The Fremont Podcast

Episode 109: Defying Odds to Scale Personal Peaks with Junichi Kakutani

March 08, 2024 Ricky B and Junichi Kakutani Season 3 Episode 109
Episode 109: Defying Odds to Scale Personal Peaks with Junichi Kakutani
The Fremont Podcast
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The Fremont Podcast
Episode 109: Defying Odds to Scale Personal Peaks with Junichi Kakutani
Mar 08, 2024 Season 3 Episode 109
Ricky B and Junichi Kakutani

When life throws curveballs, some catch them with grace and transform them into a dance with destiny. That's certainly true for Junichi Kakutani, the remarkable librarian from Fremont's own Elementary School living with Spinal Cerebellar Ataxia. His story is represented in this episode, where he shares the early whispers of his rare condition and his undying passion for storytelling. The challenges to his mobility and speech have done little to deter Junichi's indomitable spirit. From conquering a Hawaiian marathon to his plans to ascend Mount Fuji, his resilience and proactive approach to life are the embodiment of inspiration.

Our conversation then transitions to an insider from the San Francisco film industry, whose journey from mastering English to refining their craft at the Academy of Art University exemplifies the power of perseverance. Junichi opens up about his personal battles, the dedication to the art of Kendo, and the communal love for Fremont and the echoes of silent films from yesteryear. The shared nostalgia for the cinematic arts binds our story threads together, painting a portrait of purpose and the relentless pursuit of dreams, even as life presents its unique challenges. Join us for these profound narratives that not only warm the heart but invigorate the soul in our quest for meaning amidst the ebbs and flows of existence.

Check out Own It Fitness for your professional fitness solutions. You can find their website here. 

Connect with them on Instagram here. 

If you are interested in supporting the podcast, please reach out to us at thefremontpodcast@gmail.com, or you can contact us here. 


Fremont Bank has been partnering with and supporting people and small businesses for over six decades.

Also, Petrocelli Homes has been a key sponsor for the Fremont Podcast almost from the beginning. If you are looking for help or advice about buying or selling a home, or if you are looking for a realtor, get in touch with Petrocelli Homes on Niles Blvd in Niles.

Additionally, Banter Bookshop is the best little bookshop in Fremont. They are a sponsor of that podcast. And we are excited to have them as a partner.

If you are in need of services for design or printing, check out Minutemen Press in Irvington. They have been serving the community for over 20 years, and they stand strong by their work and service.

Intro and Outro voiceovers made by Gary Williams. Check out garywilliams.org.

This episode was edited by Andrew C.

Scheduling and background was done by Sara S.

This is a Muggins Media Podcast.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

When life throws curveballs, some catch them with grace and transform them into a dance with destiny. That's certainly true for Junichi Kakutani, the remarkable librarian from Fremont's own Elementary School living with Spinal Cerebellar Ataxia. His story is represented in this episode, where he shares the early whispers of his rare condition and his undying passion for storytelling. The challenges to his mobility and speech have done little to deter Junichi's indomitable spirit. From conquering a Hawaiian marathon to his plans to ascend Mount Fuji, his resilience and proactive approach to life are the embodiment of inspiration.

Our conversation then transitions to an insider from the San Francisco film industry, whose journey from mastering English to refining their craft at the Academy of Art University exemplifies the power of perseverance. Junichi opens up about his personal battles, the dedication to the art of Kendo, and the communal love for Fremont and the echoes of silent films from yesteryear. The shared nostalgia for the cinematic arts binds our story threads together, painting a portrait of purpose and the relentless pursuit of dreams, even as life presents its unique challenges. Join us for these profound narratives that not only warm the heart but invigorate the soul in our quest for meaning amidst the ebbs and flows of existence.

Check out Own It Fitness for your professional fitness solutions. You can find their website here. 

Connect with them on Instagram here. 

If you are interested in supporting the podcast, please reach out to us at thefremontpodcast@gmail.com, or you can contact us here. 


Fremont Bank has been partnering with and supporting people and small businesses for over six decades.

Also, Petrocelli Homes has been a key sponsor for the Fremont Podcast almost from the beginning. If you are looking for help or advice about buying or selling a home, or if you are looking for a realtor, get in touch with Petrocelli Homes on Niles Blvd in Niles.

Additionally, Banter Bookshop is the best little bookshop in Fremont. They are a sponsor of that podcast. And we are excited to have them as a partner.

If you are in need of services for design or printing, check out Minutemen Press in Irvington. They have been serving the community for over 20 years, and they stand strong by their work and service.

Intro and Outro voiceovers made by Gary Williams. Check out garywilliams.org.

This episode was edited by Andrew C.

Scheduling and background was done by Sara S.

This is a Muggins Media Podcast.

Speaker 1:

So first my knees felt wobbly so I need to use a cane and even though I have difficulty walking, I was sure I can continue walking as a librarian. But I started noticing my speech. I had more slow speech. I have difficulty speaking sometimes so I was afraid if I could continue being a librarian, because I read books through the air.

Speaker 2:

Coming to you straight from Fremont, California. This is the Fremont podcast, dedicated to telling the stories of the past and present of the people and places of the city of Fremont, one conversation at a time.

Speaker 3:

I just heard thunder a minute ago. You are listening to episode 109 of the Fremont podcast.

Speaker 2:

Now here's your host, Ricky B.

Speaker 4:

Well, today I am joined by Junichi and goes by June. I joined by Junichi and he is a librarian at one of Fremont's elementary schools. He has a special experience that he is going through in his life right now, so I'm really glad to have you on the podcast with me today.

Speaker 1:

That's my first time and thank you for joining me. You're welcome.

Speaker 4:

Thank you for having me. Can you give your first and last name for me, so that I can hear it clearly?

Speaker 1:

Sure, my name is Junichi Kakutani, okay.

Speaker 4:

Junichi Kakutani Very good, very good. Well, the reason that you're on the podcast today and the thing that caught our attention was the fact that you have a very rare neurological disease, and it has recently you've recently been diagnosed with it it was in 2020. And then now you're starting to experience the symptoms and the effects of it in your body, which are affecting your life as well. Can you give me the name of the disease?

Speaker 1:

Spinal Cerebral Ataxia.

Speaker 4:

And then can you tell me a little bit about what it actually is, what it does?

Speaker 1:

So Cerebral Midsuringym. So Cerebral Midsuringym is a part of in charge of balancing and coordinating your body movement. So I'm not good at balancing and coordinating and sometimes affect my speech. I have double vision now Sometimes difficulty swallowing food Wow.

Speaker 4:

That seems, for someone who I guess for anybody to face this, it seems to be something that could be very discouraging. It seems like it would be discouraging. This wasn't a surprise to you, though, right, because this was something that your father had also been diagnosed with.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, he was diagnosed about 10 years ago and at that time I was told I have 50-50 chance of having it. So I was preparing it. But my father was diagnosed in his 60s, so I always thought it would happen later on in life.

Speaker 4:

Wow… yeah, so yeah, because Amy, you were diagnosed. Now it's 2024, less than four years ago and then he was diagnosed 10 years ago, so I could definitely see how that would make sense.

Speaker 1:

Yeah.

Speaker 4:

I love the story. I love the fact that you are a librarian and you have been a librarian Tell me. I wanna hear a little bit about that. And then I wanna hear how you have responded to this news in your life and how it's changed your focus and what you're doing. So you became a librarian at a local Fremont Elementary School.

Speaker 1:

Yes, Harveigling Elementary School. So, that's where my son was going and I was volunteering at the school and I started volunteering in the library and librarian taught me well and he suggested I apply for a sub-library. So she sent me a link to apply. I did and it turns out I was applying for the real librarian job.

Speaker 4:

You thought you were gonna be a substitute librarian and when you got to the interview you found out that you were gonna be the librarian. Wow, wow, did you had experience with working in the library before? No no, but you had been volunteering at the school in the library so that it didn't necessarily wasn't completely foreign to you in that sense.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, the previous librarian was preparing for her retirement, oh okay. So when she left, I took good job, okay all right.

Speaker 4:

So how long have you been the librarian at the school there? Five, six years. Okay yeah, so five, six years ago you became the librarian and then just four years ago you were diagnosed with this neurological disease. What is it? Tell me a little bit about your mindset behind all of this? Like? You have quite an inspiring response from what I've seen, because you were interviewed by a local news station. That's how we actually found out about you. Was that we had seen the report that they did with you on the news?

Speaker 1:

So fast my knees felt wobbly so I need to use a cane. Okay, and even though I have difficulty walking, I was sure I can continue working as a librarian. But I started noticing my speech. I had more slow speech. I have difficulty speaking sometimes, so I was afraid if I could continue being a librarian because I read books to get so. But yeah, my principles are very supportive.

Speaker 4:

So you started, instead of allowing it to, like I said, get you down, you started planning things to do them while you still could, right? So you were telling me earlier that you have a rowing machine at home that you use regularly. Okay, and then you ran a marathon in Hawaii, yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1:

Well, I could have walked, but yeah, you walked it. You did it.

Speaker 4:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

You did it. I learned most of spinal nerve attack. So patient needs wheelchair in maybe in their 60s, so that gives me about 10, 15 years, okay. So I wanted to go and do something before I still have mobility, okay. So one of a 100 marathon was one of the things I wanted to do someday.

Speaker 4:

Okay, and it was just well. I'm gonna do it now while I can. That's great, that's great. The other big thing that you have going on right now is you're preparing to climb Mount Fuji in Japan, wow, well that also was on my bucket list.

Speaker 1:

Okay, yeah, so that is the tallest mountain in Japan, and I think it's one of the most beautiful mountains in the world.

Speaker 4:

Oh, yeah, and yeah, so We'll be right back. You can hear the rest of this conversation in just a moment. If you need help navigating the local real estate market, contact Petracelli Homes on Niles Boulevard. With almost two decades of experience, this family-owned brokerage is an expert in the local real estate market. Give Jennifer Petrusselli a call. With her wide-ranging knowledge of the real estate industry and expert negotiation skills, jennifer goes above and beyond for her clients. Jennifer helps her clients make smart real estate decisions that benefit them in the long run. So if you're looking for a realtor who knows what they're doing and who genuinely cares about your needs and wants, reach out to Jennifer today and discover why Petrusselli Homes is the right choice for all of your real estate needs.

Speaker 3:

We are asking our listeners to contribute $1 a month to make this podcast. That's normally $0.25 an episode if there are four weeks in a month, but this month, march, you get a bonus because there are technically five Fridays, which means there are going to be five episodes this month, and that is a measly 20 cents per episode for March 2024. If you, specifically, you can support this podcast by contributing $1 a month on a reoccurring basis, please do. I am reasonably certain that at $0.25 an episode, this podcast is the cheapest thing in Fremont. So if you're listening to this on the day that it comes out, you only have a few days to do it.

Speaker 4:

And now back to our conversation. Did you grow up close to Mount Fuji? Oh, no, no, you were a ways away.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and you know, sometimes I took a bread train Shinkansen and I saw the Mount Fuji. Oh, I wish I could climb there someday, yeah, so yeah, I decided to go.

Speaker 4:

Do you have a date on the calendar for when you're going to be able to attempt that?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I don't remember, but it's in July.

Speaker 4:

It's this year. Yeah, okay, wow. So you're going with a guided company that will help you with that, or how are you doing that? How are you preparing for that?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I'm going with my wife, my son, a friend of ours. Then I have a couple of guides too. Okay, yeah, very good.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, I was telling you earlier that when I was working for REI here in Fremont that the general manager of the store here when I first got hired was from Japan. Yeah, and he started off working. There was actually an REI in Japan for a very short time. I think it was the very first place that they attempted to build a store outside of the US. He's from Japan and he and I have climbed several mountains together. And you're originally from Japan. Yes, Kobe Japan okay, and then what brought you to the United States?

Speaker 1:

When I was 20 years old, my house was destroyed by the earthquake Wow, and I was about to be a senior in Japanese college okay so In Japan we have to have job after the college. So I was. I was thinking of what I really want to do in my life, and Originally I was just get a job, any job, and before I turn 30 I Was hoping to find something I want to do. And if I couldn't find it, by the age of 30.

Speaker 1:

I wanted to come to the United States to see the world. Okay, and decide what I want to do so you kind of already had.

Speaker 4:

The United States is a potential Landing spot for you down the road. And then the earthquake hit, destroyed your home Mm-hmm, and.

Speaker 1:

I do want to wait eight years to figure out what I want to do. Okay, so I decided to come to the. United States. Wow, and I chose San Francisco.

Speaker 4:

So, san Francisco, there you go, the home of earthquakes, right.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, that's my punchline.

Speaker 4:

So did you. What did you do once you came to to San Francisco?

Speaker 1:

So first, I have to learn how to speak English.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, so I had you didn't know any English when you came here.

Speaker 1:

No, no, no, I was Wow and yeah, and I didn't know anybody in the States, so I went to language school to learn and how to speak English.

Speaker 2:

Okay okay.

Speaker 1:

Then I went to Academy of Art University. Oh, in San.

Speaker 4:

Francisco, yes, okay. And what did you study there? I studied film. Oh, very nice, very nice, yeah. So what was it about film or working in the film industry that caught your attention? What did you wanna do?

Speaker 1:

I just wanted to do anything about filmmaking because that movie was my oldest memory.

Speaker 4:

Oh yeah, which movie? Or just watching movies. King Kong King.

Speaker 1:

Kong. All right, Remake in 1976. Okay and yeah, I remember the movie theater. I remember some scenes of the movie Wow. So since then I loved the movies, so I thought it was cool to work on the movie.

Speaker 4:

In the movie industry. Yeah, yeah, that's cool. So you did that. Did you work in the movie industry at?

Speaker 1:

all yeah, yeah, yeah, a few years. I mostly work as a script supervisor.

Speaker 4:

Okay, all right, very good, Did you enjoy that? Yeah, yeah, I loved it Very good, very good. So what does life look like for you right now? What does it look like? Are you just doing, still doing the librarian thing?

Speaker 2:

at the school.

Speaker 4:

Okay, what other things are you involved with in your day to day right now?

Speaker 1:

I haven't changed much. I still practice Kendo.

Speaker 4:

Okay, all right. Yeah, what is it? How long have you been practicing that? Seven years, okay, yeah, I think I saw. At least I did I had seen. On the news report that was put out there I saw that you were raising money to try to help to help contribute to the research and development regarding this disease that you have. Have you been able to help raise funds for that?

Speaker 1:

Or how is that going? Yeah, yeah, yeah, we raised Five thousand dollars. Okay, yeah, wow, that's great.

Speaker 4:

Mm-hmm. All right, is there a current work happening on trying to figure out this disease and try to find an answer for it?

Speaker 1:

Yes, I was told that cure. They are very close to finding a cure. Okay, so I am hopeful, okay, okay.

Speaker 4:

Have you been? Have they been able to have offer any treatments for to you for for your current situation?

Speaker 1:

No, no, yeah, not right now.

Speaker 4:

Okay, yeah, wow, um, are you going to be? Are you like this climb in Japan? I know that sometimes people will do Different feats like this to kind of raise awareness and raise funds. Is this also a fundraiser by you going to climb out Fuji? Is it just a personal, a personal thing that you're trying to?

Speaker 1:

do. Well, I am raising funds for you know, Because it might get expensive.

Speaker 2:

Yes, yeah, so truck expenses.

Speaker 4:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

So, yeah, I am raising funds for that, yeah.

Speaker 4:

All right, very good. How's your family? How's your family responding to it in all of this? Oh, they're excited to, are they?

Speaker 1:

well? Actually I was kind of surprised my wife wanted to join.

Speaker 4:

This she are, you are. Have you been more of an outdoors person or a climber at all before? All this no, nope, okay, okay. I think Mount Fuji is one of those mountains. That's, I Want to say it's very forgiving, in the sense like certain times of the year when it's not completely covered with snow, it's a lot easier to to climb. It's still a challenge, it's still, you know, it's still Not perfectly easy, but it's a lot easier when it's yeah, that's what I heard.

Speaker 1:

That's what I heard.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, and so I think that it would be easier for your, your family, to join you on that and then some other mountains, I guess that's great. Well, you've lived in Fremont for how long?

Speaker 1:

11. Okay, yes.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, okay, what do you think about Fremont? Do you enjoy? Do you enjoy Fremont? Yes, I love it. Yeah, so what are some of your favorite things here? Yeah, on the community people. Yeah, do you have a? Do you have a community that you particularly found a niche with here for?

Speaker 1:

yourself. I Like this area nice. Okay, yeah, it's cute, I like it. Yeah, yeah.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, it's, it's really nice. I mean, I were at Petrocelli homes, at their main office, and you can look out the window here and you have a beautiful landscape Behind us, which is really nice, yeah. But then you just walk down and you find a lot of different shops and a lot of different things.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so Chapter museum I don't know what, yeah the silent film museum.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, have you gone in there?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, Well, I mean, you're a film guy, right? Have you gone in there and gone through the tour and everything Okay.

Speaker 4:

What, what specific. It's interesting I, my dad, was here visiting. I don't know, I can't remember when it was, I think it was back in November or December. Anyway, he was here visiting and and he was working on getting his master's degree in film and so I did it. We did an interview with David Keen. He's kind of the his local historian of the silent films and all of that, and he's written a book.

Speaker 4:

You can get it down there at the film museum, but we interviewed him For the podcast and my dad my dad was able to be there when we, when we, when we did that interview and that was for, actually, our sister podcast, the cast of Niles, and so we we interviewed him. My dad really enjoyed being someone who was in film as well, like yourself, and studied. He found it to be very fascinating. Yeah, very cool. Well, it's been great having you. Thank you so much for joining me on this.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, and if you could encourage anybody or inspire anybody Based on your experience what, what are, what would you say? What would you tell people In their life like how, how do they face challenges like this? What are the things that you've learned in this that you would leave with people?

Speaker 1:

Everything happens for a reason. So what happened happened and I get this disease. You know I can't change that. So yeah, yeah, just go, do you visit there, you go.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, there you go. Well, thank you for that. I think you're that, I think it's great words.

Speaker 2:

This episode was hosted and produced by Ricky B. I'm Gary Williams. Andrew Kovett is the editor. Scheduling and pre interviews by Sarah S. Your reviews help other people find this podcast. If you would please leave a review on iTunes. Be sure to subscribe wherever it is that you listen so you don't miss an episode. You can find everything we make the podcast and all of our social media links at the Fremont podcast com. Join us next week on the Fremont podcast.

Speaker 4:

This is a Muggins media podcast. I.

Living With Spinal Cerebellar Ataxia
San Francisco Film Industry Life
Facing Life's Challenges and Finding Purpose