouragement. I realized that going to school, eating food, and drinking water are not something to be taken for granted, it is something we should appreciate.”
After only a couple of hours of contact, children felt so much. Some of them were quick to take action, volunteering their help with the recycling of aluminum cans at the NPO Mizuho attended. Mizuho couldn’t move her hands and feet well. They wanted to do the work in her place.
“Everyone has his or her own role. There is no one who is not needed.”
Truly, I’ve come to this way of thinking because of Mizuho. Many children listened to my talk until Mizuho was called to Heaven at the age of twenty-four. Those children have grown up now and some are in college while others have found a place to work in society. If any of them decide to be a specialist in the field of social welfare, medical care, or education, it would be real proof for Mizuho and me that our thoughts were indeed conveyed. I can almost see Mizuho’s face smiling joyfully at that.

(Printed in Kobe Newspaper, Jan.27 /2015)


Roman and Soroban

    Inui-Fukushi-Mura, the incorporated non-profit organization where I serve as vice director is in the old urban area of Sasayama city. Inui is the name of the area. Fukushi generally means social welfare but we regard it as Futsu-no Kurashi de Shiawaseni (Being happy in the ordinary life). And Mura means village, a place to gather.
I set up this NPO thirteen years ago with members of the PTA of Sasayama’s Special Education School, aiming to help children with various disabilities live in their community. At first we had five users and now thirty people with physical/intellectual/mental disabilities are living there actively, working together, making up for each other’s handicap.
Before setting it up, I inspected many of the most advanced facilities all over the country. When we started up, I was just pursuing an ideal without solidifying any foundation. As a result, we faced a budget deficit in the very first year and it continued, causing a heavy burden on the people involved, especially the director and the head of the facility.  I fully realized the difficulty of keeping a good balance between Roman (Idea) and Soroban or abacas (Management).  Reflecting on it with humility, I decided to leave the practical management to the staff and I visited the residents in the area to ask for their understanding and cooperation saying, “Would you please support our project with your knowledge, or special skill, or hobby?”
Thanks to the efforts of both the users and staff, and support from local residents, the users wage in our NPO is the second highest of all the work places for handicapped persons in Hyogo prefecture.  It did add momentum to their living in the community.  Developing “community power” is important in achieving a good balance between “Roman” and “Soroban”. I learned this lesson from residents in the community and the many people we came in contact with.  I’m full of gratitude for everything we have received during these thirteen years.

(Printed in Kobe Newspaper, Feb.14 /2015)


Tamba-Sasayama Music Festival; Songs in Sign Language

    In September of 2004, we opened a community café, “Miitsuketa” (Found you!) as part of Inui Fukushi Mura, to turn the welfare facility into a place for exchange among local residents and a base for the transmission of art and culture. At that time, people with hearing difficulties (including the deaf, post-lingual deaf, and those with other hearing problems) living in Sasayama and Tamba started working there. Now seven people with hearing disorders are working actively in each of the departments at Inui Fukushi Mura.
In Hyogo prefecture, there are many work facilities for people with hearing difficulties, but few accept people with other disabilities as we do. And so our NPO receives quite a number of guests from other cities, people who wish to observe the system as well as taste the meals at our café.
Our daughter, Mizuho, who had severe cerebral palsy received lots of love throughout her life. The people with hearing difficulties were especially friendly to her.  They had to leave home in their early days for their special education and live in the dormitory of the school for the deaf in Toyooka city.  Their heartfelt kindness may have been based on the various hardships and loneliness they experienced.
Sasayama city will put into effect “the law of sign language for everyone” on April 1st of this year. In response, we are holding the “Tamba-Sasayama Music Festival; Songs in Sign language” with members of the Tamba Deaf Association and the sign languages circle. Eight groups are to perform some sign-songs.
A deaf person once said to me in sign, “Just once in my life, I’d like to hear my parents’ voice.”  His words always stay with me in my mind.
Although they cannot listen to music, they can feel the music visually or through vibration. We can share the music together.
I hope this music festival spreads the understanding that sign is a language and offers a small step for many people to study sign seriously.

(Printed in Kobe Newspaper, Feb.27 /2015)


Welcome back to Mizuho’s House

    We renovated the house we’d lived with our daughter, Mizuho, for twenty-four years, making it into a welfare facility which provides short-stay service for persons with disabilities. It opened on the first of this month in the downtown area of Sasayama city.
Short-stay service provides short-term assistance for persons with disabilities whose primary caregiver is away due to illness, hospitalization, respite, or travel. This service also offers the person with disability practice in overnight stays with the aim of promoting independence.
We decided to use our house because we wanted to make the facility a warm, homey place. (Using a private house as a short-stay facility is still rare in Hyogo.)
The other day, an eighty-four year old man visited us. He held in his hand the Kobe newspaper that had an article about Mizuho’s House with a picture of my wife and the headline, “Renovated house turned into a short-stay facility for disabled. Opens in March in Sasayama.”
The man said, with tears in his eyes, “I lost my daughter forty years ago. She was twelve and had cerebral palsy. I just wanted to meet the lady in this article, who took care of a child with the same disorder as my daughter, saw her off and now is ready to open a facility. My daughter had difficulties in her hands. She used her foot to eat. When she painted pictures, she held a brush between her toes. Painting was her hobby. I’d like to bring one of her paintings to you. Could you put it on the wall in the house?”
He was not the only one. Other people offered to volunteer or provide other support after reading the article. I was surprised and pleased to see how one article created such a large circle of care for social welfare. I also fully felt a renewed sense of gratitude toward my wife who welcomed and encouraged my suggestions for what to do in these matters.
My wife added “Welcome back” on the signboard out in the front of Mizuho’s House, with the hope that all visitors feel right at home here, that this will be a place where anyone can say, “Hi! I’m home!” in response to her greeting, “Welcome back!” 
The words on the signboard hold hope for her to be a mother for everyone who comes here.

(Printed in Kobe Newspaper. Mar.16 /2015)


Hyogo-Sasayama Special Music Festival

    In the movie, “Ikiru” (To Live) by Akira Kurosawa, “Gondora-no-uta” (Song of Gondora) plays in the scene where the main character is sitting on a swing at the park he built. The lyrics go as follows, “Life is short. Fall in love, sweet maiden, before the crimson color fades away from your lips, before the hot blood goes cold, as no one knows if tomorrow will come to you.”
I like this song very much and I used to hum it often when I sat by my daughter, Mizuho. I hummed, not sang because I didn’t want her to hear the lyrics.
After Mizuho left us for Heaven, twenty of our friends planned and held a funeral for us which included music. In 2001, I started a volunteer group, “Inochi-no-uta” (Song of Life) which supports art activities by persons with disabilities. Two years ago, in June, when we visited the temporary emergency housing in Miyagi prefecture to sing songs, we had a chance to attend the Special Music Festival in the city of Sendai.  The aim of the festival is make our minds “barrier-free” through the power of music. The atmosphere and impact of the festival was just amazing, even overwhelming, in a good way. It gave us a feeling of refreshing surprise and deeply touched our hearts. There were 1,500 artists, 500 volunteers, and 200,000 people who came to take part in the festivities. Wheelchairs, stretchers, and smiles were everywhere in the town. Many places such as parks and shopping streets were turned into stages. People were singing and dancing with or without disabilities. Anyone on the street was regarded as an audience member and invited to join in the celebration.
I got the feeling that our group, “Inochi-no-uta”, had come together as an embodiment of Mizuho’s life after her passing. Now the group is gradually expanding. If persons with disabilities can go out so easily, it indicates that the town is safe, secure and comfortable for anyone to live in. Wishing our own town to be like that, the first “Hyogo-Sasayama Special Music Festival” is to be held on the 23rd of September.  The old houses of Sasayama will serve as music halls, and all of us, with or without disabilities, will reach out to one another. We’re looking forward to your being there!

(Printed in Kobe Newspaper, Apr.1 /2015)


The fourth movement of our life

    I run a travel agency, “Travel Specialist Mizuho”, named after our first daughter. Mizuho had severe cerebral palsy caused by the after-effects of herpes encephalitis. We decided to move to our hometown, Tamba-Sasayama, so that we could spend more relaxing time with her. Twenty-four years have passed since then.
I started the agency making use of experience gained through my work at an airline company and I found it to be such a rewarding job as I can truly feel the customers’ pleasure and see their happy faces directly.
I had a request from a person who was told he had six months to live. He said, “I’d like to see the beautiful scenes in Europe again.”  I guided him, his family and a close friend of the family to Germany.  After the trip, he said, “I saw my wife moved to tears. The first tears I had ever seen from her. She had to be so strong-willed that she could have no tears for herself. It was a wonderful trip. We’ll never forget it our entire lives. I’m genuinely grateful to all of you for your support.”  I still remember what an impact that made on me.
I can say the same thing about our family. We were able to keep Mizuho’s life light shining even until her last moment as we had the warm-hearted support of friends and people in the community.
We all have some turning points in life. I can say they are like movements of a symphony which has some romantic melodies and a magnificent climax.
Both my wife and I are going into our sixties this fall. The travel agency is our main job, which is so called “rice work” (work that puts food on the table), and then we have the volunteer activities to support art by people with disabilities; our “life work”.  Playing these two melodies, we hope to walk “the fourth movement” of our life with consistent gratefulness.

(Printed in Kobe Newspaper, Apr.16 /2015)