[Viewpoint]Struggle against fateThe new school year starts on April 1 in Japan. Beginning this term, a remarkable young man will take the platform as a teacher. His name is Hirotada Ototake. He is well known as the author of “No One’s Perfect,” the memoir he published in 1998 about the experience of being born with virtually no arms or legs. With only a torso, it was as if he was ordered by destiny never to move, but he would not accept the cruelty that fate delivered to him. He struggled against it and brought fate to its knees.
The life of Ototake, who was born in 1976, defies the common perception most people have of his situation. Although he was severely handicapped from birth, he attended ordinary primary and secondary schools, not special schools for the disabled. He graduated from Japan’s prestigious Waseda University by competing with other students on common ground. After graduation, he worked as a freelance journalist and sports writer.
It is difficult to imagine that a person with no arms and legs could ever be a sports writer, visiting stadiums and playing fields to witness competitions. But he has challenged what ordinary people might think and succeeded beyond what he could have imagined.
Ototake did not waste his time complaining about the harsh conditions imposed on him, nor does he ever content himself with his present life. In order to be a teacher, which has been his dream from childhood, Ototake enrolled in the correspondence program of Japan’s Meisei University in April 2005. He successfully finished on-the-job teacher training at a Tokyo primary school in October last year. He also had to learn new physical skills to cope with his new career. He wrote on the blackboard by holding chalk between his chin and shoulder and he displayed teaching materials with a projector connected to a computer. He managed his training class smoothly and passed the course. In February, he passed the teacher qualification examination and acquired a certificate that qualified him to teach in primary school. In short, it was a human success story.
Behind the challenges, adventures and accomplishments of Ototake, who confronted his fate head-on, was his mother. She never felt shameful about her son’s deformities.
On the contrary, she took him wherever she went openly and instilled in him a sense of pride that he was a unique person in the world.
Owing to her teaching, Ototake became proud of his armless and legless body and his “super-individuality.” His mother also did not overprotect him ; she did not try to defend him even if his friends teased him.
She was determined that she would not raise her son to be a man who escaped from hardship by hiding behind his physical handicap. She knew better than anyone that he would have to break a wall of prejudice by himself and overcome teasing and staring if he was to manage his own life.
In the course of Ototake’s life, there was another person who played a major role. This was Mr. Takagi, his teacher during his primary school days. Takagi treated him with the same tough standards he applied to other students. Some might have thought this was heartless, but it was actually a great favor.
Takagi let him participate in physical exercise with the other students and gave him the same classroom cleaning chores that the other children received. In the classroom, the teacher ordered him to get down from his electric wheelchair and crawl on the floor by using his bottom. Owing to the equal treatment, it became possible for Ototake to manage on his own and find his place in the world.
While Ototake’s mother instilled in his mind a strong sense of pride, an iron will and a sense of his own unique value, Takagi trained him to have the guts and tenacity to sail the rough seas of this world on his own. With these two guides, Ototake rose to the task of leading a life that meant struggling with his own fate.
On his Internet home page, there is a photo of Ototake holding his teaching certificate. “This is not the end of the line but the starting point,” he writes on the site.
His example makes those of us who have two arms and two legs ask whether we often just accept what life hands out.
Let’s ask ourselves, “Did I ever stand against my fate?”
And let’s not forget that life is not given to us simply so that we can succumb to fate. We can also, like Ototake, bring it to its knees by struggling against it.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong