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“Shougai Yakusha ~ Hashirenakutemo, serifu wo wasuretemo~”
“Handicapped Actor ~ Even if I can't run, even if I forget my lines~”
by Kotarou Yanagi
(The title is a play on words. Shougai-sha = Handicapped person, and Yakusha = Actor)
Prologue: I, on this day, became a handicapped person
December 14, 2003
As I came home from practice for the musical “Prince of Tennis,” I got into an accident. In two weeks, the winter run (of the musical) was supposed to kick off. This is the story of that time.
In March of that year, I had auditioned and been chosen to play the part of the main character, Echizen Ryoma.
“Huh, a musical? How lame! What the heck is this 'Prince of Tennis'!?”
That's what I thought when I got the news. I ran it over and over in my head cheekily how I, who kind of just went to the audition, got the part of the main character without even really trying. I actually fit the part of Echizen Ryoma to a T. So, really, I couldn't fathom how some people might think that life was, like, hard.
As a kid who had lived abroad most of his life, I didn't really know how to use keigo (japanese honorific speech pattern), but the older cast and staff members understood. They treated me like a little brother.
I had no idea that this little“Prince of Tennis” world that we created then, with a lot of trial-and-error and group effort, would turn out to be so much fun.
April 30th. The day that “Musical the Prince of Tennis,” aka “Tenimyu,” was welcomed into the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space medium hall, was also the first day that I'd ever performed in a play.
At the time only a third of the 841 seats were filled, but I could feel hundreds of eyes staring at me in the center. I was so nervous that my knees started to shake.
But six days later, at the last performance on May 5th, the theater was standing-room only.
At the time, I thought that it was going to be the last time we would perform together, so I started crying and couldn't stop, and I delayed the raising of the curtain by five minutes.
But even with all that, we all got caught up in the excitement of the last show, and an additional performance was added.
The additional shows, August 7th and 8th of the same year, were held in the 1360-seat Nippon Seinenkan main hall. Even though it was a sudden and huge jump in scale, the tickets sold out almost immediately.
Not only did fans of the manga and the anime versions accept us, but we also gained our own, completely new, “Tenimyu fans.”
During the first show, that the cheers changed from “Ryoma!” to “Yanagi!” and “Kotarou!” was proof of that fact.
Furthermore, from August 13th -15th, we journeyed to Osaka. Through word-of-mouth, the Tokyo performances had gained a lot of fame, and so many requests came in that we opened up in Osaka Sankei hall, as it was called at the time.
In any case, I was just happy that we could gather the same members and perform again in front of a sold-out crowd.
Furthermore, based on the reaction to the Tokyo and Osaka added performances, talk began of “Musical Prince of Tennis” possibly becoming a series. As people who had created “Tenimyu” starting from scratch, we, the cast and staff, finally started to think of ourselves as comrades.
So it became that the next show, “Musical Prince of Tennis: Remarkable First Match Fudoumine,” was scheduled to open on December 30th. I would be able to stand on stage again as Echizen Ryoma, so my excitement was inevitable.
Plus, this time the show was set to run in the 1800-seat U-port Postal Life Insurance hall. ((ed: It sounds better in japanese...)) Along with the much-evolved “Musical Prince of Tennis”, I was really excited to show everyone my Ryoma: version improved.
At the time I had just entered an acting agency, but I was still living in my parent's house in Saitama prefecture. ((Located North of Tokyo)), and the trip from there to the office to take lessons was a pain in the butt, so I often got in trouble for skipping them.
But even though I rode the same train day in and day out going back and forth to the Tenimyu practice space, for some strange reason I never hated that journey. On the contrary, I couldn't help but find it fun.
After I graduated from high school, I started going to a lot more practice sessions, so I started to get really tired. Under those circumstances, coming home every night to my house in Koshigaya city, Saitama prefecture, started to feel like too long a journey. So, the other cast members who lived close by often let me stay the night.
December 13th, the night before the accident, I had also stayed over at a Tenimyu member's house. Because the next day was a Sunday, I went from there straight to the practice space.
A few days before, I had started to feel the signs of a cold coming on. But I'd taken some over-the-counter cold medicine, and didn't really think much of it.
But on that day, for some reason I was coughing a lot and couldn't hide it, and the producer told me to go home early.
It was two weeks until opening day. Every second counted.
Not to mention, that I, the lead, was lagging behind everyone, was kind of bad, right? I didn't want to get sent home by some stupid cold.
Starting in this musical, the first rival school, Fudoumine Gakuen, was going to debut.
Between genius tennis player Ryoma and his team Seigaku, and the members of Fudoumine, a natural kind of rivalship sprouted.
We (Seigaku) didn't want to lose to Fudoumine. Ryoma's rival, the guy who played Ibu (Shinji), was super-good at singing and dancing. In order to make sure that our fight scene was worth seeing, I definitely didn't want to lose to him.
Because of that, I REALLY didn't want to be sent home alone at this time.
“Yanagi...” Seeing through how I felt, the producer took me aside. “If you push yourself too hard right now and it affects your performance later, it will have all been for nothing, right? And if you pass your cold on to the other actors, it would be really bad. I understand how you feel, but if you rest now and recover completely, and THEN do your best, the outcome will definitely be better.”
All I could do was agree. Because after all, I just couldn't cause problems for everyone.
I looked out over the practice arena. Everyone looked back at me with serious eyes.
Not even a year had passed since the first musical, but every time we had a show, us, the Seigaku members, got caught up in the enthusiasm of the audience. Our vigor, of course, went hand-in-hand with the enthusiasm that the Fudoumine members felt for being able to take part in this much-talked-about production.
That my health would crumble at a time like this..... That I was unable to take care of my own duty- my health- was especially mortifying. Anyway, tonight let's go home and go to sleep early, I told myself. Sleep and get better quickly.
I put on the cold mask that I had with me and, alone, left the practice arena behind.
When I left the arena, a New Year's wind so cold that it could cut your skin blew across my cheek.
My body started shivering immediately, and my mother's usual e-mail in my hand, “You're coming home late, so take care of your own dinner,” I headed for the nearby JR (train) station.
Before long a train arrived and I got on the Saikyo line. I got off at Minami Koshigaya station and hurried quickly down the same dark street that I always went down.
Our apartment building was already right in front of me.
“That kind of dance, I can do it a little better. A little cooler,” I thought.
Noticing suddenly that I, who was always thinking about Tenimyu, had lately been having such negative thoughts, I laughed out loud.
And the next thing that I remember was the ceiling in the ICU of the Dokkyo Medical University Hospital.
It seems that things seemed really bad when my mother got the call and rushed to the hospital.
“We'll call you in an hour, so please wait outside in the waiting room,” said the doctor.
The next time that she entered the room, my head was shaved and tubes were attached to various parts of my body.
The swirl of lights around my bed was like a scene out of a drama.
My mother, who had never even seen me out-of-sorts before, turned to the utterly unresponsive me and, “Kotarou! Kotarou!” screamed my name over and over again.
Erika, the girl who had come with me to the ICU, had fainted due to shock as she had left the ICU.
My father, who was working in India at the time, rushed to my side the next day.
The first time that I opened my eyes was a week later, December 21, right on my 18th birthday.
The doctor's diagnosis was a cerebral contusion on the left side of the cephalic hood, damage to the brain stem and cerebellum, paralysis due to a subarachnoid hemorrhage, decreased mental status, impairment of higher brain functions....
At this time, I still didn't know what had happened.
From then on, little by little I was able to respond to things, and even though I was conscious, it wasn't until the New Year had began that I was capable of any form of communication.
Ever since I'd woken up, I had trouble remembering things, and I couldn't really retain anything new either, so I don't have very many memories of that time.
I'd find myself staring off into space easily, and I'd close my eyes and loll around. It was hard to keep my balance, and I became unable to regulate my strength or speed. And the smallest things pissed me off. My hands and feet were partially paralyzed, so I wasn't even able to stand up properly. My dominant right hand wouldn't move according to my wishes anymore. My words wouldn't come out right anymore either, I couldn't articulate well. I'd get tired so quickly....
At first we were afraid that there would be brain death from the vegetative state, but there was just a lot of damage from the head injuries. A lot.
My body had changed completely after the accident. From a world of spotlights and cheers to one burdened with conditions, my new life started here.
On this day, I became a handicapped person.
(Stay tuned for the next chapter!)
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