Runner-up Award
gThe Remarkable Advance of Braille Books: Truly Barrier-Freeh
Ms. Nobuko Iwamoto (63), Nagaoka-kyo City, Kyoto Prefecture

One year has already passed since that memorable day. In the early spring of 2004, still sitting in front of a heater, I was reading Hananobou, a newsletter from the Kyoto Lighthouse Braille Library.

It said that two teenage girls had won that yearfs Naoki Literary Award and Akutagawa Literary Award. I was so surprised that I found myself reading the same passage over and over, and without thinking I said aloud, gWhat? No way!h

The titles were brilliant. Both Keritai Senaka (A Back I Want to Kick) and Hebi ni Piasu (Snakes and Earrings) really reflected what youth these days are like, so much so that I couldnft help but laugh. Feeling an irresistible interest in these books, I checked the clock. The library had already closed. With some hesitation, however, I picked up the phone, even though I knew it might be in vain. My heart pounded and my face blushed. I didnft even say a proper hello and just started gushing about my curiosity for the books. The librarian on the other end of the line replied coolly, gThey are both very popular at the moment. You might have to wait for a while.h She sounded as though she were trying to calm me down. A reasonable response, I thought.

I immediately discussed the books with my children. gI remember those books because of the curious titles,h my oldest son said, and a short while later a small paperback was placed in front of the cupboard in our living room. Just as I started to hope someone would read it for me, the Braille version of the book arrived from the library.

I impatiently opened the package and absorbed myself in the Braille book. The bookfs unconventional writing style was intangible, and at first it was hard to read. However, as I turned the pages, I soon got used to it and became completely absorbed, forgetting time and the tasks at hand. It was only when my husband said, gHey, when do I get to eat?h that I came crashing back to reality with a scream. That evening, I had no time to cook the food I had planned to prepare, so we ended up with an unexpectedly simple meal. Nobody complained, but I felt terrible about it.

The story was divided into two Braille books. I finished them both in three days. No one else in my family had read it, so I had nobody to discuss it with and felt a dissatisfied loneliness. Most likely prompted by my enthusiasm and dedication, first my son, then my husband, and finally my daughter all read the story. We had so much to talk about for a while.

I was so happy. What else could be more delightful? I recalled the old days when I found a book interesting and ordered it, only to receive it long after I had forgotten all about it. Popular books were even more difficult to obtain in those days. Feelings change day by day. I was perplexed to receive a book in which I had long lost interest, and sometimes I could not even bring myself to read them any more. This was especially true around the mid-twentieth century when my life revolved around reading.

In contrast, I am now able to get books even faster than my able-bodied family members. The technology of the twenty-first century, including computer Braille translation, has flourished. We are living a reality that was hard to even dream of before. We should never forget that this reality is supported by the profound love of many volunteer workers and library staff. The true happiness of we severely disabled people is grounded upon the profound goodwill of society.

When I returned the memorable Braille book, I did not forget to mention my thanks and to order the other book, Hebi ni Piasu. I had to wait for it for quite a while, in fact, but due to multiple engagements I myself had no time to get lost in this book as I had done with the first one. In that sense, I suppose all went well.

In this way, the twenty-first century, that is, the information era, brought me the hope to live without regarding my severe disability as a burden. It is the most precious treasure that this century has bestowed to the disabled. The visually challenged have multiple ways of reading now, and each person chooses the one that is right for him or her. I am perfectly contented with Braille reading.

Braille, which I learned when I was little and have long been familiar with, brought back letters to my fingers after I had lost my sight in the second grade. I was raised on Braille books; they saved me from the solitude of losing touch with my family. I am thankful for the rich life that Braille has allowed me to live.

I think nothing could be more unfortunate and sad in this world than losing letters. In that sense, I cannot help but respect and thank once again all the people who came before me. Their legacy has left the visually challenged such wonderful letters. I cannot go to sleep if I do not touch Braille at least once a day. I calm myself down with Braille, experience the pleasure of life, and feel hope for tomorrow.

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