Nami, become a woman stronger than man
"What crosses your mind when you see person in a wheel chair or with a white cane?" Nami asks with a wide smile. When we pass by people on the street, we usually percieve them as "Fashionable" or "Gentle" etc. But if they have a disability, I bet you see only their support instrument like their wheel chair or white cane instead.
For some reason, our thoughts toward them change from personality issues to a state of "feeling sorry".
"See, that is our social habit twisted by our own society. Throw away this habit, and look at their faces and clothes as we normally do. Changing this perspective will refresh your personal relationship among all of us."
She talks on difficult subject like this with ease and with powerful speeches that attract every audience. From seniors to children, everyone calls her by her nickname "Nami-nee" even without prior acquaintance.
Nami is a Chief officer of "Prop Station" which supports the Challenged people's employment and independence utilizing IT technology. Their motto is "Make Japan a country where the Challenged can become taxpayers!" The word "Challenged" is a new word used in the US that describe people with a disability – it means one who is given a mission and chance to challenge. This concept is based on JF Kennedy's Union speech that said "I want to make every challenged as taxpayer" By providing a social system and environment where the challenged can get a job and become a taxpayer with duties and responsibilities that suit each individual, everyone can be independent
The reason Nami got involved with disability issues was her own heavily challenged daughter's birth ("Maki-chan"). Maki-chan is visually impaired, and even though she can hear sounds, she can't understand them. She is now 33 yrs old, but her mental ability is still that of a baby's.
"My daughter is like four–leaf clover to me. It is abnormal but it's a symbol of happiness. Thanks to her, I've straightened up my not so great Gontakure background"
"Gontakure" means "Rogue". She was born in downtown Kobe. Nicknamed "Black Monkey" or "Female Tarzan" She liked to climb up fences, runaway from home, and enjoy long walks alongside the railroad. She even carried a duel message to the other side party given by her delinquent boss, and said to them "Go do the duel for me!"
In her junior high year she got into the Nightlife and met a Japanese Mafia guy, and then stayed at a topless dancer's home. But a very cool professional lady she met then told her not to get involved in their world and stay away from here. So, she got out.
"In the old days, there was a clear borderline between real evil and being just one step away. Drugs, Murder and Prostitution (Three Evils) were on the other side, and if we cross this line, we'll be doomed. Even being a "bad girl" I knew this.
But now-a-days, there is no border. These Three Evils are invading even elementally and junior high kids – she worries.
What made her to get into all this? One might think that it must be a family problem. But she says "Not at all. Even after running away from home, and being picked up by police, my parents never scolded me. I must have been totally spoiled. But how they loved me was very different."
My Mom grew up in a pre-war traditional family. Her Dad and eldest son ate luxurious dinners while women and other children ate a humble meal of fish. Growing up in such a typical patriarchy family, she developed the belief that "Something is wrong with this male-dominated society" I happened to stumble across her childcare log one day. And it said, "Nami is crying at night. Why is it that only women have to take care of a baby throughout the night? Nami, you grow up to be a woman who is stronger than man." - written with Indian-ink brush. Isn't it such a powerful statement?
My youth - In search for the "Answer"
"Mom never doubted me, believing that it is the society that made her that way, and it's only one step toward my bright future. But I must been feeling a pressure by liberal Mon who has such a huge expectation with non-scolding manner.
On the other hand, my Dad was into this Taisho-Era modernism wearing tall Geta (wooden sandals) and black cloak strutting along the town while he was in Kyoto University. He traded his textbook for money, and having a great youth life with café waitresses. Even after he got a job at big corporation and came close to a senior promotion, he was touched by a large Union Demonstration and “On the impulse of the moment, I waved at them” …… so he was fired. It was the era of Red purge. But actually my Mon celebrated him being fired! - believing that a man who rides on elite course will make girlfriends and not become a loyal husband.”
“My Dad always told me “I went through a lot too, so do whatever you'd like. It's your life” He took care of me with such a profound love. But sometime child who is totally trusted such a way by parents contradict oneself. “How can they trust me without any doubt? Well, but still, I wanted to be loved!” Anyway, there is no doubt that my parents' unconditional love was the core of my energy.”
Nami was a child who always seeks for the answer. “Why do I have to go to school? Why do I have to study? Why do I have to obey adult? This could be the reason why I like to climb up the trees, runaway from home - maybe I was searching for the answer from distant perspective.”
“There must be a place for me away from here, somewhere out there.. So, I tried to become a ballerina, cartoonist, actress.. but, non felt right, so I quite them all.”
While freshman at high school, she fell in love with this young man met at part time job, and started living together. Then followed marriage, kicked out of high school, and first son at age 22.
“I felt like I did whatever I like while growing up, but do I have to raise my son like an ordinary kid? Do I have to become a respectable Mon? Humm.. I don't feel like I'm true to myself”
At age 24, Maki-chan was born. When she found out that Maki is not a “Normal” child by so-called “Standard”, she felt this mysterious feeling – “Relief”. “Now I don't have to live with this pre-defined way of life”
“Now I can live the way I want. I don't have to worry about acting as normal housewife or normal parents.”
But when she took her daughter to her parents' home, her Dad said, “I'll commit a suicide with her. Because, you'll have a very tough life, and you'll become unhappy. I can't bare watching my daughter to go through all that.”
Nami was astounded. “My Dad is serious. To not let him die, I'll have to live with her as a happy family.” At the same time she felt that she's the one who will have to decide to live happily of miserably.
After a lot of though, Nami started to act upon it. In spite of hating to study in the past, she started to go to library, and studied about disabilities. And asked millions questions to doctors.
“All I heard when I visit doctors were sympathy. Also after the exam, all they said was “She has severe disabilities” What I wanted to hear was how to cope with this situation and live happily.”
There was no textbook, no guidelines. So she had to search the answer by herself. That's how Nami's Challenged spirit awakened, and her cosmic scale positive thinking started.
Everything lead to luck
Concept of “Make Challenged to become a taxpayer” really hit her when, after her divorce, she finally found a national hospital that will accept Maki-chan. “I receive hospital expense report every month, and at the time, it was like 3 or 4 thousand dollars per month that is covered by the government fund. It was almost as much as federal employee's salary. I was surprised at this amount since I never though about tax matter before.” This is how she started to think about how tax will be used, and what kind of duty, responsibility, and right that taxpayer has.
“Japan's birth rate keeps declining, and so there will be less taxpayer. But people who need Medicare and assistance are increasing. I'm worried that time will come when baby-boomers become welfare recipients, then our county face the bankruptcy. Then I'm among the guilty ones. Since my daughter's expense is paid by tax, I though, I should contribute my life to solve this problem.”
“It is not only individual but also country's loss when person with desire and ability to work can't find a job because of their age and disabilities. Employment means to become proud and fulfilled, and at same time become a taxpayer and consumer. It will stimulate the economy.”
Nami addressed to nation's Challenged, “Get out of disability stereotype, and become a supporter of more severely disabled people like my daughter. Get your pride back and speak up your mind openly. Let's create such a open society.”
Year 1991 was the start of Prop Station. “Prop” means to support each other. Soon after she started the organization, she took a survey among 1,300 heavily disabled people throughout Japan. The result showed that there were many Challenged who want to get job utilizing computer. Time has arrived that computer can be a weapon of choice for
them to get into the society.
But so-called “Bubble economy” busted soon after, and Japan hit its lowest economic level. Many IT companies that promised to support Prop Station went out of business – it was a chaos. Then here comes Nami's “Lucky!” concept. “Now all of us hit the bottom, but that means we all are at the same start line. So, if Challenged start polishing their skill now, it is certain that they can ride on the economic recovery tide.
To Nami, everything can lead to luck. Since goal is set now, it's time for action. Year later, she started Challenged skill up computer seminars to support their employment. In 1994, system management software was developed and delivered – their first-ever job.
More and more people become touched by the amazing positive thinking and spirit of this “Lucky Woman”, and that number is increasing. Background of her supporters varies widely – senior managers, politicians, bureaucrats, researchers, housewives, students – covers very wide society sectors. “Most important thing is a network of trust. If we can have the same dream, let's start action toward this same goal at each one's place and by each one's ability.”
She says “We won't go too far if we stayed and argued within Japanese status quo” , so she is holding “2006 Challenged Japan Forum (CJF) international conference in Tokyo” this July. The goal is to create a Universal Society where all of us who whish to work can use own ability fully, and support each other.