What We Can Learn From Japan’s Deadliest Massacre Since World War II

Culture & Society

It wasn’t until I realized that one of the victims in the Japanese knife attack in Sagamihara could have been a relative of mine that the reality of the attack hit home for me.

I knew she wasn’t in Sagamihara at all, but I was still terrified by the thought that it could have been her. If this person had gone to a different part of Tokyo, he could have killed her.

It was-and still is-a sobering thought.

The Tragedy of A Mass Killing

On July 26, 2016, a former employee of a mental health facility stabbed 19 residents with mental health challenges to death, ranging in age from 19 t0 70. Reports also say that the young man-who is my age, another chilling thought-said that he wanted disabled people to “disappear.” (source)

As a Japanese-American individual who has a passion for mental health, I didn’t know quite how upset I was about it until a few days ago, something that I (sadly) attributed to the sheer number of mass killings that have occurred since the year began.

Yes, of course the countless other mass killings were (and still are) tragedies. No single tragedy is more important than another. But this one affected me more than even the Pulse massacre because of my personal connection to the Japanese culture.

And yet, I saw few reports of the attack from news outlets that weren’t foreign. To be fair, I was so distressed when I first heard about the attack that I decided to put my mental health first. I knew that if I read into the details that I would not be able to function properly. Deliberately blocking out news outlets for the next few days has helped me regain some sense of emotional normalcy.

But even with that emotional normalcy back, the attack disturbs me for more reasons than one.

Japan is a collectivist country, where you are trained from birth to put others’ needs before your own, to not “rock the boat,” shall we say. Going back and forth between Japan and the United States, I learned very quickly that expressing your emotions sans filter in Japan was-and still is-frowned upon.

One is valued for their ability to conform, and frowned upon should they choose to stand out. You are given one (and only one) shot at college entrance exams per year; should you fail, you will be known as a ronin, a word that remains from the age of the samurai, a word that was used to refer to warriors who had no master to serve.

With values that limit individuals’ needs to express themselves authentically, overwhelming pressure to succeed academically, and a major emphasis on appearances, it’s no wonder that Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. In 2014, 25,427 people ended their lives. And that was the lowest the suicide rate has been in over 18 years (source).

Encouraging? Yes. Still disturbing? Yes.

People with disabilities have an even harder time responding to the overwhelming pressure of living in Japanese society. Mental health is not openly discussed; like in many Asian countries, it is still very much a taboo subject. Depression was not recognized in Japan until the late 1990’s (source).

Knowing that this young man previously worked at the Sagamihara center disturbs me even more, especially as someone who regularly works with people who deal with mental health challenges. Perhaps I’m being too generous or naive, but I would hope that individuals who work with poeple who deal with mental health challenges every day would develop a sense of compassion and acceptance for them, especially working with them so closely.

However, this was not the case with this young man, someone who, despite having a supposedly cheerful impression, was someone who wanted “ Japan to be a country where the disabled can be euthanised.” (source)

Just goes to show that you never know what someone you think you know is really thinking.

More Than Prayers

While I appreciate the idea of praying for a country in times of crisis (a social media trend that, as far as I’m aware, did not occur in the instance of this attack), I don’t believe that praying for a country is going to help much. Yes, people who feel powerless to do something when they see these tragedies occur cling to little acts; such things give them comfort. I understand that. But prayer alone is not going to bring about the massive change that clearly needs to occur, not just in Japan, but in this world.

When you ask people how they are, most of us will trot out the answer “I’m fine,” automatically. Very few of us will say, “I’m (insert expletive of choice here) miserable. I lost my job, my anxiety is killing me, my car broke down, and all I want to do is watch cartoons and cry.”

We choose saying that we’re fine for various reasons, and I’m not going to pretend to know all of them, especially because we all come from different backgrounds and circumstances. I’ve found that being honest and vulnerable about your emotions makes you more relatable. By being honest and vulnerable about your story, you give others around you permission to do the same.

I understand that in various cultures it’s difficult to do something so revealing when such actions are frowned upon. But if you lie once about how you feel, you’re going to have to lie again. And continue to lie until you can’t distinguish the truth from your story.

My hope for the world is that we can all-regardless of background and circumstance-learn to be just a little more honest when we interact with others around the world. Real change doesn’t come from prayer. Real change comes as a result of thousands of efforts from thousands of people who challenge the status quo. Real change comes from people listening carefully to those who are different from them and working together, not euthanizing an entire population of individuals just because they are different from the people you surround yourself with.

Real change starts with us.

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The 3 Most Important Lessons I Learned From The Land Down Under

Travel

ImageWhen you think of traveling, what do you think of?

Do you think of wandering local restaurants and avoiding tourist attractions like the plague so you can really immerse yourself in your experience?

Do you fantasize about falling in love with a local like the protagonists did in those cheesy 90’s movies?

Are you the kind of person who has to plan every hour of every day of your trip? Or are you someone who just likes to let things unfold?

 

I was the planner. But now I’m not so sure; I might be inching toward the latter.

 

And it took the me going to the land down under to start the inching.

 

You could say I came away from Australia with an appreciation for nature, TimTams, and some local lingo. And in some sense, that’s true. But I will always be grateful to the land of the Aussies for teaching me these things (and taking me out of my comfort zone again)

 

Expect The Unexpected

 

I had been dreaming of spending 4 months in London, interning abroad, using the internship as a way for me to start building a base for an international career.

 

Well my dreams of walking along the Thames and taking the Tube to a fantastic internship were dashed with a single e-mail.

 

I have no shame in admitting that I was crushed. I was burned out from exams, and the earthquake and tsunami had just hit Japan. The thought of the possibility of going to London for 4 months was the only thing that kept me going. I held onto the idea with an iron fist; I knew it was mine. It had to be.

 

And then it didn’t happen.

 

But after I had somewhat recovered, I realized that I had two choices:

 

a)    Don’t go abroad (and regret it for the rest of my life and wonder “what if”)

b)   Go abroad (and experience new things and be open to new possibilities.)

 

You know which option I went with.

 

Taking chances is always scary. There’s no way around it. But sometimes the things that seem to be the worst things on the planet turn out to be the best things ever. I didn’t expect to fall in love with TimTams (I can never eat Thin Mints again), try kangaroo meat or Vegemite, interact with aboriginal Australian people, or feel like the little mermaid as I swam in the Great Barrier Reef for class credit.

 

Regardless of your situation, there are always twists and turns in life; as the quote goes, a smooth sea doesn’t make for a skilled sailor. Planning can be good; but it can also prevent you from experiencing the things that might turn out to be the best memories of your travel experience.

 

 

You Never Know Unless You Try

 

One of the things that made me balk at the idea of going to the land down under was the idea of outdoor activities. I’m the kind of girl who likes a cup of tea and a good book. Hiking and camping just didn’t appeal to me.

 

But then I tried it.

 

And even after hiking part of the border of New South Wales and Queensland (which was pretty amazing, might I add), I know for sure that I am not an outdoors-y kind of girl.

 

The best thing is that I can say that I tried it. Yes, my legs were burning even though I was slogging along at the very end of the line, but I still did it.

Trying things gives you an idea of what you want, but it also gives you an idea of what you don’t want. We’ve all had that moment where we claim to hate something, try it a second time, and end up loving it.

 

Or you might end up realizing that your first impression was indeed correct; that you really don’t like whatever it is you tried.

 

And that’s still okay.

 

 

The Scary Things Might Not Be That Scary When You Actually Do Them

 

We’ve all had those things. Those seemingly insignificant things that we’re terrified of.

 

In my case, mine was traveling alone. I mean really alone. No family I knew, no hotel reservations, no guidebook, no itinerary.

 

Enter Melbourne, Australia, which became one of my favorite cities.

 

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There was something liberating about winging it. After years of always being a planner, having structure, I realized how good the opposite can be. This is not to say that I kicked the habit of being a planner to the curb, but I learned that having an open mind can make life so much easier.

 

Don’t let anyone tell you that your fears are stupid; there’s a reason for them, and they vary from person to person. It’s just that once you bite the bullet, you may find that the things you feared are actually things you like to do.

 

What are YOUR favorite foreign cities that you’ve traveled to? What have you learned from conquering your fears abroad?

 

 

The 5 Keys To Overcome Your Fears

Re-framing Your Thinking

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What if you didn’t do something that scared you every day?

 

What if you did one thing that scares you per week?

 

I used to think that driving was the scariest thing in the world; I avoided driving like the plague.

 

I mean, can you blame me after getting into 2 accidents and constantly being yelled at when you’re that giddy 16-year old who dreams of racing down the 405 with the top down?

 

But I can now say that I’ve found a new Scariest Thing Ever.

 

And I’ve been doing it once a week.

 

Therapy.

 

Anyone who knows me knows that I wouldn’t wish therapy on my worst enemy; I would send it straight down into the seventh pit of Hades.

 

I keep my arms crossed the entire time.

 

I barely breathe for that entire hour.

 

I answer in clipped words.

 

Every bone is screaming at me to run like this man has a gun pointed at my head.

 

Do I like the therapist? Nope.

 

So WHY in the WORLD would I “want” to subject myself to sitting on a sweaty leather couch in a windowless room pouring out my heart (or as much as I feel is necessary for said therapist to get the answers to his questions) for an hour a week with my mother sitting in the next chair over?

 

Ask me that in a few months.

 

But I know for SURE that the Nike headline did not come to mind.

 

Because just doing it can be the scariest thing in the world. Sure, it may be one of the best pieces of kick-yourself-in-the-butt-and-enter-reality kinds of advice you can get, but sometimes it can be so unhelpful.

 

When you develop a fear, there’s a reason behind it, a story you have in your head. Something your mind wants to protect you from. It can be hard to “just do it” when all you’re hearing in your head is the wailing of an ambulance’s siren.

So how do you get over your fear?

 

  1. Find Someone Who Can Support You

 

I don’t care if it’s your best friend who you’ve known since you were 5 or your neighbor. Finding someone who knows you well and asking for support is essential.

I know for a fact that if I did not have the support of a life coach (who knows me outside of our working relationship) I would NOT be ready to step into a therapist’s office.

I’m not saying everyone needs to go find a life coach before you face your fears; not everyone can afford that. You don’t NEED to have a life coach, just having a close friend is good enough.

Knowing that you have a friend at your back who can support you when things get difficult is a big step in taking the leap to overcoming your fears.

 

  1. Don’t Push Yourself

 

I’ve said this before, but I have no shame in saying it again.

 

How many of you have compared yourself to your peers?

 

It’s easy to feel pressure when everyone around you is doing something, and you’re the only one who can’t.

 

Life can seem like a race.

 

I got my driver’s permit really early. I had these fantasies of cruising down the freeway with the top down.

 

It was easy; I had seen my parents drive me places all the time. You push a pedal and maneuver the car. How hard could it be?

 

 

I was yelled at, screamed at, had a few close scrapes.

 

Driving was not the straightforward, easy, fun thing that I thought it was.

 

It sucked having to ask my parents and friends for rides; I didn’t like having to take public transportation either.

 

But I was scared; I was more willing to spend more money and take more time to get places than confronting my fear.

 

It wasn’t until I started working on myself and let some time pass that I finally felt ready to try again.

 

You could say that I was procrastinating. But there is a strange part of me that is happy that I waited.

 

Because pushing yourself toward your goal can be good, but pushing yourself can also make you want to backtrack.

 

Everyone moves at their own pace. Just because you didn’t get something at the same time as everyone around you doesn’t mean that you’re worth any less than they are.

 

  1. Acknowledge Yourself For The Little Things

 

 

 

faith

Wise words, MLK. Very wise words.

 

I’m a planner. I like to have every detail in place.

 

But then I realized something: if I kept waiting for everything to be perfect, I’d be waiting forever.

 

When I finally decided to learn how to drive (for real this time), I went in and took the written test to get my permit.

 

Did I know who I was going to practice with?

 

Nope.

 

Did I know how I was going to get to practice in the family car on a consistent basis?

 

Double nope.

 

But I went in, took the test, and got that little piece of paper.

 

I made the first step.

 

Did my parents yell at me? Sure.

 

Did they guilt-trip me? Absolutely.

 

But as I returned home with that piece of paper in my hand, I felt so proud of myself. I couldn’t stop saying, “You did it,” over and over in my head.

 

I took my time getting home, took my time enjoying that feeling.

 

Because knowing that I had taken that first step rather than being dragged there, rather than being told that I “had to” do it was a lot more liberating than sitting in my house waiting for something to happen.

 

Sure, you may not have gotten over your fear, but the knowledge that you are taking steps to get over your fear feels pretty good right?

 

 

 

  1. Look At The Trees, Not The Forest.

 

I recently had a friend ask me if I could edit her work. That would have been fine, except for the fact that said work was going to be evaluated in order to determine if she could get her teaching credential.

 

Um. Gulp.

 

Really?

 

Can someone say pressure?

 

Having her send it to me in sections helped me maintain my sanity. I was able to focus on each respective section as she sent it without the thought of “Oh my god, the deadline is getting closer; I have to get this done. Wait how many pages again?!

 

I think the same is true for overcoming a fear.

 

If you focus on the little things you’re doing instead of the bigger picture, then it becomes less overwhelming.

 

Sure, not everyone is as detail-oriented as I am, and for some it might work to focus on the bigger picture. But some of us get overwhelmed too.

 

Breaking things down and focusing on one thing at a time makes things a lot easier.

 

  1. Take Time To Recharge

 

You wouldn’t go out for a run immediately after crossing the finish line at an Iron Man, would you?

Yeah, I thought so.

Every time I come back from one of those therapy sessions, it feels like I’ve run an Iron Man.

Heart pounding.

Barely breathing.

More tense than a coiled spring.

 

So yes, after those sessions I curl up with my dog, a cup of tea and Sherlock.

 

It’s important to take breaks and recharge, especially after you’ve taken little steps toward getting over your fear.

 

Because those little things are also big hurdles.

 

You don’t have to do one thing every day that scares you.

You just have to take little steps toward doing that one thing.

 

What sort of things have YOU do to help overcome your fears?

 

Image Credit: Pinterest