Deaf documentary film director's essay #3

Movies for an all-inclusive society.

Today, did you ride the waves?   
by Ayako Imamura*

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?”

*Ayako wrote an originally Japanese essay for a pamphlet titled "Hataraku Hiroba," published in July, 2010, which was translated by William John Herlofsky, a professor of the Foreign Languages Department of Nagoya Gakuin University.

English original essay in Ayako's Japanese blog:

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