• Kyodo

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Eiji Matsumoto, 40, has embarked on a first: translating the Old and New Testaments, totaling 2,000 pages in Japanese, into Japanese sign language for a 104-hour recording on videotape and DVD.

Matsumoto, who hails from Yamagata Prefecture, became deaf at age 3 when he was struck with a high fever.

At a school for the deaf, he was taught how to lip read and pretended to understand what people said, even if he didn’t get what they were saying.

“I was ashamed of using sign language when I was young. I couldn’t make myself understood as other people around me did,” he said.

But when he heard a lecture about the “culture of the deaf,” he began feeling pride in sign language and felt he is part of an original culture.

“You can make yourself understood by using sign language even if you are in a noisy place or far away from other people, he said. “What’s important for the deaf is pride.”

Matsumoto is now a pastor at a church in the city of Yamagata, and is active in the Japan Deaf Gospel Association in Tokyo, serving as a bridge between the hearing impaired and churches.

For Matsumoto, the translation of all of the New and Old Testaments into Japanese sign language is a long-cherished dream.

For many of those using sign language, it is their first language. The language’s grammar is completely different from the grammar of the Japanese language. For them, reading books written in Japanese would be as difficult as reading those written in English.

Therefore, he said, few Japanese deaf people have read the Bible, although deaf Christians in Japan number 3,000 to 4,000.

To allow deaf people to understand the translation, Matsumoto is paying great attention to detail, including minute facial movements, in making the recordings.

Matsumoto, who lives with his wife, son and daughter, said it will take 15 years for the work to be completed.

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