Despite a busy academic schedule, Kansas University doctoral student Chikako Mochizuki, 42, still reads novels, watches movies, travels internationally and experiments with makeup.
“I’ve been a bookworm since childhood, and I’ve seen the ‘Sound of Music’ more times than I remember,” she admits.
This life might be seen as even more remarkable, considering Mochizuki has been blind her entire life, the result of an oxygen overdose administered after her premature birth in Japan.
Still, Mochizuki has developed a love of makeup, something she learned as an exchange student in the United States during her senior year in high school.
“It was a positive culture shock, because Japanese schools didn’t allow makeup or perfume,” she says.
She found a Clinique store, learned about different color shades and skin tones and spent most of her first monthly allowance on makeup.
She learned colors by asking what they are like — hot, cold, soft, hard.
“I learn very much through using my ears,” she says. “I ask lots of questions.”
After graduating from James Madison Memorial High School in Wisconsin, she traveled to Michigan to get her first dog guide. Until then, she’d managed with a white cane.
Despite the cause of her blindness, her parents refused advice to file a negligence suit.
“My parents were so grateful doctors saved my life,” she explains. “They’ve always insisted I could do anything I wanted if I put my mind to it. They said I might have to work harder than others, but I could do it.”
She learned English in seventh grade.
“I almost failed my first English tests,” she recalls. “I decided I needed to do better and spent the whole summer studying my English textbook. My grades went up high. By ninth grade, I wanted to go to (the) U.S. because it was a cool thing. Students who attended American schools were considered good and very bright.”
Exchange programs refused her applications because of the blindness.
“I felt it was unfair to penalize me for being blind,” she says. “I complained often to my teachers. In 11th grade, a teacher connected me with Mister Donuts’ charity that raises many funds for students with disabilities to study abroad.”
Her parents were reluctant to let her go and only agreed after she passed three required exams.
“I promised them I’d remain in Japan after the year. I broke my promise. I wanted to return to America,” she admits. “I told them U.S. colleges were cheaper and would save lots of money.”
She graduated with a B.S. and M.A. from Georgia College in Milledgeville, Ga. She returned to work in a Japanese library, then decided she needed a Ph.D. to get a stable teaching job. She came to KU in 2003, graduated with an M.A. in East Asian history, worked as a graduate teaching assistant and embarked on her doctoral research.
Mochizuki considers her achievements unremarkable.
“Humans have incredible strength, except when computers and cell phones break down,” she says. “You’d be surprised at how much you could accomplish if you had to.”