[Viewpoint]The human touch

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[Viewpoint]The human touch

Satoshi Fukushima, 45, lost vision in his right eye when he was five months old to sympathetic ophthalmia, an inflammatory condition. When he was nine, he lost the sight in his left eye. Fukushima’s hearing also gradually faded, and by age 18, he was deaf.

“It felt like I had vanished from the world within a split second,” Fukushima recalled. Because he had to read in Braille, even written dialogue was nearly impossible. He said the hardest part of his situation was the reality that he could not share thoughts and emotions with his family and friends.

“When will my suffering end?” the blind and deaf 18-year-old wrote in his diary. He was full of despair and anger, living life without knowing the difference between day and night.

One day, his mother took his hand and tried to speak to him. “Satoshi, can you understand me?” Her fingers moved on his hands, just like they did when she typed on the Braille keyboard. Without even realizing what had just happened, he said, “Yes.”

He was suddenly able to communicate with the world once again.

Fukushima expressed his wonder in the following poem, “Universe at My Fingertips”:

When I lost light and sound, there were no words. There was no world.

In the middle of darkness and silence, I sat alone, speechless.

When your fingers touched mine, worlds were born at last ...

When I spoke with my fingers, a universe was created, and I once again found my world.

He was admitted to the humanities college of the Tokyo Metropolitan University, a first for a blind and deaf student. After completing his research on education for the disabled, he was given an assistant professorship at the prestigious Tokyo University. On June 11, he received a doctoral degree from the university ? his dissertation was an analysis of his own experiences.

Last weekend, Fukushima appeared on a TV program in which participants visit their alma maters. A sixth-grader in elementary school, hearing about Fukushima’s ordeal, said, “I probably would have wanted to die.”

Fukushima replied, “I have never thought like that.”

“Dialogue between two people is like water and air,” Fukushima said. “By communicating with the world, I confirmed my existence, and I tried to improve.”

Tomohiro Kato, 25, was an elite student from Aomori, a northern region of Japan. With the support of his parents, who were enthusiastic about education, Kato was admitted to a prestigious high school, but his grades began going down. Taking a different path from his friends who went on to study at universities, Kato chose an automotive technology school.

After he graduated, he moved from job to job at five different companies. At an automobile factory in Shizuoka Prefecture, where he worked until recently, he was a non-regular laborer, fearful he would lose his job anytime under corporate restructuring.

Kato struggled with a wide range of difficult emotions. He harbored a grudge against his parents for pushing him to study so hard. He felt lonely because he didn’t have any friends or a lover to confide in. A sense of defeat weighed on him, as he had fallen into a lower social spectrum despite his parents’ expectations. All these piled on top of his constant concern that he was about to lose his job.

Kato’s sense of humiliation and feeling that he’d rather die than live like this soon twisted into an ugly hatred. He began to think that all successful people deserved to die.

On June 8, Kato drove a rental truck into a crowd at the pedestrian haven of Akihabara in Tokyo, running over three people. He then got out of the truck and indiscriminately slashed and stabbed pedestrians with a large knife.

For Kato, who was always alone, his mobile phone and the Internet were his only sources of communication. In searching for the friends he lacked in reality, he posted dozens, sometimes hundreds, of messages a day on Internet message boards.

And yet, only a few people showed an interest. Most of Kato’s posts were about anger toward society, statements like “What I do is never recognized,” and “Life is worth less than trash.”

Fukushima strengthened his will to live by communicating with the world through the fingers of his family and friends. Kato, in contrast, used his fingers to press the keypad of a cell phone, locking himself within his own world.

Through reaching out to others, Fukushima linked himself to the world. Kato ignored the meaning of communication, walking a path of isolation.

Fukushima can’t see or hear, but he still lives among people, facing them and feeling their warmth. Kato turned his back on his family, his friends, and his dreams.

These two examples, plucked from Japanese society, remind us why human interaction is so important.

*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park So-young
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