VOX POPULI: ALS will not prevent the academic from transmitting the reality of his fight

A reader of this column gave me a book, highly recommending it in an attached letter.

Written by 76-year-old Akihide Tanikawa, who taught at the University of Chiba and the University of Tsukuba, the book moved me so much that I visited him at his home.

After his retirement, he devoted himself to his hobby of toponymy research.

But four years ago he suffered from severe anorexia, losing 10 kilograms in just one week.

Before long, he was tripping and falling.

Tanikawa was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurodegenerative disease, which results in loss of muscle control.

He wrote about his experience in a book called “ALS wo Ikiru” (Living with ALS).

“His abilities to read, write and hear, as well as his memory, were not affected at all,” said his wife, Noriko, 75.

As he struggles to speak, Noriko serves as his “interpreter” with a handmade acrylic board that shows the Japanese syllabary and numerals “kana”, among other symbols.

He looks at them, one by one, and Noriko follows his gaze and reads each symbol.

“I want to write a book that will benefit future generations – a story of my battle with the disease that makes me so want to live,” Tanikawa told me via the communication board.

“Pedagogy was the first act of my life,” he notes. “The search for toponymy was the second. Now I am in the third act, conveying the realities of ALS.

British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who died four years ago, said: “Although I can’t move and have to speak via a computer, in my mind I am free.”

After developing ALS in his twenties, he traveled the world in a wheelchair. He continued to speak about the mysteries of the universe through an artificial voice and inspired many people.

Tanikawa, too, is extraordinarily active.

Using a special computer, he has completed his second book on ALS and is also sending words of support for statements calling for a Russian ceasefire in Ukraine.

I was greatly encouraged by his passionate words, which came to me from behind the transparent panel.

–The Asahi Shimbun, June 1

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that covers a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran writers from Asahi Shimbun, the column offers helpful perspectives and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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