YuYu Interview Mitsuhiro Iwamoto

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In his early childhood, his eyesight was deteriorating. To receive his elementary education, he had to attend a school for the blind. He was almost overwhelmed by the harshness of his destiny. When he was sixteen, he put himself face-to-face with his worry, anger, and fear for the things he was losing, and said to himself, “Should I live in hope, with a forward-looking attitude, or live in despair, cursing my adversity? Either way, I have to live my life.”After weeping all through the night, he finally moved on to a new chapter of his life, feeling as if there had been a ray of light coming down from Heaven. While pursuing a career as a teacher of acupuncture and physical therapy, he married a very nice woman and discovered the world of yacht sailing. Having formed a team to participate in the 2009 IFDS World Blind Sailing Championship, taking place in New Zealand next March, he’s training and preparing for the competition while looking for sponsors to support him in pursuit of his dream.


—— Can you tell us about the 2009 IFDS World Blind Sailing Championship?

97_iwamoto_1.jpgIt’s an international event hosted by the International Association for Disabled Sailing (“IFDS”), in which the blind and the sighted from all over the world team up to compete.  Next year’s competition is the seventh and it will take place from March 13th -21st at Lake Rotorua, which is located in the central North Island of New Zealand. I’m currently preparing for my participation in that competition.

The biggest hurdle is raising money. I would appreciate it very much if some company or individual could sponsor my participation in the competition.


—— How does the competition work?

A sailing team consists of four crew members. Two are sighted and the other two are blind. The helmsman, who steers the yacht, and the mainsheet trimmer, who handles the mainsail, are the blind crew. The sighted skipper, who orally describes the surrounding conditions, and the jib sheet trimmer, who handles the jib sail, are the sighted crew.  This means the blind crew holds important positions in the operation of the yacht.  I’m participating in this world championship as a personal challenge, because there is no prize money for the winner. (Laughter)


—— When did you discover sailing?

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2004 All Japan Blind Sailing Championship
It was in 2002. I was working as a teacher at the School of Acupuncture and Manual Therapy for the Visually Impaired at the University of Tsukuba. One of my wife’s hobbies was yacht sailing, so we looked for an opportunity to enjoy it together. Then we found “Yacht Aid Chiba” that offered opportunities for the blind and the sighted to enjoy sailing together. They supported disabled sailing based in Inage Yacht Harbor in the city of Chiba, so we moved to Chiba from Tokyo to join the organization. So, it was my wife that introduced me to sailing.


—— How did you meet your wife? 

When I was a student at Acupuncture and Physical Therapy Teacher Training School of the University of Tsukuba, I took two years off from school to study at San Francisco State University on a scholarship. After two years, I went back to Japan and started going to an English conversation school. I met my wife there. She was born in the U.S. and her father was an Air Force physician. She lived in Japan for three years when she was little. She now speaks conversational Japanese with no problems.

Two years after we met, she came back to the States and we continued our long-distance relationship while she was in the U.S. and I was in Japan. We married in 1996, but our parents on both sides were against it.  It was very difficult. I heard that her parents, especially her mother, strongly opposed our marriage because of my peculiarity and negative aspect -- that is, being Japanese and blind. So did my parents. I had told them I would open a clinic in Kumamoto, my hometown, and they were comfortable with that idea. Then I surprised them by saying I would go to Tokyo to become a teacher. Then I astonished them by telling them my intention to study in San Francisco, and now what? Marriage to an American woman? I didn’t have to cut myself off from my parents, because they finally gave in and we were married.

 

——  How did your visual impairment progress?

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Preparing for the 2009 IFDS World Blind Sailing Championship
It’s congenital and we don’t know why it happened. When I was little, I had amblyopia but was still able to see. When I was in junior high, my vision was about 20/200, but since then, it has gradually deteriorated. I am barely able to see now. As my eyesight gradually worsened, I would, while just walking, hit my body on something that I only used to bump against while running. I also started losing my footing while going up or down stairs. I accumulated feelings of shock every time I experienced such a difficulty. All these happened during my adolescence, so I was not mature enough to accept my disability, accusing my parents of having me, like, “Why was I born?” “Why did you have me?”

My late father used to apologize to me, and my mother still does, saying “We are sorry that I gave birth to you as a blind person. We don’t even have anything to leave to you....” But I was able to go to Tokyo and come to the U.S., all because of my blindness.  I had the opportunity to discover sailing for the same reason.


—— Can you tell us about the turning point of your life? 

On a hot summer day, I changed my negative thinking into positive thinking. I was sixteen. That very moment was the turning point of my life.“Should I live in despair, always worrying about my problems, or live in hope, with a forward-looking attitude?” Which to choose? I asked myself over and over. Can I suppress my resentment for being unable to do the things that I used to do with no problems? Can I overcome my strong unwillingness to use a cane? I once thought about throwing myself into the Amakusa sea.  Worried, upset, and fearful for the things I was losing, I cried through the night. But, when my tears dried up, I was able to get myself under control. It was as if a ray of light had come down from Heaven. Then I started thinking that if I could transform suffering into positive action, it would become a force for life.


—— Can you share an unforgettable experience with us?

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 “If you transform suffering into positive action, it becomes a force for life”
I have this heroic story about what happened during my studies in San Francisco. One day, when I was getting on the subway, someone helped me walk around and said, “I can help you buy a ticket, so give me your wallet.” “Thank you, but I can buy my ticket by myself,” I said, declining his offer. Then the man said in a strong tone, “Give me your wallet anyway!” It was an odd moment and he took my wallet out of my pocket.  Besides the money, I had something important to me which an acquaintance had asked me to take care. I can’t let the robber take that, I thought. I actually know judo even though I’m not very big.  Although I was afraid, I grabbed the back of his shirt while he was trying to run away. Then, I pulled him towards me, threw him with a major outer reaping throw, and jumped on top of him, shouting “Help!”  Fortunately, the police came right away to witness a blind Japanese man who wrestled a robber to the ground with judo.... It must have made funny news. (Laughter) Although I did it instinctively, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, taking account of the risk. I shouldn’t have done that. (Laughter)


—— Do you have a message for people today?

I studied the basic theories of psychology while working as a teacher. In the meantime, I learned that many people have a lot of worries. I once thought about killing myself just like many others, but I can say this now. If you change your negative thinking into positive thinking, you can meet nice people and receive support from many people. A wonderful life is waiting for you. I think there are some people in the U.S. who are not satisfied with their current situations. They may say, “I left Japan with my heart full of hope, but my life here is different from what I imagined,” or “I’m disappointed with what I’m doing here.” But I want to tell these people that they can change the direction their lives are going in. It all depends on how they look at, deal with, and understand things in life. You as a sighted sailor can make it possible for me to operate the yacht by taking the role of sighted skipper and telling me about the surrounding conditions. You can take such an important role, but why do you want to kill yourself? -- I want to continue sending people this message. 

In the U.S., there is a blind mountain climber who has successfully reached the summit of Mount Everest. It was the result of climbing with sighted climbers. I believe “those who cannot see” and “those who can see” can really work together through yacht sailing too. I believe it’s possible if people who share this belief contact us through the mass media.


—— What is your dream for the future?

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With Osaka Kitchen owner & chef, Takashi Kitamura (at right), another sailor and supporter
Sailing across the Pacific Ocean is my ultimate dream. When we are at sea, race or ethnicity doesn’t matter, and we -- the sighted and the blind -- are all in the same boat. Through the sailing experience, the blind can send a warm message to the sighted.

Another big dream of mine is to form an organization that helps out people who have lost meaning in their life or are suffering through depression because of their problems. I want to give such people hope by providing them the opportunity to come to San Diego from Japan to experience sailing.

My wife is a big part of my life. She understands my selfish desire to continue sailing. We have a young daughter and my wife is busy taking care of her. So my wife can’t spare time to sail, but she doesn’t mind driving me to the harbor when I have practice. I’m very grateful to her. On the weekends, we’ll have a relaxing family time on a yacht in San Diego.... That’s another dream for the future. For me, San Diego is my third hometown, following Kumamoto and Tokyo.


Iwamoto Mitsuhiro ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

Mr. Iwamoto was born on December 27, 1966 in Amakusa (formerly Ushibuka), Kumamoto Prefecture. In his early childhood, his eyesight deteriorated from congenital visual impairment. To receive elementary education, he attended a school for the blind. Later, he studied acupuncture and manual therapy in the Acupuncture and Massage Training Course at Kumamoto Prefectural School for the Blind and graduated in 1988. From 1989 to 1991, he studied English at San Francisco State University on a scholarship. In1992, he graduated from Acupuncture and Physical Therapy Teacher Training School of the University of Tsukuba. From 1992 to 2006, while working as a teacher at the School of Acupuncture and Manual Therapy for the Visually Impaired at the University of Tsukuba, he studied psychology taking night classes at Aoyama Gakuin University. In 2002, he discovered Yacht Aid Chiba whose mission is to offer opportunities for the disabled and the sighted to enjoy sailing together. Subsequently, he and his wife moved to Chiba from Tokyo to join the organization. Hooked on yacht sailing, he is greatly inspired by the marine adventurer Kenichi Horie as well as Minoru Saito, the oldest person to have completed a solo nonstop voyage around the world at the age of 71. Mr. Iwamoto currently lives in San Diego with his wife, Karen, their daughter, Leena (3), and his guide dog, Tawny. He is now getting ready for his participation in the 2009 IFDS World Blind Sailing Championship that will take place in New Zealand next March.

Zodiac Sign: Capricorn
Blood Type: O
Activities to Stay Healthy: Swimming, muscle training
Hobbies: Yacht sailing, snow skiing
Expert at: (Judging people’s personalities, etc. by their voices) *
Favorite Type of Music: Jazz
Favorite Karaoke Song: “Kanpai” by Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi
Favorite Food: Sashimi, Sushi
Least Favorite Food: Natto (fermented soybeans)
Club Activities in School: Ham radio, judo, track and field
Influential Person in Life: Marine adventurer Kenichi Horie
Favorite Book: “Ningen Damono” by poet Mitsuo Aida


For more information about the Championship, please visit:
http://www.2009worldblindsailingnz.com .
Participating in the IFDS Championship costs each person $20,000 and to cover this expense Mr. Iwamoto is relying on donations. If you would like to support his participation, please send a check payable to Mr. Mitsuhiro Iwamoto at the mailing address below.
At some future point, we will list the donor names on the Yu Yu website.
San Diego Yu Yu, 4655 Ruffner St., #290, San Diego, CA 92111
 

(05-16-2008 issue)