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.
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.
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.
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.
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.