Helen Keller: Her first visit to Japan in 1937

 Helen and her group welcomed in Tokyo 

Helen and Polly in a kimono

Helen Keller visited Japan three times in her lifetime: in 1937, 1948 and 1955. Here is an account of her first Japan visit.

Anne Sullivan, who educated and supported Helen Keller, passed away on October 20, 1936. Although Helen was requested from Takeo Iwahashi (岩橋武夫: 1898 - 1954) to visit Japan, she was hesitating to accept it for the reason Sullivan was on a sickbed. Just before passing away, Sullivan expressed dying words as "You should go to Japan."

Iwahashi, who became visually impaired in the early childhood, visited Helen Keller's house on December 18, 1934, and requested her to make an appeal to form a support organization for people with disabilities including the blind in Japan.

(In 1935, an organization, "The Lighthouse," for Braille publications was established and Iwahashi became chairman of the board of directors of the Lighthouse).

Aboard the Asama-maru, a passenger liner, with Polly Thompson, Helen arrived on April 15, 1937 at the Yokohama harbor carrying the correspondence from President Roosevelt as a "Japan-U.S. goodwill ambassador.

Helen and Polly went to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden immediately, and were received in audience by Emperor Showa at the cherry blossom viewing party held then.

On April 17, Helen met in Nakamura Hisako (中村久子: 1897 - 1968), aged 41, who was called "Japanese Helen Keller," at Tokyo Hibiya Kokaido Public Hall.
She was a performance entertainer from the Meiji era through the Showa era, and a writer. She led the life independent in spite of a physical handicap: both hands and both feet were cut off.

Nakamura presented the Japanese doll to Helen that was made with the use of her mouth. Helen praised Nakamura for "Being a person unhappier than I and a person greater than I."

Helen went to Osaka on April 19 and Saitama on April 30. In May she traveled many places one after another in Japan. Her visit schedule was overly tight, and she received a passionate welcome in various places and had managed the lecture energetically.

Helen loved a dog and was very moved with the true story about the faithful Akita dog named Hachi-ko that continued waiting for the master at the station in Shibuya after its owner college professor passed away. Helen asked for an Akita during the visit, and two dogs were presented later.

Helen met important people in the field of disabilities,  visited schools for the Blind and Deaf including the Tokyo School for the Blind (currently University of Tsukuba School for the Blind), and lectured many times which were attended by teachers and staff from many schools of the Blind and Deaf across Japan .

At the time of this visit in Japan, the wallet has been stolen in the passenger liner waiting room of the Yokohama harbor. The newspaper reported it, which brought cash to Helen from a number of people in the whole country. The cash amounted to ten or more times of the cash stolen when Helen left Japan.

Because fighting broke out between Japan and China on July 7, which escalated to full scale war near the end of the month (the Lukow-kiao incident), Helen's plan to visit China was cancelled on Iwahashi's advice, and she went back home to the United States aboard the Chichibu-maru, a passenger liner, from the Yokohama harbor hurriedly on August 10.

Iwahashi accompanied Helen and Polly throughout the visit as an interpreter.



- English

The Radical Lives of Helen Keller

The incredible Dog


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