I’d like to introduce kenshi247 readers to someone who has played a large part in my kendo life over the last three years: Kubota Suzunosuke. He was a key member of my high school kendo club, eventually becomng the club captain and passing his 3 dan when he was still just 17. Unfortuanately, on January 30th 2013, he passed away, so you will never be able to meet or do kendo with him. However, like I have done, I believe there is something you can learn from him by knowing a little bit about how he lived his life.
In a post that is completely different from my normal content, I would like to tell you something of his story here today, but rather than use my words, I’ll do so by translating a couple of pieces that were published in the Sankei Shinbun on February 18th 2013, adding in a couple of comments for clarification here and there (I will also add a personal section at the end). The article also reached the top of yahoo.jp news topics on that day. Of course, because I want to respect the privacy of his family, I wont go into too many extra details.
Please note that I did get his parents permission to publish this English translation online.
I hope you can find something inspiring in his story.
(Front page of the Sankei Shinbun, February 18th 2013)
A life dedicated to children with terminal illness: School lessons while hospitalised
The high school boy who fought to establish a system to allow hospitalised children take normal school classes while himself battling ill health passed away – Osaka prefectural Otemae high school 3rd year student, Kubota Suzunosuke (18).
Although still very sick with a Ewing’s sarcoma (a type of bone cancer) he managed to sit the (very tough) national university exams.
Right up until he took his last breathe on January 30th (2013) he would give the thumbs up to the people around his bed (friends, family, hospital staff) and say “ganbaru” (“Ill do my best”). Right until the end he never gave up on his dream of going to university.
(text by Takahashi Mayuko)
A maignant Ewing’s sarcoma tumour is said to affect 4 people in every million. His cancer symptoms first appeared when he was a 2nd year junior high school student (about 14yrs old). After repeatedly undergoing painful medical treatment, even to the extent of having some bones removed, he even managed to defeat two relapses (all in all, he spent 10 months in hospital).
Kubota said that the science classes he took while hopitalised at that time were “something I will never forget” (i.e. the classes were indespinsible to him). This type of system (taking school lessons while hospitalised) didn’t exist for high school students, so he – based on his experience at junior high school and worrying about falling behind in his study – sent a request in January 2012 to Osaka City to establish such a system. The reply from Osaka major Hashimoto Toru was “If the government cant even assist you alone, then what’s the government for anyway?”
In April of the same year (3 months after the original email) Osaka prefecture created a new system where they would dispatch temp-teachers to teach hospitalised high school students. Including Kubota, about 8 students have thus far used the service.
The following month, in May 2012, another malignant tumour was found, and he was given between 3 months and 1/2 a year to live.
In November he said “I want to do something for people that are going to be hospitalised in the future, or for people who will undero even more painful experiences than me” and he started petitioning for medical aid/help for children who are afflicted with unknown illnesses (in Japan, if you have an unknown disease, or something not thought of as important by the country, you will recieve no governmental aid).
Even while his condition became severe, and with his strong desire to go to university, on January 19th and 20th (2013) he sat the national university examinations. After this his condition suddenly changed for the worse, and the door on his short life closed.
(Page 23 of the Sankei Shinbun, February 18th 2013)
“Chasing his dream”
“School lessons while hospitalised”
“Earnestly sitting national university exams depsite relapse”
3rd year Osaka prefectural Otemae high school student Kubota Suzunosuke (18) from Asahi-ku passed away on the 30th of January 2013 from cancer.
“Even if you have a good idea about something, if you dont act then nothing will come of it” – this is what he said regarding his desire to improve the situation of terminally ill high school students who, while hospitalised, are denied study help from the government. His desire to help students like this arose from his own personal experience. While working towards this he continued to do his own school study. Although he passed away too early, he managed to pass on this “dream” and “desire” to many people.
“You gave me power” – Hashimoto Toru, Osaka city mayor
Last January (2012), during a temporary lull in his illness where he was allowed to leave the hospital, he sent an email to Osaka City petitioning for change in the study situation of hospitalised high school students. After this he would go into hospital about once a week while continuing to attend school. Because he didnt want to leave school during class to go to the hospital (i.e. he strongly desired to study), he would go at lunch time or after school. Despite his mother saying “You dont have to push yourself so hard!” he would say “Im going back” and return to school to help the kendo club (he was the captain). But on the evening of the 20th of May he experienced pain in his chest: the cancer was back. The verdict was 3-6 months to live.
He never gave up on his dream or neglected his learning. The teachers that visited him in school would proactively ask “What subjects do you want to study?” and when he sat tests at school he was attached to two small mobile medical devices that would adminster pain killers.
When his parents were told that he had only a short time left, they never told him. His mother said “I think he knew himself. He started to consider what he could do to help other patients around the world.”
At the end of the year his condition started to take a turn for the worse. Even though he was unable to stand or ingest food anymore, he (just before he passed away) sat the national university enterance exams on the 19th and 20th of January 2013. A special room was prepared for him and he did the exams in a special wheelchair. After each exam was finished he was able to lie down; using all the power that he had, he completed all of the tests.
At this time, it became difficult for him to say anything. The friends that visited him were anxious about his situation and spoke kindly to him. His classmates said “lets graduate together!” which enabled him to fight harder. He was looking forward to the graduation ceremony on the 1st of March. Even the day before he passed away he mustered up all his remaining strength, stuck one thumb up, and said “ganbaru” (“I’ll do my best“).
At the wake held on the 3rd of February, over 1000 people attended. At the funeral service, a message from Osaka mayor Hashimoto Toru was read: “Your proposal to start a special teaching system for hospitalised high school students has become reality. This is a ray of hope for them. When I think of how much you tried your best, I feel energised.”
His kendo club friends said “The image of you taking part in shiai while still fighting such a serious illness will always remain in our hearts.” (The picture used at the top of the article is Suzunosuke competing in his last ever shiai before retiring. This was in June 2012.)
The school is preparing a high school graduation certificate to be given out during the graduation ceremony. Also, (through Suzunosukes effort) Otemae high school will be one of the areas holding this years charity event Relay for Life.
His father Kazuo said that he was looking forward to when his son would become 20 so that they could go out and have a beer together (the legal age for drinking alcohol is 20 in Japan). His father said peacefully: “As a high school student I think he did his best in everything he tried, no matter what the conditions were. It didn’t matter what it was he never ran away from it; he lived an honest and earnest life.”
After Suzunosuke passed away I found myself re-reading some of the email and facebook conversations that we’d had. He liked English and was even selected to go and study abroad in the U.K. for a short stay during 2nd year (he probably new about his relapse when he went), so we often communicated in English, even on kendo club matters. An example of both his humour and his strong desire to do kendo can be seen in this facebook conversation snippet (I think the ? was meant to be an !):
More than anything else, Suzunosuke loved kendo. Not only that, he was very talented at it as well. When he was selected by the other students to become the captain of the club I was delighted. When he was selected to be sent by the school to the U.K. I was delighted. When he passed his 3dan I was delighted. When he relapsed it was a hard time for him, but he came to the dojo as often as he could, watching and helping to teach for the most part. After a few months he eventually got back into bogu, even leading the practise again sometimes.. and again I was delighted. Even though it was obvious that things weren’t going smoothly and after a lot of deep thinking on my part, I selected him to take part in the last shiai of his high-school kendo career and, it turned out to be, his life. Watching him take part in shiai again and lead his team into the 2nd round of competition was difficult emotionally for me (and his parents also I believe) and – now that I look back on it – I’m pretty sure he felt it was his last as well. 30 minutes after we were put out of the competition the entire kendo club gathered (at nearly 40 members, one of the largest clubs in the prefecture) and a smiling Suzunosuke gave a energetic, thoughtful, and positive retirement speech.
This English translation was done originally for the benefit of the friends that he made when he was in the UK, and also for the non-Japanese kenshi that visited me at work and did keiko with him. After speaking with his parents, they were happy for me to publish it here and to have kenshi from all over the world learn about – and learn from – his fighting spirit. A fellow kenshi, I think we all have something to learn from him.
This article was published on the 1st of March 2013, the day of Suzunosuke’s high school graduation ceremony.
「夢へ全力 思い継ぐ」・「病院で授業」久保田さん・「センター試験 再発負けず懸命に」