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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Murder At Disabled Center Reveals Other Problems With Japanese Culture

Did you know that the 19 men and women killed at the Tsukui Lily Garden (津久井やまゆり園, Tsukui Yamayuri En) residential care center run by Kanagawa Kyodokai (社会福祉法人かながわ共同会, Shakai Fukushi Hōjin Kanagawa Kyōdōkai) in Sagamihara, Kanagawa-ken last month have never been identified in the press?

Story HERE.

We know the arrested suspect Uematsu Satoshi (surname first), who essentially committed a hate crime against people with diminished mental capacity. Say what you want, Uematsu was or is suffering from some chemical mental incapacity of his own.

Japanese police always provide the names of murder victims to the press. It’s just how things are.

But in this case, the Kanegawa-ken police decided not to release victim names saying that “the families feel they don’t want the name’s released” according to a report from the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper. (I don't know why 'newspaper' is 'shimbun' in Japanese... shouldn't it be shinbun? There's no plain "M" sound in Japanese... There is an "N" sound". Whatever.)

The families don’t want the name released.

Now… as a former newspaper reporter, and current human being, I understand that no one really wants the world to see that their son or daughter or husband or wife et al was killed by some deranged murder.

But, in this case, I think it’s something more than that.

I think it has something to do with the shame (not dishonor) that is felt by the Japanese family members of having a mentally-challenged person in the family.

There. I said it.

Japan does indeed have separate school classrooms for those with learning disabilities. That is a good thing. The kids can learn at a rate that is comfortable for themselves in a more safe and comforting environment than what they might find in a standard classroom.

This is a universal truth in any country around the world. I had an aunt who used to work with kids with special needs, and I used pick her brain constantly to learn about how these kids were being treated.

In Japan, however, even if you have a child who is mentally-challenged, the parents do not HAVE to place the kid in a classroom designed for their needs.

No. They can opt to place the kid in the standard educational stream.

This situation existed at one of my schools - Nozaki Chu Gakko (Nozaki Junior High School) in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken. Keep in mind this was my favorite school - with the kids all super polite… the teachers, too… heck, it’s also where I met Noboko, the woman I was almost able to make my wife.

The school was in an affluent part of town (there were six other schools in the city of Ohtawara, when I was there between 1990-1993, though I hear there are more after a bit of nearby town amalgamation).

Anyhow, in my diaries written out in this blog, I mentioned how, after arriving, I would get a strange phone call once a night from some old woman who would talk to me in Japanese. I, of course, could not speak Japanese.

After mentioning this to a teachers at my schools, we finally found out that it was a young boy in Grade 8 (level 2 of Middle School), who liked to call my predecessor… and we had the same phone number.

The teachers immediately called in the boy to tell him to stop… and holy crap… it was the mentally-challenged kid who liked me, and I liked him…. but I had no idea it was him calling.

But that’s not important.

Matsuo - that’s his name - he was in the ‘regular’ school at Nozaki. Nozaki did not have a special needs classroom… only Wakakusa Chu Gakko (Wakakusa Junior High School) did… and while a bit of a drive, I know that he should have gone there instead.

But no. Matsuo went to Nozaki.

I mentioned to the teachers and Principal at Nozaki (later) that I know that Wakakusa has a classroom area specific to kids with mental challenges, and that everything I had seen there was great fun and that the kids there seemed to be progressing.

I knew this because when I visited Wakakusa, I would always (ALWAYS) eat my school lunch with those kids. I don’t know why, but that is what was always set up for me. I didn’t request it, but neither did I shy away from it. It’s Japan. You roll with what they give you.

And I am so much happier for having had the chance to eat, laugh and play with these kids.

There was nothing wrong with them emotionally (that I could tell). They were just developmentally challenged… what we used to call retarded. I know that’s a no-no word… but I am using it here only because I am unsure if “developmentally-challenged” means the same as “mentally-challenged”.

I know you aren’t supposed to use the word “handicapped” anymore, though apparently all the newspaper articles I have read about the massacre use it.

Anyhow… I asked the Nozaki staff why Matsuo didn’t go to school at Wakakusa. Was it because it was too far away?

No, I was told. It was not because it was too far away.

It was because Matsuo’s parents did not want him to go to a special school.

The principal spoke out and admitted to me that many parents in Japan do not wish for their kids to be labeled as something other than “normal.” That there is a stigma for the family.

In other words, they don’t want to be the family with a retard son or daughter.

Holy crap… you could have knocked me over with a feather. Shame?

Their kid is their kid.

Yeah, you wish things were different. Your life as a parent is stupid difficult even without a special needs kid, but people manage. All we can do, is our best to provide our kids with the tools to have the best life possible.

It doesn’t always work out in the end, but all you can do is your best.

Look at me. I had a great run of about 10 years… but now… I’m in debt, drive a 17-year-old car. The wife’s car is 13. I live in my dad’s house. He helps with the bills. I make less now than I did 15 years ago.

My brother… he has an Emmy for animation writing. His own home. No bills. Travels to San Diego for Comic Con and sometimes speaks on panels.

I have a kid. He doesn’t, and won’t. My parents did the best they could. Sometimes the kid screws up. My brother and I did okay. Some victories are better than none at all. But at least they gave us a fighting chance.

In Matsuo’s case, I don’t believe they did (give him a fighting chance), because of the social stigma of having a “retarded” kid.

By putting him in Wakakusa, it would be admitting that you had a dumb kid… and that there is something, therefore, wrong with you.

You might wonder how I can extrapolate such crap from one scenario… but I asked around, and that type of behavior happens quite often.

What, your daughter is dating a gaijin? No promotion for you. That’s just shameful. How do you stand for your daughter bringing such dishonor to your family?

That was what Noboko’s father thought.

Matthew - he married a Japanese woman… her father didn’t give a crap about such trivialities as non-Japanese-ness.

So, let’s not bury all of Japan for such behavior or thoughts. I’m just saying that such out-dated behavior still exists in Japan (and in all other countries).

Going to Wakakusa was never going to make Matsuo into your typical Japanese salaryman. But it could have better prepared him for life after school.

Now… from what I understood, Matsuo’s parents owned a restaurant (Japanese, of course), and when he graduated from Grade 8 (Level 3 of Junior High), he began working there cleaning tables and low-level crap like that… so I’m glad he wasn’t just thrown completely to the wolves.

But still…. Matsuo had to go through a standard educational system. Never passing a single test. Never really learning anything. It must have been disheartening for him.

And while the kids at Nozaki were the nicest to me (they lobbied Noboko to actually go out with me, pumping me up at every instance, even when I was visiting other schools)… but I saw first hand that they didn’t always treat Matsuo with kid gloves.

They treated him like a regular Japanese student… which is both great and bad… great because they treated him as an equal… and bad because he was unable to adequately act like an equal, through no fault of his own.

It was taunting. Teasing. Raps to the top of the head when he didn’t follow standard student commands or rules. It’s what any Japanese kid would endure if they stepped out of line.

The problem was that Matsuo was usually incapable of following those Japanese rules that dominate the country’s way of thinking.  

In Japan… the nail that stands up, gets hammered down.

Matsuo was that upright nail.

And that’s the real reason why the Japanese families do not want the names of murder victims at the center for the mentally-challenged to be released to the media.

That’s just the way things are.

Andrew Joseph
PS: And no, I’m not depressed about my own life. Could it be better? Sure. Few people would say differently about themselves. I added that depressed comment or non-comment in, because when I used to write back in Japan, readers would ask me if I was all right... because some things I wrote weren't just plain old comedy... and because I always seemed so happy when I was in Japan. I was not always happy in Japan, just mostly.


  1. It's not just the Japanese culture. Life is pretty hard on families that have a child with intellectual disability. Getting over the stigma is one part, but marriages in these situations often fail as each parent finds their own way to cope.

    I like that you speak about this and that you show compassion for the special needs population. I think this mass murder is the twist of the knife in the gut of a parent who had to make the decision to put their child in a full-time special care facility. So, I can't judge the parents or the culture. (And I am definitely biased on this topic, since I have first-hand experience with this. Ever read any work by Karl Taro Greenfeld? He was ALT on the JET Programme in 1988-89. I'm reading his book "Boy Alone: A Brother's Memoir" to get a handle on my own situation. Man, he sugar-coats nothin' but I prefer truth over false hope any day.)

    1. We were already at the high end when it came to safely having a child, so the whole situation was quite stressful for us... even more so when he didn't really speak for a long time, and couldn't figure out his ABC's... and I thought... oh geez... but turned out to be ADHD.
      No... you are correct. I can't really judge the parents or the culture. I am pointing out that I find a stigma of shame to be... disheartening...
      As for Karl Taro Greenfeld's Boy Alone... I CAN'T read it. I just read a blurb about it and started crying. I'm an emotional guy who'll kick someone's A$$ if they call me emotional. I think I became more emotional after my mother died. Weird. Chin up FFF. You WILL get a handle on your situation. Just reading about it shows that you are willing to try.

    2. I just wiped away a tear and had a contact lens roll up under my eye.

    3. I could not read the book when it first came out. It took 7 years, but I'm ready now. My 17 year old thinks he has to take care of his 15 year old brother -- he may eventually, but he needs his own life right now. And hopefully we'll be around long enough that care of our youngest will not be a concern for other two until they're well established. Honestly, I think I'm a better parent to all of them because of the disability. My youngest has no clue he's different and he's pretty happy overall. He can build LEGOS incredibly well (I really like your LEGO projects BTW.) He is "low-verbal" which means he hears and speaks, but we are unsure of how he processes or understands speech. Essentially he cannot communicate, but he knows us and we know him. There are other forms of communication outside of speech that we work with.

    4. It's not Aspergers, is it? Man... regardless... it sounds difficult. But yeah... your 17-year-old son is great for wanting to take care of him... and it's great that he is, but now is the time for him to also look after himself. It's tough being responsible... sounds like your 15-year-old has enough people around him who care and love him. He knows that.

    5. Not Aspergers--generally those with Aspergers have high verbal skills, awkward social skills, and physically kinda klutzy (most of my co-workers are on the spectrum). My boy is moderately to severely autistic. We do love him and bring him with us wherever we go and whatever we do. I have family out in CA, and he travels well (with some preparation). You have a big heart! Never lose that.

  2. One of my cousin's has a kid with mild autism, one with severe ADHD, and one that is either super smart or a future serial killer. I know of someone whose husband and son have Aspergers. I would assume each is troublesome. Don't even get me started on mental health. With so many people I know who have issues, my "good mental health" feels like it's in the minority.
    As for a big heart - they have medicine for that.