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Helen on Helen: Helen Keller's Travels Through Japan, Part 2

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A scroll from the Mayor of Nagasaki, welcoming Helen to Japan.

Helen's travels through Japan, Part 2

[Read Part 1 of Helen Keller's Travels Through Japan]

Helen's fame among the Japanese people was sealed as a result of her second trip to the country in 1948. She was sent as the United States' first Goodwill Ambassador by General Douglas MacArthur as well as the Mainichi Press, an English-language newspaper that sponsored her trip. Wonderful news footage taken during her visit shows streets lined with spectators and open-air theaters teeming with waving children and adults. An estimated 2 million people saw her and Polly Thomson, her companion, during their trip. [Editor's note: Here's a YouTube clip, but please pardon the poor video quality.]

On October 13th and 14th they visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the cities that were devastated by U.S. atomic bombs. Helen spoke to countless groups of people, constantly advocating for those with vision loss in Japan. To a gathering before the Mayor of Hiroshima she said:

"...It was a cruel nemesis that overtook Hiroshima... Your splendid qualities which have times without number helped you in bygone days have triumphed, and Hiroshima is beginning to flourish again through your devotion and self-denial."

However, away from the public eye, she was horrified by the results of US military action in Japan and recognized the irony of making an appeal for funds to a citizenry that had suffered so much:

" was to these people that I made the appeal! Yet, despite the consummate barbarity of some military forces of my country and the painful wreckage upon the survivors, they listened quietly to what I had to say. Their affectionate welcome from the moment I arrived until two hours later, when we left by ferry for Miyajima, will remain in my soul, a holy memory — and a reproach."

Helen's efforts to uplift and galvanize the Japanese public and its government hit a powerful chord. If Helen could surmount her multiple disabilities, so could those maimed and dispossessed by war and poverty.

Image description: A scroll from the Mayor of Nagasaki, welcoming Helen to Japan.

Helen Keller