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Yohei Sasakawa
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The Nippon Foundation Paves the Way for Public Phone Relay Service for Deaf People in Japan [2020年08月27日(Thu)]
The Japanese Diet (Parliament) has passed a bill to launch a telephone relay service that will enable deaf and hard-of-hearing people to place calls via online assistants 24/7 in the same way as anyone else.

With the service set to begin in fiscal 2021 starting next April, Japan will become the last of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced countries to set up a public system to offer deaf and hard-of-hearing users barrier-free access to phone services.

The legislation, which passed the House of Councilors unanimously on June 5 following a similar action by the House of Representatives earlier, came seven years after The Nippon Foundation started providing a free-of-charge telephone relay service on a trial basis in 2013 with a view to prompting the government to take the initiative in this critically important undertaking.

Under the system, deaf and hard-of-hearing users are able to send messages in sign language or text using computers or smartphones, which will then be interpreted by operators in real time so those on the other end of the call can understand them.

As of last June, our one billion yen (9.4 million dollar) trial service had a total of 11,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing people registered with some 30,000 calls being made monthly−proof of how vital a relay service is for those who need it. 

During the past seven years, The Nippon Foundation has been consulting persistently with officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) to drive home the importance of the relay service.

Our lobbying campaign paid off in November 2018 when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a Diet session that a telephone relay service is important for the country’s infrastructure. This led MIC and MHLW to set up a working group on telecommunications relay service in late 2019 that helped draft the legislation.

There were three accidents involving deaf and hard-of-hearing people whose lives were saved thanks to our experimental relay service.

In October 2018, three deaf climbers went missing while attempting to scale 3,190-meter Mt. Oku-Hodakadake, the nation’s third-highest peak, in central Japan. Although one of the three died, the two others were rescued after they called for help via the phone relay service. 

A deaf man who suffered a fall on Mt. Iwate, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan, in March 2018, and four people who went missing while swimming in Mikawa Bay, Aichi Prefecture, central Japan, in June 2017, were all saved by search and rescue teams that were dispatched following their calls for help using the relay service.

I believe these episodes were instrumental in convincing lawmakers and bureaucrats that the government must do its part in providing this vitally important service. Unlike our trial service, which is available between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. at the latest, the new public system is accessible around the clock and can always handle emergency calls.

The public service, however, is not without problems. One facing deaf and hard-of-hearing users is that the hearing public is largely unaware of the existence of the relay service. It is still common for a hearing person to hang up on a deaf relay user after hearing only a few words because they think the caller is trying to sell something or making a scam call. 

I sincerely hope that the government, media and other stakeholders do everything possible to try to increase public awareness about the relay service, including public service announcements and commercials.

The foundation will terminate its experimental service at the end of March 2021, handing over the mission to the government-sponsored system. I am convinced that this is a good example of our strenuous and persistent efforts to persuade the government to build a more inclusive society, which will have resulted in a social change we wanted to achieve.
The Nippon Foundation Building 17 Public Toilets in Central Tokyo with World-Class Architects [2020年08月24日(Mon)]
This transparent toilet designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Mr. Shigeru Ban, has drawn much attention to THE TOKYO TOILET project launched by The Nippon Foundation. The design allows potential users to tell from the outside if the facilities are clean and whether or not someone is inside.
Photo: Satoshi Nagare

Once they enter and lock the door, the walls turn opaque to provide privacy.
Photo: Satoshi Nagare

The Nippon Foundation has launched THE TOKYO TOILET project to build public toilets at 17 locations in Shibuya, central Tokyo, that can be used by anyone safely and comfortably regardless of gender, age, or disability.

These toilets were designed by 16 internationally-renowned architects, including four laureates of the Pritzker Architect Prize, which is often referred to as “architecture’s Nobel,” such as Mr. Tadao Ando, Mr. Toyo Ito, Mr. Shigeru Ban and Mr. Fumihiko Maki as well as Mr. Kengo Kuma, who designed the new National Stadium in Tokyo, the main venue for the now-postponed Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Although Japan is generally regarded as a clean country with a high standard of hygiene, its public restrooms have suffered from the image that they are dark, dirty, smelly, and scary. To dispel such notions, The Nippon Foundation has decided to install 17 public toilets in Shibuya Ward, using the designs of these architects to change people's perceptions of public toilets and make them accessible for everyone regardless of gender, age, or disability.

The toilets are being constructed by Daiwa House Industry Co. while TOTO Ltd. will advise on equipment and layout.

Of the 17 toilets, five are already in operation. They are in Ebisu Park (creator: Mr. Masamichi Katayama); Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park (Mr. Shigeru Ban); Haru-no-Ogawa Community Park (Mr. Ban), Ebisu East Park (Mr. Fumihiko Maki), and a location near Ebisu Station (Ms. Nao Tamura).

They will be followed by openings on August 31 in Nishihara Itchome Park (Mr. Takenosuke Sakakura), and on September 7 in Jingu-Dori Park (Mr. Tadao Ando), with the remainder scheduled for completion by the spring of 2021. 

Maintenance of the toilets will be carried out under a three-party agreement concluded by The Nippon Foundation, the Shibuya City government, and the Shibuya City Tourism Association. 

The toilets will be cleaned three times a day−normally the city’s public toilets are cleaned only once a day−with cleaning information posted online.

The project, especially Mr. Ban’s transparent toilets, have drawn larger than expected domestic and international media coverage, including interest from the New York Times, CNN, UPI, the Hindustan Times, and India Today as well as lots of coverage on social media.

I sincerely hope that people will feel comfortable using these public toilets and enjoy the highly original designs of these world-class architects. I trust also that they will inspire people to leave the toilets as they would hope to find them, thus extending the spirit of Japan’s omotenashi hospitality to the arena of public conveniences.

Another public toilet designed by Mr. Shigeru Ban is in Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park. At night, the facility illuminates its surroundings like a beautiful lantern.
Photo: Satoshi Nagare

When a user enters and locks the door, the outer walls grow opaque.
Photo: Satoshi Nagare

This toilet, a "Modern Kawaya” (river hut), by FRAME Award-winning architect Masamichi Katayama, comprises 15 randomly placed concrete walls, inspired by the traditional design of a river-side toilet hut.
Photo: Satoshi Nagare

The toilet is lit up at night.
Photo: Satoshi Nagare
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 17:30 | ENHANCING COMMUNITIES | URL | comment(0)
U.N. Special Rapporteur on Leprosy Discrimination Reports on Her Visit to Japan [2020年08月20日(Thu)]
Ms. Alice Cruz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, looks into the human rights situation of persons affected by leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, and their family members “in the light of the efforts being made to achieve truth and justice and to guarantee the non-recurrence of human rights violations.”

She made an official fact-finding visit to Japan from February 12 to 19, 2020. I conferred with her in my capacity as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and the Japanese Goodwill Ambassador for the Human Rights of Persons Affected by Leprosy, alongside representatives of The Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa Health Foundation. 

While in Japan, Ms. Cruz also consulted with representatives of the Japanese government and other members of the civil society, academia, and health and law professionals as well as persons affected by leprosy and their family members. 

The Special Rapporteur presented an 18-page report on her visit to Japan to the 44th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council on July 6.

Presenting the report during the interactive session, she said the document provides a detailed account of Japan’s efforts to eliminate discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. She noted that while instances of the disease in Japan are currently rare, its history was made up of multiple violations until the last decade of the twentieth century, a fact recognized by the government. She said Japan had officially apologized for the past human rights violations and had put in place a large-scale administrative program for providing material compensation together with a multi-sectoral approach to redress stigmatization. 

On July 16, the Human Rights Council adopted unanimously a resolution, submitted jointly by Japan and seven other countries, to extend the mandate of Special Rapporteur Cruz for another three years.

I believe that she has done an excellent job as the Special Rapporteur during the past three years, including country visits, collection of good practices, and mainstreaming of leprosy-related discrimination into the work of United Nations Human Rights mechanisms. That is why I proposed that Japan introduce the resolution to renew her term, which was joined by Brazil, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Morocco and Portugal.

I strongly hope that all the member states and other stakeholders will fully cooperate with Ms. Cruz in the discharge of her mandate by providing her with all the information she asks for, giving serious consideration−and responding favorably−to her requests to visit their countries, and by considering implementing the recommendations made in her reports.

The Special Rapporteur’s report makes some reference to my own role in working for a world without leprosy and the stigma and discrimination associated with it. Let me share that part of the report with you here.

C. International cooperation and transnational activism

27. The struggle for dignity of the persons affected by Hansen’s disease in Japan and the positive responses from both the judicial system and the Government in 2001 triggered the scaling up of a human rights-based approach in the international field. Since 2007, Japan has been the lead sponsor of a series of resolutions on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by Hansen’s disease and their family members that were adopted by the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. This has been the result of a concerted effort on the part of the Government and Japanese civil society groups, namely the Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa Health Foundation. Ultimately, however, the wake-up call to recognize persons affected by Hansen’s disease as rights bearers came from the grass roots.

28. The Japanese endeavour at the international level concerning Hansen’s disease has been led by the Government’s Goodwill Ambassador for the Human Rights of Persons Affected by Leprosy and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, Yohei Sasakawa. Under his leadership, the Nippon Foundation has long been supporting WHO; it provided funding for WHO to distribute multidrug therapy free of charge between 1995 and 1999. That aid was key to achieving the global elimination of Hansen’s disease as a public health problem (defined as a registered prevalence of less than 1 case for every 10,000 persons) in 2000. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Yohei Sasakawa started to draw attention to stigmatization as a social determinant of Hansen’s disease. The Nippon Foundation joined forces with the Government of Japan in raising the issue at the United Nations and has been promoting annual global appeals to end stigma and discrimination since 2006. One important strategy pursued by the Sasakawa Health Foundation is the empowerment of grass-roots organizations of persons affected by Hansen’s disease worldwide with the provision of funding and capacity-building. In 2019, the Foundation sponsored the first Global Forum of People’s Organizations on Hansen’s Disease.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:00 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
Happy to Have New Deaf Student at U.S. University Under The Nippon Foundation’s Scholarship Program [2020年08月14日(Fri)]
From right, Ms. Megumi Fukushima, Mr. Hiroto Ohnishi, the author and Ms. Ayano Yamamoto at The Nippon Foundation on July 17, 2020. Mr. Ohnishi is to be enrolled as an exchange student under our scholarship program at Gallaudet University in Washington, where Ms. Fukushima and Ms. Yamamoto also studied.

The Nippon Foundation has been working earnestly for some years to inspire and encourage deaf and hard-of-hearing people around the world to engage in social activities to advance their lives and opportunities, and lead the development of the deaf community in their countries.

Thus I was very happy to welcome to The Nippon Foundation a new Japanese deaf exchange student who is going to study at an American university under our scholarship program.

Mr. Hiroto Ohnishi will be enrolled in the Master of Arts program in the Department of Education at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., in the United States, which is the premier institution of learning, teaching and research for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. 

Having served as president of the Japan Deaf Student Association (JDSA) for two years, he is pursuing his M.A. degree in the advanced studies program on English education for deaf children and the development of English educational materials. 

I have visited Gallaudet University numerous times, meeting with so many talented students from across the world.

Also joining us at the July 17 meeting were two Japanese alumnae who studied at the university under our scholarship program. 

Ms. Ayano Yamamoto earned her M.A. in deaf education at Gallaudet. In partnership with The Nippon Foundation, she is now working at Gunma University, north of Tokyo, under a program to train specialists in bilingual academic sign language interpretation.

Ms. Megumi Fukushima, who completed the International Special Student Program (ISSP) at Gallaudet, is aspiring to become an architect to design buildings for the deaf. But unable to conduct research for her Master thesis due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, she is now working at an architectural firm.

The Nippon Foundation has established two scholarship programs at Gallaudet University for deaf and hard-of-hearing students mainly from developing countries−the Sasakawa International Scholarship created in 1993 and the World Deaf Leadership Scholarship in 2003.

So far, the programs have produced 223 alumni who are now working actively to improve the lives and socio-economic status of the deaf and hard-of-hearing in their home countries, including Argentina, China, Mongolia, India, Sri Lanka, Iran, Nigeria, Ghana, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Nepal, Fiji, Egypt, Kenya, Mali, Jamaica, Chile and Japan.

The foundation also has a fellowship program at another American university, the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology, the world’s first and largest technological college for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. It has produced 178 alumni from countries and regions such as Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, China, Hong Kong, India, Nepal, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Georgia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Canada, Guatemala, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica.

Mr. Onishi said that due to the COVID-19 outbreak, he is unable to go to the United States for the time being, making it likely that he will take online classes during the fall semester. “Be patient,” I told him. “I hope you will be able to go to the U.S. sooner rather than later.”

The two ladies said they dream of establishing a global network of deaf and hard-of-hearing people by connecting with Sasakawa scholarship alumni from all over the world.

It was a brief but pleasant meeting that left me rejuvenated. 
The Nippon Foundation to Give 2.26 Billion Yen to Help People Battered by Floods, Mudslides in Kyushu [2020年08月12日(Wed)]
The Nippon Foundation has decided to provide 2.26 billion yen ($2.15 million) in emergency support for people hit by floods and landslides unleashed by torrential rains on the southwestern island of Kyushu and other parts of Japan in July. The money will also be used to help NPOs and volunteer organizations engage in cleanup and recovery operations in these flood-ravaged areas.

As the first part of our four-point assistance, announced on July 27, the foundation has earmarked 210 million yen for installing temporary, hygienic toilets at evacuation centers and care facilities, and providing elderly people, those with disabilities, young children, and others who need special consideration with foldaway beds and partitions as well as fans to combat heatwaves. Besides, our relief will include payment of condolence money (100,000 yen per person) to the family members of those who died as a result of flooding and landslides. In hardest-hit Kumamoto Prefecture in Kyushu, we started installing hygienic toilets at shelter centers early in July with 41 units already set up in Hitoyoshi City, Kuma Village and Taragi Town as of July 20.

Second, the foundation will assist NPOs and volunteer organizations by supplying up to 1 million yen each for their cleanup and recovery activities. Those with personnel with specialist skills or expertise, including people licensed to operate heavy equipment, will be given 3 million yen each. A total of 750 million yen has been set aside for this relief project.

To avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus, no volunteers from other prefectures had initially been dispatched. But at the request of Kuma Village, the foundation decided to send 30 volunteers with specialist skills to run heavy equipment, including power shovels, from outside prefectures, starting on August 8.

In a bid to mitigate COVID-19 infections, we will provide NPOs and volunteer organizations with personal protective gear such as face masks, disinfectants and gowns as well as disaster response showers equipped with water purifying systems, and washbowls.

Third, we are providing 100 million yen for supplying educational materials, including books, physical education equipment and musical instruments, for nurseries, kindergartens, primary, middle and high schools, and universities that were flooded. Assistance is to be requested by principals, but representatives of PTAs (Parent-Teacher Associations) can also apply.

Finally, we earmarked 1.2 billion yen to help flooded care homes and other facilities by providing grants of 1 to 3 million yen each to continue operations, replacing damaged vehicles and equipment, and repairing damaged buildings and facilities.

The Nippon Foundation has started to accept donations from the public to support those battered by floods and landslides in Kyushu and other parts of Japan. With administrative or other indirect costs being borne by us, the entire amount of all donations received will be used to support the clean-up and recovery efforts in those hard-hit areas.

For details regarding donations, please refer to The Nippon Foundation’s website
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 11:31 | IN THE CAUSE OF LIFE | URL | comment(0)
The Nippon Foundation Completes Makeshift Facilities with 250 Beds for COVID-19 Patients [2020年08月07日(Fri)]
The Nippon Foundation Para Arena which houses 100 private rooms for COVID-19 patients is seen on the left, and 14 prefabricated houses with 150 beds and a large air-conditioned tent for doctors and nurses on the right.

The Nippon Foundation has completed 2 billion yen ($19 million) makeshift facilities in Odaiba on Tokyo Bay with 250 beds for novel coronavirus patients with minor or no symptoms.  

The facilities shown to the media on July 30 included 14 prefabricated houses with a total of 140 20-square-meter air-conditioned private rooms each with a television set, refrigerator and laundry facilities. Built in a parking lot of the Museum of Maritime Science, operated by our partner organization, 10 out of the 140 rooms will have two beds so as to accommodate members of the same family who have contracted the virus.  

In May, the foundation already completed 100 10-square-meter private rooms in The Nippon Foundation Para Arena, a dedicated para sports gymnasium, in the same compound. Showers and toilets were built outside. If necessary, we are to ready to increase to 600 the total number of beds available at these facilities.

Besides, we set up a large air-conditioned tent where doctors and nurses will stand by. Patients can summon nursing staff via a nurse call system from their rooms. 

These facilities are designed to free up hospital beds for severely ill and high-risk patients and remove some of the strain on hospitals now seen as likely to become overcrowded with COVID-19 patients.

We are currently in consultation with officials of the Tokyo metropolitan government to work out operational details, including when to start running the facilities.

Given a rapid increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases in Tokyo and the whole nation, it is my sincere hope that these facilities will be used without delay.

I believe the Odaiba facilities, named The Nippon Foundation Disaster Emergency Support Center, will help the nation’s capital combat not only a second and third wave of coronavirus infections with no vaccine or effective treatments developed yet, but also cope with a major disaster such as a huge earthquake, typhoon or other natural calamity hitting Japan simultaneously with a new outbreak of COVID-19.

The foundation is undertaking this project, first announced in early April, as the first of our three-phase initiatives in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the second phase, we have launched a 500 million yen project to help transport to and from hospital coronavirus patients with mild symptoms, and doctors and nurses working around the clock to combat COVID-19. 

We have teamed up with major taxi operator Nihon Kotsu Co. to lease up to 100 specially designed vehicles for transporting COVID-19 patients with slight symptoms to and from hospital. To prevent airborne droplets from the patient reaching the driver, the interior of the vehicle is divided into two compartments. A fan will continuously extract air from the rear compartment.

The foundation has also distributed taxi vouchers worth up to one million yen to each of 37 medical institutions in Tokyo that are treating COVID-19 patients. They are being used by doctors and nurses when they go to and from hospital.

As our third anti-COVID-19 project, the foundation has accepted requests from 128 emergency medical service hospitals in 36 prefectures across the nation, now taking care of severely ill and high-risk patients, for a total of 4.98 billion yen in grants to help them beef up facilities and equipment.

The money will be used to purchase ventilators, negative pressure clean booths, infection control clean partitions, defibrillators, PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing equipment, antigen test devices, satellite antenna systems for disaster management, and mobile radiography equipment as well as “Doctor Cars” (a.k.a. “rapid response cars”) with a full inventory of medical equipment and supplies, including ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation).

The Nippon Foundation is now accepting donations from the public to support these initiatives to combat the unprecedented pandemic. With administrative or other indirect costs being borne by us, the entire amount of all donations received will be used to support the activities of doctors, nurses, volunteers, and others engaged in front-line activities to mitigate the spread of infection.

For details regarding donations, please refer to The Nippon Foundation’s website

Prefabricated houses with a total of 140 20-square-meter air-conditioned private rooms built in a parking lot of the Museum of Maritime Science. Ten out of the 140 rooms will have two beds so as to accommodate members of the same family who have contracted the virus.  
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:58 | IN THE CAUSE OF LIFE | URL | comment(0)
Japanese Youths Divided Over Olympics, Paralympics Amid Uncertainty Over COVID-19 [2020年08月04日(Tue)]

Awareness Survey of 18-Year-Olds on Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games Conducted by The Nippon Foundation on July 3-5, 2020:

“Do you believe the Games should be held as currently scheduled?”

It is now about one year to go until the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics Games, which have been rescheduled to start in the summer of 2021 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. At the moment, no one can say for sure as to when the novel coronavirus will be conquered.

Is it even possible to hold the Summer Games? Should they be cancelled−and what impact would that have? According to a nationwide online survey conducted by The Nippon Foundation, Japanese youths were split over the fate of the Tokyo Games, reflecting uncertainty over how the unprecedented coronavirus crisis will play out.

The poll, carried out for three days from July 3 covering 1,000 Japanese aged between 17 and 19, found that less than half of the respondents (46.5%) said they wanted to see the Olympics and Paralympics held in 2021 either “as scheduled” or in a “simplified format.”

On the other hand, one in three (33.8%) said the re-arranged Games should be postponed further either for another year or to 2024 or later. Nearly one in five (19.7%) said the events should be canceled outright.

The differences of opinions resulted primarily from how they look at the future of the pandemic, as indicated in their comments such as: “The pandemic will have been contained by July 2021,” “The virus will not have been conquered in a year or two,” “We don’t know when a vaccine will be developed,” “It is appropriate to delay the Games to 2024 or later, considering we will have to wait for the commercialization of a vaccine.”

Asked how the Games should be simplified on the assumption they are held, the respondents insisted that the number of spectators should be limited and ticket sales curtailed (26.2%), that opening and closing ceremonies be downsized (26.0%), that events related to the Olympic and Paralympic Games should be cut back or cancelled (8.8%), and that the Olympic torch relay be called off (5.7%).

Regarding what Tokyo needs to do to prepare for successful Games in 2021, nearly three in four (74.0%) cited measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Queried on what should be done to mitigate the spread of the virus, respondents called for holding the Games in a way to avoid the so-called “Three Cs”−Closed spaces, Crowded places, and Close-contact settings (68.9%), developing and spreading a vaccine or effective treatments of the virus (46.3%), and implementing enhanced PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing for COVID-19 (34.1%) for visitors upon their arrival in Japan. 

Asked whether they are looking forward to the Olympics and/or Paralympics, a majority of the respondents (55.5%) answered in the affirmative. But this represented a decrease of 13.00 percentage points from a survey a year earlier, which can be taken as a sign of declining interest among young Japanese in the summer events due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Concerning what impact it would have should the events be cancelled, a majority (52%) said it would help lessen the risk of further spread of the disease, while others worried about the negative impacts, such as loss of economic benefits from the Games (47%) and lowered motivation of athletes (39%).

When the coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, China, last December, few people expected the pandemic to spread this far. With so many things remaining unknown about the virus even now, there is no knowing what the situation will look like in the summer of 2021.

Were the Olympics and Paralympics to be cancelled, it would have immeasurable economic and social impacts on not only athletes and organizers, but also on the whole of society, including companies and hotels that have invested heavily in preparation for the events.

The results of the survey seem to have mirrored such unrest and anxieties entertained by Japanese youth.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 15:36 | A FUTURE FOR YOUTH | URL | comment(0)