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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You Are Going To Be A Bundle of Contradictions, And That’s Okay

Culture & Society, Learning To Love Yourself, Miscellaneous Musings, Re-framing Your Thinking

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“You’re too sensitive.”

“Don’t be so dramatic.”

“Just get over it.”

 

Sound familiar?

 

I think if we all were paid a dollar when someone said those things to us, we’d be filthy rich by now. Kids and adults can be cruel.

Okay. You might not think that those things are cruel, but even the smallest things can destroy your confidence, especially if you’re a hypersensitive person like me. I don’t care if you’re Jennifer Lawrence or your neighbor down the street. Everyone goes through those moments when their confidence is ground in the dirt.

And in those moments, it’s easy to look to the person you idolize. Yes, you know who I’m talking about. Those people whose Twitter accounts you stalk, whose magazine covers you buy the second they hit the newsstands. The ones you want to be.

Sure, they may look like they have everything, but that doesn’t make them immune to pain. Despite their “perfect” image (thank you very much every news outlet ever), the truth is that they’re far from perfect.

 

 

 

See? Case in point.

 

Social media has allowed us to filter our lives so much that it’s very easy to think that we are the only ones in the world who suck at life. We have become so gosh darn obsessed with the number of likes, tweets, and followers that we judge our value based on those superficial numbers.

 

You don’t have to be Taylor Swift, Emma Watson, or Selena Gomez to say something in today’s world that you’ll get flack for. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best singer in the world since sliced bread: Anything you do or say will be picked apart. You can’t please everyone. If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up becoming a doormat. And becoming a doormat is the easiest way to lose your sanity.

 

The only thing you can do is to try to please yourself. Just because you’re a little dramatic doesn’t mean that you have to put duct tape over your mouth every time you come across the person who called you a drama queen.

 

So what if you don’t think that One Direction is the best band to hit the radio waves since The Beatles? You don’t have to bend over backwards to memorize their names and listen to all their albums in one day just because you want to appease your friends who happen to spend their hard-earned money on concert tickets. You don’t have to justify your decisions or tastes to anyone.

 

You’re still young. We will always be students of life. You can believe multiple things. Your tastes will change and grow with you. You can be a drama queen and still be a mellow, relaxed person. You can like the Beatles, Patti Smith, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift & Demi Lovato all at the same time for different reasons, no matter what anyone tells you. You don’t need permission from anyone.

 

Finding what you like and what you believe is a process. Believing in yourself is not an easy, straightforward thing. You will always be a bundle of contradictions, there’s no way around it.

 

I’m going to try my hardest not to pull a Louise Hay on you, not because I have my doubts about the self-help industry, but because when you’re young, it’s really hard to believe that your flaws make you interesting, when all they seem to do is help you dig your own grave. Yes, your favorite celeb can help, but no matter how many times you listen to their songs on repeat, you’re the one who has to believe that your quirks make you who you are. And it can be really hard to turn Negative Nancy’s voice off.

But who else but you thinks the way you think, likes what you like, and does what you do? All of the stuff (good and bad) that you’ve been through has made you who you are. You might not be able to just shake it off (thank you, Taylor Swift for getting that song stuck in my head). You might let things change you, but that doesn’t mean that you’re any weaker than the next person. You can make the choice to use the obstacles and changes you go through as fuel. Or you can let them remain walls.

And we know what happens with walls.

 

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It’s a lot better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you are, anyway. I’ve tried being something I wasn’t; it was by far one of the most painful things I have ever done. It was a lot of lying. A lot of crying. A lot of pulling my hair out. A lot of filtering. A lot of hiding.

It took me more than ten years to realize this, but if you just put yourself out there, and KEEP doing it, the right audience will find you.

When you shed your mask, share your story, and be yourself no matter where you are in life, you encourage others to do the same. People will see their flaws in you and realize that it’s OKAY to be flawed, that you DO NOT have to have everything figured out, that you DO NOT have to hibernate like a bear waiting for spring. You can be a role model for others without going on American Idol or winning an Olympic medal. You can do that by living your life, quirks and all. Yes, you heard me. You may be someone else’s Demi Lovato, Taylor Swift, or Emma Watson. You just might not know it yet.

I’m not saying for you to blast Shake it Off and let criticism roll off you like water; you can do that if that’s your thing, but I think there’s still a lot to be learned from criticism. The important thing is not to let it get to you, because your haters will ultimately make you better. They will help you grow.

Take in what you want to take in, improve what you can, and keep living your best life.

And for those who just don’t give you the time of day?

Shake ‘em off.

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The Truth Behind The Mask

Learning To Love Yourself, Re-framing Your Thinking

 

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“To be nobody but yourself in a world that’s doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.”

 

-E.E. Cummings

 

 

I absolutely hate it when someone tells you that everything happens for a reason. (And when someone tells you that you’ve chosen your parents, but that’s another story).

 

Yes, it’s true that the obstacles, the trauma you went through made you who you are. Yes, it’s true that those formative experiences may have made you stronger. But that doesn’t make them okay.

 

You were hurt. You have a right to be angry.

 

You have a right to be angry because we live in a modern society that’s pretty twisted.

 

We live in a world dominated by screens and unattainable “norms” of perfection where communication has reduced itself to the tapping of keys on a keyboard (or smartphone, whichever you prefer). It’s hard to be yourself amidst all that chaos.

 

Being yourself is hard. Society tells you one thing. At schools, the maze of cliques is a jungle in itself. And then there are the things you don’t see.

 

In my case, it was the tension caused by the contradictory East-West dichotomy. I conformed because it was the only way I knew how to survive. But rather than helping me survive, that conformity led to the one place I didn’t want to be.

 

I won’t go into the details here; you’ve heard me tell that story before.

 

We are all human. Words hurt. We can pretend that we’re fine when we’re really dying. We can project the image of being someone with no filter who doesn’t waste their brain or breath on something (or someone) at the edge of their peripheral vision.

 

But sometimes when the mask comes off we do care.

 

Some would say that the role play, the constant switching from role to role depending on who you’re with isn’t authentic.

 

My response is to read between the lines, because you may only know one side of a particular person.

 

Becoming yourself (and staying yourself) amid all those voices saying no, do this, do that is confusing. It’s painful. And it’s easier to conform than it is to stick out. Because going against the flow takes a lot of strength.

 

So the next time you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, remember that you aren’t alone. Everyone has issues, even the people you consider “flawless.”

 

We’re all just trying to be ourselves in a big, confusing world.

 

And that’s hard enough.

 

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