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Masatoshi Uchiumi

by Judit Kawaguchi

Masatoshi Uchiumi, 64, is a landlord in Tokyo’s trendy Jiyugaoka area. Divorced and living alone, six years ago he lost most of his eyesight due to a hormone imbalance. Although despondent at first, he soon focused on enriching his life, through lessons in karaoke, voice-activated computers, haiku, English conversation and ballroom dancing. At the Japan Blind Dance Championships 2006, the world’s first such competition for the blind, held in Tokyo on Aug. 27, he sashayed into the semifinals. He says that with effort, and humor, for him things are always looking up.

Hardships produce strong people. I was in my 20s and already a manager at a company dealing with big corporate clients’ car claims. They were furious with our products, and many refused to see me. I would sit silently in front of their company headquarters all night, just waiting for them to calm down and let me in. The job was awful, and I did it for years without any complaints. I didn’t run away. That long struggle prepared me to deal with anything.

The key to success is finding out how to motivate people. A truly psyched-up person is capable of amazing achievements. I was the second-worst runner at school for four years straight. Then, in the 5th grade, my mother offered me 1,000 yen if I won the 100-meter dash. I couldn’t sleep that night, and I ran straight to first place.

I find handicapped people too much of a challenge. I tried dating some, but their victim mentality was too much of a barrier.

Going blind was a real eye-opener. Once I lost my vision, superficial things like sexy clothes and makeup were all out of sight, and only kindness remained. I date wonderful people. My friends always tease me about how some of them are so hot that the sidewalks are burning up as we walk. At other times, they warn me that the ladies scare the living daylights out of them. We have great laughs.

The boss should work hardest. I was 28 and had never cooked a meal on my own. Still, my dream was to own a restaurant, so I quit my company job and opened a small joint. I watched the cooks and memorized how they prepared everything from sashimi to stews. I had about 50 employees over the years, and I looked up to every one of them.

If one is blind, Japan is the place to be. It is so convenient here. Bathrooms are easy to use, trains are on time and arrive on different tracks. Traffic lights and just about everything else make a sound.

Do not change your lifestyle if you get sick. I have been the new year-party organizer for my university friends for the past 30 years. When I went blind, others thought they should help me, but I am handling it just like before.

Never give up, no matter what. In my first year at an English school, I was so nervous that during classes my whole body would shake violently from the stress of not seeing or being able to read or write. One classmate recommended that I quit. But I stayed, and I’m still there. I also listen to English, using an Internet dictionary, at least two hours a day.

Progress stops with welfare. I dislike the idea of welfare because it just makes people lazy and dependent. I’m always a fighting “Tarzan,” and a samurai dancer.

I’m always in good hands, even those of strangers. Sometimes I have difficulty distinguishing the stairs that exit train platforms. Last time I fell on the tracks, people around me quickly pulled me up.

Being blind is like having permanent jetlag without ever arriving anywhere. My body has no sense of daytime or nighttime, so it is always confused and unable to rest well. I still keep going.

Love is blind, and that’s beautiful. I was 40 and she was 24. We were in love, and when she got pregnant we got married, even though her family was very much against our union. We have two children. I worked so hard all week and spent every weekend with her and the kids, going to amusement parks and hiking. I had no time off, but I loved being with them. One day about 18 years ago she packed up the children and divorced me. She must have had her reasons.

A wife or husband should be a best friend first. A kind and funny person is the perfect partner for me because her jokes brighten my heart and her kindness puts me in the best mood and physical condition, too.

Sunglasses keep us in the dark. People don’t notice that I am blind, so I get yelled at and pushed around quite a bit. I often bump into walls, and once I was thrown into one so hard that my left eyeball fell out of it socket and was dangling on the optic nerves. I had to hold it in my hand till I got to the hospital and the doctors popped it back in.

Discrimination is good. It pushes me to do my best, so I achieve more. I am still healthy enough, so I can say this, but maybe in a few years I will be dependent on others and change my mind. “What’s next?” I worry.

I am always out and about, happy to be alive. People tell me to stay at home and rest, but I don’t see their point.