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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Currently I’m Loving…

Currently I'm Loving

currentlyi'mloving

When I first heard Taylor Swift was releasing a new song, I was skeptical. I have a love-hate relationship with Taylor Swift’s songs. There was something about her songwriting formula (i.e.: You did this, it made me feel like this) that rubbed me the wrong way. Now before the hardcore T-Swift fans come to murder me, I will say that I do not hate her. I actually love her. I mean, I don’t know how you can hate her, especially after her Graham Norton Show appearance in London.

That being said, I actually love Out of The Woods. Yes, 1989 might be more of a pop record than a pop-country record, but I loved the vibe of the song. It brings back memories of something I went through. I might grow to hate it when it becomes the most overplayed track on the radio, but I like it now.

This post from Marielle about The Whiteness Project. I was always the native informant whenever we studied Japan in school. I didn’t grow up in Japan, nor have I ever lived there, and there was a point where my Japanese was nonexistent, but I was somehow expected to know everything about Japan. Don’t even get me started on that. I could go on for days.

This might sound cheesy, but I’ve been incredibly grateful for my friends and words of encouragement that I’ve been getting from them. I’m always amazed at how the little things someone does can make your day. For me, that little thing was a reminder that it was okay for me to take a chill pill and not be so hard on myself.

What have you been loving this week? Let me know in the comments!

How Japan Has Made Me Count My Blessings

Culture & Society, Travel

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(Image Credit: Pinterest)

Sometimes it takes going out of your comfort zone to realize how blessed you are.

I arrived in Japan at 15 armed with clothes to ward off the sweltering heat and what I thought was a solid vocabulary, but that confidence quickly dissipated when I heard my family try to converse with me at a normal speed. I was the American, the exotic one. They broke down words and spoke to me like a 5 year old the minute they saw my eyebrow furrowing.

It gave me an opportunity to try to take a backseat and listen rather than talk.

Watching my friends and family, I learned that a “nice” Japanese woman wasn’t supposed to be outspoken; she couldn’t accept compliments, either. You weren’t supposed to take care of yourself before you took care of others.

When an interviewer would ask a young actor what sort of woman he found attractive (a question nearly always asked in Japanese entertainment television), the answer was almost always something along the lines of an attractive woman who would cook, clean, do all the things men “weren’t supposed to do.”

The roles I saw in television shows only served to emphasize that description. The magazines were worse. Big, glossy publications filled with pictures of airbrushed models who had unnaturally big eyes, dyed hair and pale skin or came from mixed racial backgrounds were plastered everywhere. Friends of mine and young girls on the street (who were perfectly beautiful) would look at these images and say to their friends that they wanted a lighter skin tone, lighter hair, to be of mixed racial origin because that was what was considered pretty.

I had done that too. Oh the power of the media.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Japan for many reasons. The public transportation system is reliable (and clean), the food is incredible, and the people are extremely polite. Not to mention that the department stores are incredibly well organized and meticulously put together. Where else would you find a customer service representative willing to give you a waterproof bag to put your purchases in so that they don’t get ruined on your walk to the train station?

I understand that as someone who has never lived in the country for an extended period of time, my views may be biased. There are plenty of things about the country’s culture that I don’t understand. But that doesn’t mean that travel can’t teach you anything about yourself and life.

Doing things just because you’re told “you should” doesn’t guarantee you’ll be happy (or healthy)

Many friends of mine are in unfulfilling jobs just to have the safety net of financial security. They do it so their parents won’t worry about them. But that financial security comes at the expense of their passions. Inevitably, the phrase, “I wish I could” comes up in our discussions revolving around the job market. I feel for them. Many aren’t in a position to just pack up and go. Watching them shows me how blessed I am to have the family I do, and live in a society where it’s OK to forge your own path instead of going down the beaten track.

Find things that you like about yourself in order to stop comparisons

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(Image Credit: Pinterest)

This one is a tall order. It’s much easier said than done. Comparing myself to the models in magazines and television only served to make me feel awful about my own appearance when I looked perfectly fine.

It wasn’t until I was back in the States that I realized something. Sure, I would have liked to have avoided the condescending stares in the trains, and sure, I didn’t look like Yuri Ebihara or Meisa Kuroki (the two models pictured above) but I loved having the confidence to wake up every morning knowing that I didn’t need to paint my face to feel beautiful. (This is not to condemn makeup. Makeup can alter a person’s appearance and thereby give them a degree of confidence, which is never a bad thing. I personally prefer going makeup-free.) Finding little things like that about yourself that you appreciate can help build your confidence without the media telling you to do one thing or another.

“The media can be an instrument of change. It can awaken people and change minds. It depends on who’s piloting the plane.”

                                                                       -Katie Couric, MissRepresentation, 2010

Keeping your emotions in check on account of others = not good

Too often, I’ve had 3 way discussions with acquaintances and friends, where one friend says something, and the second the third person is out of earshot, they turn to me and say what they really think, which often turns out to be the opposite of what they actually said.

It’s true that there are situations that arise where it’s not entirely appropriate to voice certain opinions, which vary from culture to culture. Try to be aware of that. But I’m a firm believer that honesty is better in the long run. If you keep suppressing your opinion, the frustration builds, and without a good outlet for that energy…well, things don’t always turn out pretty.

Age is just a number

You can be in your eighties and still act like a child having a tantrum. You can be in your twenties and enjoy things that people in their fifties do. Young people can be wise beyond their years. The idea that the older you are, the wiser you are, is not always true.

Read between the lines

Sometimes the things that aren’t said are the most powerful and profound moments.

Ask for what you want

If you don’t ask for it, or make your goals known, the answer will always be no. You never know who will be able to help you. Silence will get you nowhere in life.

Are there any particularly profound lessons you’ve learned while traveling abroad?