Sunday, 7 November 2010

Conductive Education and Japan

What do I know?

The recent news of the death of Masanao Murai was reminder of how little is known of what and his associates have been doing in Japan over the years.

When I first went to the State Institute in Budapest, in 1984, the Japanese presence was very apparent, not solely as personified in four young men in training there but pointed out to me – with considerable personal satisfaction and more than once – by Mária Hári. These student-conductors following the training course to become conductors, following an initial year to learn Hungarian,

An unlikely start

The story as Mária Hári told it at the time was that some years before, in 1977 or 1978, without any forewarning, she had received a phone call from some official to tell her that somebody called Masanao Murai, a medical doctor from Japan, was at Budapest's Ferihegy Airport where he was causing considerable consternation.

Remember, this was in the late nineteen-seventies, when hardly anyone outside Hungary had ever heard of Conductive Education and – just as importantly – nor had most people inside that country either. Remember too that Hungary was then an Iron Curtain 'satellite', rigorously controlled, particularly over who came into the country.

Masanao Murai, who spoke no Hungarian and no English either, had – as I was told – just turned up. He said that he was going to the State Institute. And he had with him a small party of Japanese children with cerebral palsy. Faced with this wholly implausible and unprecedented situation at its one international airport, the Hungarian authorities brought in the people at the Japanese Embassy, who found themselves at an equal loss about to what to do. Eventually, someone rang Mária and asked her to take the children in for the night. She agreed, and they stayed for a few weeks (again, I cannot remember the exact details) while things were sorted out.

The upshot was that Masanao Murai eventually took the children back to Japan, and from 1979 four young Japanese men trained to become conductors..

No doubt those who were personally involved in these events of some thirty years ago could tell the story better (and more accurately) than I, and there is doubtless documentation somewhere. Nonetheless, though I have heard the tale several times, I suspect that it will not be that widely known – and it certainly bears retelling. So does what Mária told me about those events quite a few years later..

She reminded me that the Hungarian Ministry of Education (like the Ministry of Health before it) had been less than enamoured of the State Institute. Indeed it had wanted to close the place down. She had fought against this tooth and nail, by whatever means she could, particularly by drawing the Party against the Ministry. By the 1978, however, the Institute's survival was touch and go and the Ministry was setting up a damning expert report to finish the matter. Then Masanao Murai turned up at Ferihegy, the Japanese Embassy got involved, there were positive discussions with representatives of a Western government, and  the prospect of that magic ingredient in the old Communist states – valuta (exchangeable currency). It was enough to tip the balance of power Mária's way, and the State Institute was saved... for the time being. This is what she told me, anyway.

State bureaucracies, however, can and do bide their time. Another damning report was set in motion, and the Institute was again at real risk of closure. Then up turned a small group of people from a Western country, their Embassy, was involved and (coincidentally) a junior minister from their health ministry visited the State Institute, with a big splash in a national newspaper back home... and vast sums of valuta started being talked about. Within little more than a year, the BBC had arrived to scout out a major documentary film – after which, as they say, the rest is history!

People often used to ask me how it was that Mária Hári was so accepting of me, so willing to collaborate. – more so than, with one exception, anyone who had ever visited before. Surely they would say, she must have been very fond of you.

Well, maybe.

That exception, was Masanao Murai. She was very fond of him too.

What happened next in Japan?

The young men qualified as conductors and returned to Japan to work for Masanao Murai at the Warashibe Institute in Osaka. And ever since, people arguing Conductive Education's international plausibility have included Japan in a list of 'countries that do Conductive Education'.

But what is done in terms of Conductive Education in Japan, quantitatively or qualitatively? I have to admit to having no idea. Nor I suspect has anybody else outside that country, and possibly precious few inside it either. What a shame.

I met Masanao Murai a few times at conferences etc. over the years but we had no language in common and never held a conversation. Along the way, I picked up by various means that was involved in martial arts for the disabled, and horse riding ('hippotherapy'), and that he blended his Conductive Education into both. I understood that in time his institution ceased to provide for children and switched to adults, those with primarily intellectual rather than motor disabilities. In 1993, he hosted the third International Pető Congress (as such events were was called in those days) but, as far as I could tell, nobody who visited Warashibe in connection with that event described the work there. He may or may not have published extensively in Japanese, but I have no access to this if he did.

Now he is gone. Presumably the services that he established will remain. Perhaps not. Maybe there is a message (or two) here for us all.

Any further information?

If one does not know Japanese, the Internet is largely a closed book on questions about Masanao Murai and Conductive Education in Japan.

Here is a brief statement about him (though without mention of Conductive Education) –

In 1991, Masanao Murai, a medical doctor, enlisted RDA’s cooperation to launch therapeutic riding activities at the Urakawa Warashibe Home, a facility belonging to Warashibe-Kai, a social welfare organization involved in activities for people with severe disabilities. Dr. Murai also established a school for training therapeutic riding instructors in 1998 in Hidaka, Hokkaido.

Here is an intriguing snippet published on line last year, by the Japanese Embassy in Budapest –

Anniversary publication of the Warashibe Institute that introduced the Pető-method in Japan
The book was published on the 30th anniversary of the Warashibe Gakuen, founded by Mr. MURAI Masanao. He has combined the famous Pető-method for children of motor disorders with traditional Japanese martial arts and judo with amazing results.

Was this published in Japanese, or Hungarian, or even English?

And I hear that there will be a poster presentation from the Warashibe Institute, along with three delegates from Japan, at the forthcoming World Congress in Hong Kong.

Maybe it is not too late to learn more.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Andrew Sutton, here margara millan from jiutepec, mexico. Do you know more about CE in Japan? Did these delegates participate in HK??