Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Two deaf women win seats in local assemblies in Sunday's elections

Photo borrowed from Mainichi on-line, 4/28/15.

This is great news, especially within the bleak world of Japanese politics. It is also very good that this news is being widely reported in Japan's newspapers. Here's a sampling:

With local government elections overwhelmingly remaining a man's domain, numerous women took on the challenge of declaring their candidacy for the second half of the nationwide race on April 26. One victory in this regard was Atsuko Yanetani, 55, from the city of Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture -- an independent newcomer who is also completely deaf.

Yanetani, formerly a company employee, began working as a volunteer following the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake -- at which time she realized that the level of support offered to people who are vulnerable in times of disaster was insufficient.

Working through the office of an association for the deaf in Akashi, Yanetani began getting involved in initiatives to support disabled persons -- becoming a consultation officer for the Akashi Municipal Government in 2007 to work on their behalf.

Yanetani began to be drawn closer toward politics in October 2013, when Tottori Prefecture passed an ordinance recognizing sign language as an official language, and guaranteeing opportunities for learning it. A committee was convened last autumn to discuss the passage of a similar ordinance in the city of Akashi -- for which Yanetani worked tirelessly to promote, while outlining the existing needs therein. The ordinance was subsequently put into force this year in April.

Deaf since birth, Yanetani decided to enter the recent election race under the slogan of promoting similar recognition of sign language within the political sphere. Erecting a sign that read "speach presently being conducted in sign language," she began speaking in places such as in front of train stations and supermarkets.

Her younger daughters Tomomi, 28, and Akemi , 20, stood at the microphone interpreting their mother's sign language into spoken word, including messages calling for a framework wherein disabled children can study in local schools, as well as Yanetani's desire to enhance the system for providing information to disabled individuals during times of disaster.

Yanetani said that she was extremely disheartened when some of her constituents said things to her such as, "Are you sure you'll be able to work as an assembly member?"

"I decided to enter the election in order to help people understand that disabilities do not prevent people from engaging in activities (such as working as assembly members)," Yanetani commented. She added, "Sign language is also a proper language."

Support for Yanetani's campaign began growing -- and she reports being gratified when a woman came up to her and said "good luck" in sign language -- a phrase that she had just learned how to sign.

Recalling how such instances helped her to keep going on the campaign trail, Yanetani mused, "I hope that my efforts now will provide hope for those who come after me."

After hearing the late-night news of the election results at her campaign office, Yanetani hugged her supporters and signed numerous times, "This victory is due to the support of many individuals. I extend to you my greatest thanks."

Yanetani also expressed her determination as she signed through tears, "I know that there will be obstacles lying ahead, but I want to do my best to overcome them."

According to the Tokyo-based Japanese Federation of the Deaf, a woman who is hard-of-hearing, and able to speak, was elected in 2001 to the local assembly in the village of Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture, before going on to serve for four years. Yanetani is the first completely deaf and non verbally-speaking assembly member to be elected anywhere in the country, the federation said.

Since there is no precedent for deaf assembly members in the city of Akashi, the assembly secretariat is looking into measures such as employing sign language interpreters and summary scribes for its plenary sessions.

Source: "Woman wins local election to become Japan's first deaf assembly member" at Mainichi on-line, 4/28/15.

Link: http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20150427p2a00m0na007000c.html

Photo borrowed from The Japan News, 4/27/15.

The second and final wave of unified local elections Sunday brought mixed results to candidates trumpeting minority issues, while highlighting systemic shortcomings in reflecting the diverse opinions of the nation’s voters.

Rie Saito, a 31-year-old deaf mother of two who ran for Tokyo’s Kita Ward Assembly as a Nippon wo Genki ni Suru Kai (Party to Revitalize Japan) candidate, won with 6,630 votes, the most received by any of the 50 candidates.

Saito, who lost her hearing at age 1, is known for having worked as a hitsudan hostess, using writing to communicate with her customers.

“I still cannot fully believe (my victory), but I’m appreciative of everyone’s support,” she told The Japan Times by email Monday.

Her campaign, however, was riddled with difficulties. Because the Public Offices Election Law prohibits candidates from distributing fliers or showing placards during campaigns, all Saito could do, apart from blogging her thoughts daily, was approach voters on the streets and appeal for support by shaking their hands and making physical gestures.

“The ban on fliers means people with speech and hearing impediments are excluded right from the very beginning,” she said. “We must come up with new ways to hold elections.”

Source: "Unified elections help diversify representation in Tokyo" at The Japan Times, 4/27/15.

Link: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/04/27/national/politics-diplomacy/unified-elections-help-diversify-representation-tokyo/#.VT7-y2bduPU

Here's some more from another source:

After her victory became certain just after 2 a.m. Monday, Saito smiled and thanked her supporters using sign language.

Using an electronic tablet to respond to reporters, she wrote, “I still can’t believe it.”

Saito lost her hearing when she was 1 because of a meningitis infection.

Though she couldn’t speak fluently, she found a job at a high-end hostess club in the Ginza district of Tokyo at 23. She quickly became popular for her style of communicating through writing.

After quitting her hostess job, Saito is now a lecturer raising her 4-year-old daughter as a single mother.

She decided to run for a ward assembly seat last winter. The upcoming 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games gave her a strong desire to “create a world where people with disabilities can actively be involved,” she said.

During her campaign, a supporter delivered her stump speeches as she handed out name cards and communicated using body language.

There are some concerns her disability could prevent her from fully participating in the assembly. Analysts said she could take part in assembly deliberations by using speech recognition software.

Saito said she wanted to discuss policy matters with ward residents using social media.

“I’d like to be a voice for minorities and help realize a barrier-free society,” she wrote.

Source: "2 hearing-impaired women win assembly seats in Sunday’s polls" at The Japan News, 4/27/15.

Link: http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0002110663

Other resources:

Yanetani's blog (in Japanese): http://ameblo.jp/yanetani-atsuko/

Saito's blog (in Japanese): http://ameblo.jp/saitorie/

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