November 13, 2004

Beyond the Shame

Someone posted this response to my last post:
"That is sick and disgusting! The family should not be able to heal; they should live with what they've done for the rest of their life. Also, a society that encourages this sort of treatment needs to take a good hard look in the mirror...."

I basically agree. When I used the word "healing" in my post, I intentionally put that in quotes to show the lack of real healing, at least so far. In addition to what I've written already, there are glimpses of hope in Japan. My heart is moved deeply when I see a parent in a public place, like a mall or a community event, pushing his/her handicapped child in a wheelchair. As a parent, I can imagine the anguish of seeing the one you love facing such an uphill road. Of wanting to give your child a good life. And what's a good life? I think a big part begins with interacting in the world and in relationships. We are made to love and connect. How hard it must be when people in public avert their eyes and pretend you (the disabled person or the parent with a disabled child) don't exist. The misguided motive in Japanese culture may be to prevent adding to your "shame." What a tragic and cruel mistake. Parents who take their disabled children out into the community and try to give them a chance at life are heroes. And I could say the same for many others who are struggling to break into society and force people to see and interact with them. But they shouldn't have to be so strong.

I do see disabled people in Japan moving about and working in public places. Not often, and it's with great effort, because it's so difficult to access transportation systems and buildings if you can't move about freely on your own. There are many places where you must ascend or descend long staircases, accessible bathrooms are scarce, and you'd better have your own water and food if you have trouble getting in and out of stores. Even the elevators (when you find one) are small with narrow openings. But again, you should see the link in my last post, which gives some degree of hope that a change may come. Remember that in the past 20-30 years the situation for people with disabilities (especially the mentally ill and mentally disabled) has gone from intolerably terrible to "much better" in the USA and Europe. I'm from the USA. The ink on the "Americans with Disabilities Act" is still wet. Americans are still arguing over whether they want to pay for the changes and endure the "inconveniences" to give people with disabilities a place in society. I know for a fact that you can still find people in the USA who've been locked up in rooms for years and even allowed to die in those conditions. I worked in the field for a few years, so I speak from experience. I personally reported parents and even employees under my supervision (employees I'd inherited and had the "pleasure" of firing) for different forms of abuse.

I don't mean to relativize the problems in Japan or the USA by saying this, but if you go to less developed countries I think you'll find conditions that would give you nightmares. Whatever culture you're from, people do evil things.

I wish this blog would instigate change in Japan on points like this. Maybe it will. Who knows who reads this. But more likely, as I share my perspectives on the people and culture of Japan, the result will be that readers will see themselves and their own cultures in the mirror. I think that's what happens -- when we take the focus off ourselves we tend to finally see ourselves more clearly.

One of my favorite sources of quotes is G.K. Chesterson. I love this story about him:

Earlier this century, there was a correspondence in The Times newspaper of London on this topic of what is wrong with the world. Various famous and learned writers voiced their opinions. But the last letter was also the shortest, and it brought the correspondence to an end. It was from G.K.Chesterton, the Catholic journalist. His letter simply said:

Dear Sir:
What is wrong with the world? I am.
Yours sincerely,

(I borrowed the quote from this interesting article for anyone interested.)

See my other website to save on international long distance calls

Posted by jw at November 13, 2004 04:58 PM

This post was really very informative and well written. I applaud you bringing this issue into the light. I think as someone living in Canada my experiences with people who disabilities is spoiled. Before this, I've never actually thought hard about how people with disabilities live and cope in other countries. I'm not suprised with what you wrote about Japan, I have heard murmurings here about Japan's prison system.

Posted by: Jessica at November 15, 2004 03:45 AM

I loved reading your post. I lived and worked in Japan a couple of years ago in the education system (loved it), so I've had some experience in the culture where everyone is expected to 'be the same'. I also had an experience working in the Candian school system with an exchange student from Japan, who said she was amazed at how integrated the students with learning and/or physical disabilities were; she said it was wonderful and once she returned to Japan, she started working with people with disabilities in her own country.

It sometimes does seem that the Japanese can be closed minded with regards to how they treat people with differences; of course, these close-minded people live in every country of the world, not just Japan. The good thing is that there are also many people - Japanese, Canadian, American, etc. - who are working to make a difference, one person at a time. And I think it is these people we should concentrate on, because they are the ones providing hope and growth.

Posted by: jo at November 15, 2004 05:43 AM

As an American I was brought up to be accepting of people's differences and that everyone should have the chance to be a part of society. Does that make me right and them wrong? It depends on who you ask. How easy it is for us to look at another culture and say "they should"--integrate the handicapped, not have child labor, not abuse workers, have women's rights. Could "they" not look at our culture and say we should do something about crime, poverty, and welfare? How about medical care and our education system?

I do not believe we should judge this family harshly for following the norms of their culture. Were they wrong? In many parts of the world, yes, in Japan, no. Should Japan become more tolerant? As an American I would say yes, but I am not sure I should even be asked.

Posted by: Elaine at November 17, 2004 03:50 AM

I understand that different cultures treat this issue differently, but that does not make it any more humane. It is deplorable to treat a human in this way no matter what culture they live in.

It is one thing to encourage cultural understanding, but it is quite another to use it as an excuse for inhumane behavior.

Posted by: wl at November 18, 2004 05:26 PM

Comment on a comment...(can I even do this?):

I just wanted to say that I do agree that it is a bad idea to go pointing fingers at other cultures, telling them, effectively, what they should and shouldn't do. However, that said, I also strongly believe that things like child labour and abuse should be abolished.


Posted by: jo at November 19, 2004 09:31 AM