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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How To Be Okay With Being Different & Accept Yourself For Who You Are

Re-framing Your Thinking

Demi #reallydon'tcare

Watching the documentary Bridegroom made me cry because the documentary is a harrowing example of the power of love; it’s also proof of the fact that some people just don’t accept others for who they are.

 

Seriously. Watch it if you can.

 

I’m no expert on this stuff, but if there’s anything I’ve learned in this journey, it’s that you have to love and accept yourself before you can do that for someone else.

 

Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, but it’s worth noting that EVERYONE deserves acceptance. I don’t care if you’re gay, straight, lesbian, bi-sexual….okay, I’ll stop before I go into rant mode.

 

Accepting yourself can be hard. Hard with a capital H. People may look like they have everything together, but the reality is they’re probably just as confused as you are.

 

Which is why accepting others for who they are is just as important.

 

There’s so much pressure in today’s society to look a certain way, think a certain way, do things a certain way. And if you don’t do it the way you’re “supposed to,” you stick out like a sore thumb.

 

Being different (with a capital D) is one of the hardest things to do, particularly when you’re in school. Don’t tell me you don’t have those middle school/high school horror stories.

 

I’m going to own up to it: I’m still working toward accepting myself for who I am. I’d be hard pressed to find someone who’s completely happy with who they are, someone who’s just stopped evolving.

 

And I doubt you’re that person. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this right now.

 

 

So what do you do in order to (start to) accept yourself?

 

 

Go With Your Gut (And Put Earplugs In If You Have To)

 

You’re going to be told what you want to do is just wrong sometimes. There are no ifs and buts about it. You can’t get everything right in your life.

 

Sometimes those reality checks are warranted. Like when you’re inches away from doing something drastic. Like making permanent decisions based on a temporary state of mind.

 

But severe issues aside, the truth is that you know yourself better than anyone else in the world. Yes, that list includes your best friend that you’ve known since you were 5 and your parents.

 

They may not understand why you do the things that you do; but the important thing is that you follow your inner compass.

 

Because sometimes the places you take yourself are better than where you thought you’d end up.

 

“I really regret going with my gut.”

 

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve NEVER heard anyone say that.

 

 

Look Back On Your Accomplishments

 

Or if you can’t think of any, write out a list of the awesome things you’ve done/ are doing.

 

My friend (read: second career coach) made me write out a list of all the cool things I had done in my life. And even though I filed it away in the depths of my laptop, I pull it out every now and again when I need a reminder.

 

Because everyone needs a reminder of how awesome they are.

 

This is not to say that I stare at this list for hours and let my head inflate; it’s just a nice reminder to have to bring you out of the cyclone of negative experiences we can get ourselves into.

 

We’re all human.

 

The accomplishments don’t even have to be accomplishments. They can be highlights of your life.

 

My list of awesome includes (condensed and shortened for personal reasons):

 

  • Getting a college degree.
  • Studying abroad in Australia.
  • Traveling abroad to England, Ireland, China, Japan, and Mexico to expand my horizons
  • Recovering from childhood trauma
  • Meeting Olympic gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

 

Keep adding to it as you get older. I have a feeling you’ll realize that you are a lot more awesome in real life than you are in your head. Your list of highlights won’t be the same as ANYONE ELSE’S. That’s pretty cool, don’t you think?

 

Find Your People And Surround Yourself With Them

 

For those of you who have been following the blog for a while now, you’ve probably gotten sick of hearing me say this, but it makes a world of difference.

 

 

You feel validated if you’re around people who you relate to. Your dreams don’t sound impossible.

 

And that’s one of the best things in the world.

 

Because when you’re with people who all feel different, you don’t feel that different yourself, right?

 

 

We’re all different in our own ways. That’s what makes us human. We all deserve love; it just takes some of us a while to realize it. As the documentary says, “it’s not a gay thing. It’s not a straight thing. It’s a human thing.”

 

 

Use Your Story To Help Others

 

I’ve said it before: You may not believe me, but your story matters. It does. It doesn’t have to define you. You can use it as fuel.

 

It takes time to find out how your story can help others, but it can.

 

I used mine to start this blog. Shane Bitney Crone uses his story to be an advocate for equal rights. Demi Lovato uses hers to be an anti-bullying and mental health advocate.

 

I can’t speak for either one of them, but I can say for myself that the people who have reached out to me with encouragement, and said that I’d helped them in some way through my writing, is more rewarding to me than anything.

 

And that sense of accomplishment, of giving back, has allowed me to begin to accept my story, and myself, that much more.

 

 

What have YOU found most helpful in learning to accept yourself?

 

Image Credit: Demi Lovato VEVO Youtube account

 

“Keep Your Head Up, Nothing Lasts Forever”

Culture & Society, Re-framing Your Thinking

Kudos to Kelly Clarkson’s songs for inspiring me.

 

There were so many things that I wanted to blog about this week. Yes, I’m that kind of person who can’t go anywhere without a notebook (or Evernote, if I must be parted from my beloved Moleskine for some reason).

 

No, I did not close my eyes and point to a topic on my ever-growing list of topics before churning out a blog post (although I am debating doing that at some point).

 

But I decided to combine a few topics and put them under an umbrella, and talk about gratitude again.

 

Richer

 

I’ve talked about gratitude before. Two times, to be exact. So what’s so compelling about this subject that I decided to do it again?

 

Chiara De Blasio’s recent article on XO Jane really got the cogs turning for me. Because I was in her shoes. On my bad days, I would say that I still am.

 

I had everything that so many people wish for. Clean water, clothes, food, a bed at night, an education. And I was taking it for granted. I was selfish. I was ungrateful.

 

I couldn’t recognize how rich I was, how fortunate I was.

 

I’m in a better place now, but that doesn’t mean that I never have bad days; everyone does.

 

Even when some friends catch me on a bad day, they don’t really believe that I still deal with many of the issues that I tell them that I dealt with. In their minds, it’s been over a decade. A decade should be plenty of time right? Get up, dust yourself off, move on.

 

In the past, people have called me selfish, thought that I was seeking attention.

 

I’m here to give them a big (hopefully very loud) wake up call.

 

These conditions are not picky. It’s not like someone decides, “This person is going to get X, this person is going to get Y, and this person is going to Z.”

 

People who have these conditions are not selfish. Our brains just work differently. Sometimes we go to these dark places because it’s the only way we know how to cope with the world. It’s hard to be grateful for what we have, to even see what we have when we feel like the world is out to get us.

 

The world can feel very unsafe for us sometimes. I know that as a victim of bullying, I felt unsafe in school. It didn’t matter if I was eating lunch, in class, laughing with friends. I still felt unsafe.

 

I don’t think people who deal with mental illness are selfish. They’re warriors. They’re dealing with life the best way they can, with the tools they have, just like the next person. Sure, the tools may be a little different, a little unorthodox, but they’re still trying to live, trying to survive.

 

Some would say that they’re just not seeing the big picture. I was told thousands of times that I wasn’t seeing the big picture, that being detail-oriented was a bad thing, that I wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees.

 

Were they right?

 

Maybe.

 

But sometimes what you say to someone doesn’t register. The things you say to them aren’t interpreted the way you intend them to. Sometimes we need events to remind ourselves not to take things for granted.

 

It’s sad to know that it takes the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls or a local fire to remind us to be grateful, to remind ourselves how fortunate we are to have the most basic of things. But this is the world we live in.

 

The best part is, we can change it.

 

We can help turn this world into a place where girls from all over the world are given the gift of an education. We can work to make this society a place where human trafficking victims’ stories can be heard, a place where the stigma of mental illness is no longer taboo.

 

What are you grateful for? What sorts of changes would you like to see in the world?

Image Credit: Pinterest