Participant - Mr. Mitsunobu Hirata
Since this was my first visit overseas, I was quite nervous. Not knowing what was waiting for me, I left with my heart fluttering with anticipation and full of expectations.
I was deeply moved by the very warm welcome our group received at the airport in Christchurch upon arrival. I was also pleasantly surprised by the number of people there to greet us. According to our itinerary, we were scheduled to do some local sightseeing right after arrival. However, since we were pretty tired after our long trip, I was very happy when our hosts agreed to take us directly to our hotel so that we could get a little rest. On the way to the hotel, looking out of the car window, I was surprised as to how much greenery Christchurch had compared to Japan.
After we checked in to our hotel, I was also surprised and pleased as to how spacious my room was. However, I did notice that the shower head was fixed kind of high up so I was a little worried as to how well I would be able to use it. In fact, it was too high for me to reach so I had to sort of improvise and fill up a bowl with hot water from the bathroom sink and use that to bathe.
As the days passed, I become a little more use to the local way of life. Since our hotel was a little far from the center of town, it was a little hard to go out on my own once our sister city committee friends who were serving as our hosts left us for the day. This was especially a problem around dinner time. We often wanted to go out as a group for dinner but since there were not many restaurants near our hotel, we had to settle for the hotel restaurant. The hotel restaurant was quite nice but it did become a little boring eating their night after night. Overall, I felt that New Zealand food was quite delicious.
Part of my program involved participating in a tennis tournament for disabled people. Therefore, Mr. Oshima, the other disabled participant in our group, and I often were following different schedules. The atmosphere at the tennis tournament was very different from that of the tournaments back home and this was a very valuable experience for me. Even though I was not able to communicate very well with the other participants in English, I was able to have a fun time communicating with then in other ways. I was also overjoyed when the President and Vice President of Independent Fisheries came to watch my matches and cheer for me. I also had a wonderful time at my homestay host Graham's house and really enjoyed the barbeque party he and wife held for me.
The visit to Hamner Springs was nice, but the ride there was a little uncomfortable. Although our hosts had arranged a car for us, since the seat was a little too high, it took quite an effort to get in and out of the car and was pretty inconvenient. I was surprised as to how different Hamner Springs was from a Japanese hot spring. People wore bathing suits and there were all different kinds of pools. Some of the pools even had cool water in them.
I was really impressed with and felt first hand how advanced New Zealand is regarding barrier free facilities. Some of the pools at Hamner Springs had special lifts for people using wheel chairs. Most of the stores and shops had wide entrances and ramps that made getting around easy. Most of the restaurants and shopping malls had special washrooms for disabled people. Seeing and experience all this first hand, made me realize how far behind Japan is in this area．Often in Japan, when you ask at a store or shop about such things you are just simply told that they do not have one.
I really felt that New Zealand was a wonderful place were disabled person could freely get around like everyone else and think it would be truly great if Japan could learn from New Zealand’s example and work on improving things in for disabled persons in the future.