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“I want to become a movie director.”

That was my dream when I was in elementary school.

When I was a child, there was no captioning on TV programs, so I couldn’t enjoy watching it with my family.
One time my father saw me looking sad, so he rented a foreign movie with captioning from the video rental shop.
The first movie I saw was “E.T.”
I was deeply touched by the story of friendship between an alien and a boy. Since then, I have had a dream of making a film which gives energy and courage to a lot of people.

When I was 19 years old, I flew to the USA and studied the technique of film making.
Now I am making documentary movies about deaf people.
I have met more than 150 people since I started.
I would like to tell their dreams and wishes to as many people as I can. And, I would like to help build a society where everyone lives together however he or she is.

Born: in Nagoya.
President of Studio AYA
Graduated from: Toyohashi school for the deaf
Graduated from: Aichi University of Education
Studied: the Film Industry, American Sign Language and Deaf Culture at California State University, Northridge while attending Aichi University.

Presently: teaching Sign Language in Nagoya Gakuin University and Aichi Gakuin University. At the same time, making documentary movies and going not only in Japan, also flying to USA, Canada and Korea for shooting.
Currently showing her movies and giving lectures in all over Japan.

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Filming the Silent Earthquake Disaster of 3-11

Ayako Imamura

■ My reason for making documentary films

I was born deaf. I’m Deaf. As a young girl attending a local elementary school, I wasn’t able to fully participate in conversations with my circle of friends, and even when I got home, since at that time there were no captions for TV programs, I wasn’t able to fully enjoy watching TV with my family, and often felt lonely. That was when my father started renting videos of foreign movies with Japanese subtitles so that I too could enjoy watching the TV with my family, and from this I became more energetic and positive. Gradually I developed a dream of becoming a movie director, and when I was nineteen years old, I went to America for a year to study filmmaking, and after I returned to Japan, I bought a camera, and have been making documentaries ever since.
I am referred to as being a ‘hearing disabled’, but for me not being able to hear seems natural, because that’s the way I was born. In a society created according to the standards of hearing people, however, not being able to hear is a ‘disability’, and I am defined as being ‘hearing disabled’. Since I was a little girl I thought it was strange when people referred to me a ‘disabled’. For Deaf people, and others born with other challenges, the way we are, the way we were born, is taken for granted. Since the present society is constructed according to the standards of those without these kinds of challenges, those who are challenged have inconveniences in their lives, but that doesn’t make their lives unhappy. If, for example, all TV programs had captions, and stairs were eliminated, and there were more slopes and elevators, Deaf people could enjoy the TV, and people in wheelchairs could go anywhere they wanted to go. If things like this were done, Deaf people and other challenged people would no longer have challenges or be ‘disabled’. These ‘disabilities’ are the barriers between the people and society. Deaf people and other challenged people are also members of society, and my way of breaking down these barriers in society is by filming and making documentaries about Deaf and hard-of-hearing people, and showing these documentaries around Japan. In twelve years, I have made thirty documentaries, and these documentaries have been introduced in the newspapers and on TV, and gradually have become known in Japanese society.

■ To Northeast Japan to film the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake

It happened on 3-11, the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake. From that day on there has been the news of northeast Japan on TV and in the newspapers every day. The number of dead and missing increased day by day. Having a hard time reading the sad news in the newspaper and on TV, I also had a question. There were Deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Northeast Japan, but there was hardly anything about them in the news. I wondered if they were safe, and whether they were getting aid. Then I thought that my life’s work was to communicate the news, and if possible, I should try to communicate the condition of the Deaf people in northeast Japan and what they have to say to the rest of Japanese society. And so, eleven days after the disaster, on March 22nd, I visited Miyagi.
Many of the shops in Sendai city were closed, and longs lines of cars could be seen waiting at gas stations. I went to Sendai airport and saw cars crushed by the tsunami in the parking lot, the light poles were down, the windows in the buildings were shattered, and there was nothing left undamaged. With the Self-Defense Force cleaning up the cars, it looked like a scene from right after a war.
First I went to the Miyagi Deaf Association’s office, and according to the vice-head, they were trying to do checks on safety and the support system, but because there was not enough gasoline, the support was not working smoothly. Cell phone communication also had problems, and so the safety checks couldn’t be done. Even though they were trying to deliver support supplies, things were not moving along. If they were denied the lifelines of communication, they couldn’t do anything. Even though they wanted to deliver the support supplies, they couldn’t move around. When I was filming there were aftershocks, and I was really worried.

■ Can’t hear the tsunami warning

March 24th, I met two elderly Deaf couples at the Iwanuma-shi shelter. All four of them had half of their faces covers with face masks, so I couldn’t see their expressions. When the earthquake occurred, Ms. K (72 years old) who lives in Iwanuma-shi, held on to something nearby and waited until the earthquake was over. When she was gathering her valuables, a neighbor came, and with body language, said there was a tsunami coming and that she should flee, so with her husband (78 years old), they got in their car and fled. After that, the tsunami came and washed away their house. If their neighbor hadn’t come and told Ms. K, they would have been washed away by the tsunami, and they would be dead. When I heard that there actually were Deaf people who, because they couldn’t hear the tsunami warning and the broadcast to flee to the shelter, had actually perished, I felt helpless.
I also interviewed Mr. S (71 years old) and his wife (63 years old) who had operated a barber shop in the same city for the past forty years. Their home was new so it didn’t suffer much damage, but when the earthquake occurred they couldn’t hear any announcements so they didn’t know they should evacuate to the elementary school. When the tsunami came they were trapped in their house, and spent the night on the house’s second floor. The next day when a policeman came through the neighborhood they realized through the policeman’s gestures that they should go to the evacuation shelter, and knew for the first time about the announcements and that everyone else had evacuated.
When the interviews were over, we went with Mr. and Mrs. K and Mr. and Mrs. S to their homes. The K’s home was built in the Showa period, and there was nothing left of it, just the concrete foundation and the trees in the yard. As they cried, Mr. and Mrs. K stared at where their house had been. Their daily life and where they had lived for such a long time had been taken away by the tsunami. What does that feel like? As I apologized to Mr. and Mrs. K, I said that I was sorry, so sorry, but could do nothing but film them and the scene. Next we went to the S’s barber shop. When we opened the door to the shop, we were struck by the scene of sticky mud on the floor, the chairs, and the towels. And we looked at the clock on the wall that had stopped at the time of the earthquake, at 2:48 pm.
The Ks were able to first get information from policemen or neighbors, but when the S’s went to the evacuation shelter they encountered situations where they couldn’t get information. Because they couldn’t hear the announcements about food and blankets, they had to be constantly watching and moving with the people around them. If they tired and fell asleep, they would be completely isolated from the information, and would miss out on chances for food and other supplies. Because they had to constantly be watching the people around them, it was very stressful. Mrs. K caught a cold and didn’t look very good.
For elderly Deaf people, not only can’t they get the necessary information, but they are also physically weaker because they are old. Their situation is very worrisome. Even though they should be getting the support supplies first, for the hearing people around them too, just taking care of their own needs is all they can do, so they don’t notice the problems of the Deaf people. So Deaf people, who don’t look like they are handicapped, need to tell those around them that they can’t hear, and that they need to be given information in a way that they can understand. But it should also be understood that these are Deaf people who have lost their homes to the tsunami, and have lost their strength to the shock of everything, and may have even lost their ability to say anything. So this is when I decided that I would continue reporting about the plight of the disaster-stricken Deaf people until Mr. and Mrs. K were again living happily.

■ There should not be any differences in getting information necessary for saving lives

I went to Miyagi again on April 10th. I went to the evacuation shelter and was able to meet Mr. and Mrs. K again. When I had filmed them the previous month, Mrs. K looked pale, was coughing, and had a mask over her mouth, but this time, she had just had a bath and the color of her face looked very healthy and she was smiling. She said that the Ss had returned to their house. Mrs. K poured out her feelings saying that they had lost their home and all their clothes, that now there was no one to talk to in sign language, and that they were lonely. Very lonely. When I held Mrs. K’s hand as I was leaving, she couldn’t hold back the tears any longer, and started crying as her shoulders shook. The previous month it was painful to film Mrs. K crying without being able to comfort her, so this time I hugged her and patted her on her back and told her how she had really persevered even though it must have been difficult for her.
The next day, in Iwaki-shi in Fukushima-ken, I filmed Mr T (Deaf) and the head of the Fukushima Deaf Association (FDA). Mr. T said that he was happy that when the government spokesperson, Edano, had a press conference on TV, there was a sign language interpreter next to him interpreting, but they only showed Edano on the TV screen, so Deaf people didn’t know what he was saying, and that they should show the interpreter on the TV too. The FDA head also said that it was hard for Deaf people to get information from the TV reports because they used technical terminology, and that he was worried that there weren’t many Deaf people who had correct information about the nuclear disaster.
While filming, the ground began to shake violently, and someone pulled me down by my sleeve so that I would squat down. But I thought that I should keep filming, so shaking with fear, I stood up and kept filming. The shaking stopped, and everyone stood up and said, “Wow, what a shock!” The FDA head said excitedly that it was much worse on March 11th. The staff yelled that there was a siren and that a tsunami might be coming so quickly go to the shelter. We all hurried to the cars and jumped in and fled the area. I was amazed that I didn’t even know that the siren was blaring. Deaf people can’t really protect themselves. It was frightening to think that if you couldn’t hear the siren, and hearing people couldn’t tell you about it, you could be swept away by the tsunami and… This is a problem that needs to be solved as soon as possible. I felt very strongly that there should not be any differences for getting the information necessary for saving lives.
That night we stayed in a hotel in Iwaki-shi. There were many aftershocks. I was in a room by myself, and wondered if I would be alright. My thinking got more and more negative as I kept wondering if I would be able to return to my home alive. It gets dark at night, so I can’t see what’s around me, if there was a power failure, I’d be able to see even less, and be less able to get the information to move around safely. Even though I was physically tired, my brain was awake, and I couldn’t get to sleep. I put a flashlight by my pillow so I’d be able to get away if something happened. But I didn’t sleep well, and was awakened by an aftershock at 4 am. I opened the curtain and saw the wide blue sky and felt relieved. Night comes at the end of every day. Darkness increases the feeling of uneasiness. The Deaf people in the disaster area are living with a feeling of uneasiness for not being able to get the information necessary for protecting their own lives, and the painful feeling of not being able to express their worries to someone in sign language. I feel strongly that there is a necessity to create an environment where Deaf people can decrease the stress they feel by being able to communicate easily in sign language, and where they can get enough information so that they wouldn’t feel uneasy.

■ Bonds in the community

When I visited Miyagi in August the recovery had progressed somewhat, and Sendai Airport that had once been a mountain of debris was back in use. Mr. S’s barber shop had gotten support and supplies from all over Japan, and reopened on June 1st, and Mr. and Mrs. S were back working again. Their expressions were cheerful, looking completely different compared to the people I saw in March. But they said that the people in the neighborhood who had been their customers were now living in temporary housing far away, so they had fewer customers than before the disaster.
In mid-May Mr. and Mrs. K had moved into temporary housing across from the shelter. Mrs. K was wearing makeup again, and at first I didn’t recognize her. She greeted me with a smile and showed me the results of her hobbies of knitting and making things with beads.
There are many elderly Deaf people who, because of World War II, didn’t receive proper educations. Their reading and writing ability is not good, so it’s also difficult for them to communicate by writing. The Ks are two of these people. Because of that they are isolated from the local community. There are many elderly people living in temporary housing that are dying alone, and this could also happen to elderly Deaf people. In order to prevent this from happening, everyday connections to people in the community are important.
When I asked the vice-head of the Miyagi Deaf Association what should be done before future disasters, he said “bonds in the community”. After an earthquake, there are power failures, and you can’t get information from the TV. You can’t send mail with your cell phone. For Deaf people who can’t hear the warnings or broadcasts, the only thing they can rely on is their neighbors. During normal times and everyday life it’s important to have dealings with, and the understanding of, your neighbors. Now, the Ks are friendly with the woman who lives next door, and she tells them many things using gestures.
After the great earthquake, people are rethinking the idea of connections. What can break down the walls between people and society are connections. I hope to continue reporting on the Deaf people in the disaster area, and the importance of connections with others, so that some day we can have a society where everyone can live in peace with smiles on their faces.


I Want to Make Movies!
by Ayako Imamura

Movies for an all-inclusive society.

I was born deaf. Unlike now, when I was in elementary school there, were hardly any captions for TV programs, and so I couldn’t really enjoy watching TV with my family. So sometimes my father would rent foreign movie videos, like “Rocky” or “ET”, that had subtitles, and then I was able to see the images on the screen and the words at the same time, and that really made me happy, because for the first time, I was really able to enjoy watching the TV with my family. From these movies, I felt various emotions, and they also gave me courage, and the feeling and the idea that someday I wanted to make my own movies! I wanted to make movies that would help make many people feel energy and courage! That’s how those movies had made me feel.
But at that time, because at Japanese universities there was no lecture-information- guarantee (the guarantee that deaf students could have note-takers and/or interpreters or other means of getting the information of university lectures) I couldn’t study what I wanted to study – how to make movies. I entered Aichi University of Education, but because I couldn’t study movie-making there, I took a year off to go to California State University at Northridge (CSUN) to study movie-making.
Of all the universities in the United States, CSUN has the second largest number of deaf students, and there is a student support center for supplying deaf and hard-of-hearing students with interpreters, note-takers, or computer-interpreters to guarantee that they can get all the information from their classes. When I first saw and experienced those services, I was overwhelmed by the excellence of the system. I was at first surprised, and then encouraged by the idea that, since deaf students were paying the same tuition as hearing students, they were entitled to receive that same information from the lectures, and that the lecture-information-guarantee was only natural and to be expected. I realized that it was alright for deaf people, as human beings, to expect to live and enjoy life just like hearing people could. I realized that deaf people didn’t have to expect less, or to give up on their dreams.
When I returned to Aichi University of Education, I demanded an interpreter for my classes, and through the cooperation of many people, it became a reality. Even now, I can’t forget the feeling I had the first time I had an interpreter for a class. For the first time, what had been a dull black-and-white, became filled with color, what had been one-dimensional became three-dimensional, and everything became full of life and entered not only my eyes, but my mind and body and heart as well. I discovered many things that might seem minor to others, like, “oh the teacher uses a lot of Osaka dialect,” or “that student looks quiet, but he has a lot interesting ideas,” but to me, things like these were very interesting discoveries. Before that, I just sat in classes and read what the note-taker wrote on the paper, but didn’t really feel like I was participating in the class.
Some of my friends have demanded interpreters or note-takers at their universities, but have been told that they should just try to overcome their problems with their own extra effort. I was shocked when some of them told me that all they could do was sit and wait during the lectures, and after they were over they would just copy the notes that their friends had taken. And I learned that this kind of thing was not an exception, but common at Japanese universities. So I thought that this will never do, that universities seem to have no idea about the lecture-information-guarantee that deaf and hard-of-hearing students are entitled to, and I decided to make a documentary movie that would show the problems that deaf students have, and also show universities that have set up lecture-information-guarantee systems for their deaf students. This is how the DVD documentary “University Life” was born.


DENSO’s Nakagawa’s Three Proposals

Last month I wrote about deaf and hard-of-hearing university students and guaranteeing that these students get all the necessary information from university lectures. This guarantee of information, however, is not just a problem at universities, but a problem for deaf people throughout their lives, especially since ‘working’ is what takes up most of a person’s life.
Compared to not too long ago, the number of deaf people working at various companies has increased. But even though deaf people may be employed at various companies, it is still rare for them to have interpreters at company meetings, and in addition, deaf employees aren’t really able to sufficiently enjoy even talking with the hearing employees during break times. Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees seem to be just working silently everyday in an environment where it is difficult for them to get information and communicate.
As a result, deaf and hard-of-hearing people often feel isolated, estranged, and/or depressed at work, and it is saddening to hear that the number of cases where deaf people are forced to unwillingly quit their jobs is increasing. And now, when companies value profit more than anything else, it seems that the working conditions are becoming more difficult not only deaf employees, but for hearing employees as well.
That is what made me think that I would like to make a documentary about companies where both deaf and hearing employees are working together positively to create a good working environment, so that people who see the documentary would feel the courage and energy to keep trying. And so I decided to make “Salaryman”, and when making this documentary I met people and saw things that also gave me the courage to carry on.
There are about 260 deaf people working at Denso Corporation in Aichi Prefecture. I talked with Ms. Nakagawa Yuko who works in the personnel department at Denso’s Takatana Plant. Because Ms. Nakagawa took care of deaf employees in the company dormitory, she studied sign language, and while living and working with her deaf colleagues, she became skillful at sign language, and eventually came to consult with the deaf employees about their problems at the plant. She felt that the reason why there were problems between deaf and hearing employees was mainly because of communication problems, and she made three proposals for the company to undertake at the Takatana Plant.
One thing she suggested was special study sessions. Most hearing employees had never come in contact with deaf people before, so they didn’t know how to communicate with deaf people. First, then, she thought that hearing employees needed to understand more about deaf people, so she started special study sessions where deaf employees, along with interpreters, would be able to talk with hearing employees.
Next she set up special educational courses for deaf and hard-of-hearing employees. She developed classes where deaf and hard-of-hearing employees could learn new skills using cameras and screens and other visual aids that would make the learning easier for them. The deaf and hard-of-hearing employees, who before had sat passively when they didn’t understand something, were very happy and became very positive in their approach to their work.
The next thing she did was to develop a video sign language dictionary. Ms. Nakagawa and some deaf employees made a video dictionary of the technical terms used at Denso, and employees were able to access the dictionary and the moving sign language images on the company computers. It was so popular that within a month of its availability, it was accessed more than four thousand times.
Ms. Nakagawa thought for these kinds of measures to really have any influence they would have to become part of the system, so she submitted a research proposal to the company, and her proposal was accepted. Her three proposals became part of the company system, and sign language interpreters were supplied at all company events and individual conferences.
When there are more and more companies where each and every individual is able to work to the best of his/her ability, it will result in a society where each and every individual is able to live a happy and fruitful life. That is what I felt through making the documentary ‘Salaryman”.



Today, did you ride the waves?

For my new documentary film project, I am filming in Kosai city in Shizuoka prefecture, at a surfing and Hawaiian goods store owned by a deaf man named Tatsuro Ota, who has been surfing since he was a university student thirty-one years ago.Three years ago he quit his job at a company where he had worked for twenty years, and opened this shop, something he had dreamed of doing for many years. What impressed me most when I was filming Mr. Ota was how he was able to communicate with his customers.
Mr. Ota, while admitting that he was not very good at speaking, was able to speak, also using gestures, with the surfers who were also gesturing to communicate with him. And rather than this being a case of hearing people trying to use simple language to communicate with a deaf person, what was obvious was that this was instead a case of people with different languages, who had a mutual interest in surfing, and they just wanted to talk about surfing through any means possible.
Among deaf people, there are those who don’t have confidence in their speaking ability, and think that because they won’t be able to communicate 100% of what they want to say by speaking, they don’t speak. I myself understand that feeling very well. It’s because deaf people know that there are some hearing people who, when they hear the voice of a deaf person, a kind of voice that they may not be accustomed to hearing, they seem to unconsciously feel pity for the plight that deaf person.
But Mr. Ota, even though he says his pronunciation is not very good, thinks that if he can communicate even just a little of what he wants to say, he will speak. That’s because he has a strong desire to ‘communicate’. So even surfers who look like they have had little or no contact with or interest in sign language (if it wasn’t for my filming, I would be afraid to have anything to do with some of these scary looking darkly tanned tough guys) seem to enjoy themselves as they use gestures and body language to talk with Mr. Ota. To me this situation looks almost like when a Japanese person who can’t speak English well is trying to communicate with an American who can’t speak Japanese.
After interviewing one of Mr. Ota’s regular customers, I and the customer had the following conversation by writing back-and-forth on a note pad.

Customer: Why are you filming Mr. Ota?
Ayako: Because Mr. Ota is the only deaf person in Japan that has a surfing shop.
Customer: Really? Is that so?

I was surprised by this person’s reaction.

Ayako: Did you think there were other deaf people who had surfing shops?
Customer: Yeah, since there are a lot of deaf surfers, I just thought there would be
a lot who had their own shops.

I see… That’s an interesting way to look at it. Most people would think that since it’s difficult even for a hearing person to have a shop, it would be even more difficult for a deaf person, but this man was surprised by the fact that there was only one deaf person in Japan with his own surfing shop.
I realized that this was because this person didn’t think of deaf people as handicapped people who had a hard time with their lives, and this realization made me feel happy. The surfers affectionately call Mr. Ota by the nickname ‘Tatsu-rin’. They can’t sign, and more than wanting to learn how to sign, they are just more interested in communicating, by whatever means possible, gestures or writing, with their friend Tatsu-rin. This feeling had become obvious to me.
And again today, Mr. Ota is asking the surfers, “Today, did you ride the waves?”






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