Saturday, March 6, 2010

I'll be back...!

Hello everyone.  I hope you are all doing well.  My life, as usual, continues to be adventurous. and full of challenges.  Still, lots of ideas and thoughts are circulating in my mind.  I will be back with a new post as soon as I can.  I hope you will come see me again then.  Love.

Friday, October 16, 2009

7. Broken Chain of Sacrifice

My mother is on my mind. When I stand in front of a mirror, I see her face in mine.

She is strong yet weak, just like I am.  I’m not any stronger than my mother, just more fortunate in the choices that were available to me.

When I let my mother know how I really felt about my life in order to set myself free, it must have switched on a part of me that’s been a sleep.  I began recalling bits and pieces of her history she had told, when I was still living in Japan as a teenager.  The stories had surreal feel when I first heard of them, as if I was watching a black and white movie with my mother as a child acting in it.  The movie felt too unrealistic for me to feel anything then.  Now that I recall the stories as an adult, they are startling, even with a possibility that the stories had some distortion.

My mother was born in the late 1930s, in a very small southern island called
Tokunoshima, where there were very little influence of the cultural conditioning seen in “Hondo (本土)”: the mainland of Japan. (Hondo for the most part refers to Honshu, the largest of four main islands that make up Japan.)  

She is one of 5 surviving children, born to my grandfather I adored from a distance, and grandmother whom I never knew.  The stories my mother told of her childhood on the island were loving, bright and sunny.

Tokunoshima is so small that it takes only half a day to tour and see everything there is to be seen by car. People there are warm, trusting, open and kind. They speak in their very distinctive local dialect and they teach “formal Japanese” to children in schools. You wouldn’t understand most of what they are saying, yet their warmth would comes through in their bright and unguarded smiles.

More than 20 years ago, I took my husband at the time to the island, to introduce him to my mother’s family still living there.  My aunt, whom I had met only once or twice before then, spent a few days cooking up a feast for a party to welcome us.  Fresh fish caught by my grandfather just that morning, were served in a wonderful soup and also in sashimi style.  A pig picked from my uncle’s own little livestock, was butchered and marinated in homemade Miso (fermented soy bean paste), prepared the island’s way.  There were many dishes made with unusual vegetables and other ingredients I had never seen on the mainland before.  It was an all-out festive occasion, and it seemed the entire islanders had dropped in.  Some of the people that showed up were strangers to my aunt and uncle, including the taxi driver who gave some of us the tour of the island earlier that day.  Everyone ate and drank with us. And that’s the way it was on this island.  My mother spent a good portion of her childhood there.

When my mother would talk about the past, she’d sometimes mention that she would have been a person of significance - like a princess or some outlandish thing like that – if the tide of time didn’t change things.  I know there are some prominent figures in history in Southern Japan that bears the same last name as her maiden name.  So far my personal investigation into the family history on my mother’s side has been unsuccessful, and I have doubts.  I intend to ask my mother the details on the basis of her claim, when I feel it’s appropriate. Meanwhile, I’ll just tell the story she had personally told me.  According to her, one of her ancestors, and mine for that matter, who belonged to upper class spent a large sum of the family money on non-family members, without consulting the family.  My mother indicated that the money was spent on noble causes such as education for the poor and less fortunate.  But his family saw it as a misuse of the family money and deemed him untrustworthy.  For this, he was punished by the form of  “Shimanagashi”: exile or banishment, to a southern island surrounded by sea.

My mother claims she is a descendent of this man who “wronged” the family, and "Shimanagashi" of this ancestor was how her parents ended up on the remote island of Tokunoshima.  Her father - my grandfather - seemed to have been another rebel of some sort.  He supposedly stored away in a cargo ship that went around the world when he was a young man.  I was told that I inherited his spirit of adventure.  He was a man of few words, and I only remember his great big beaming smiles.  I've always felt he was connecting with me through those smiles, as if to say I was his kindred soul and he was pleased.  It has been a long time since he had passed away. He still lives in a very special place in my heart, and he always will.

During the World War II, my grandfather moved his family temporarily to a part of Taiwan to avoid the fire of war.  They traveled on a boat and the trip was rough and long.  My mother told once, and only once, that she had a younger brother who sustained a severe injury on his leg that had gotten infected.  He died as a result of the infection on the boat and his body was thrown overboard.  I still remember the expression on her face when she told this story.  The expression was vacant on the surface, yet it seemed to be filled with unspeakable sorrow underneath.  I found out rather recently that my mother dislikes being near an ocean.  She never said why herself, but the memories of the boat trip to Taiwan may be the reason.

In Taiwan, my grandfather, who was a farmer at home, worked as a machinist at a factory.  Japanese people were not well received in Taiwan, especially then because of
its history with Japan.  My mother’s family was no exception to native Taiwanese people.

Fortunately the prejudiced view Taiwanese people had toward my mother's family changed one day, my mother said.  At the factory my grandfather worked at, there was a terrible accident that could have turned deadly.  A large press of some kind began to close by accident and a Taiwanese worker was about to be caught in it.  My grandfather ran to the scene and wedged himself in between the heavy metal plates of the press so that the Taiwanese worker could free himself.  My grandfather was a tall and bulky man for a Japanese person of his generation.  (Thanks to his genes, I am 5’9”.)  He was tall and strong enough that he once competed in Sumo Wrestling.  So it wasn’t surprising that he didn't get seriously injured from the pressure of the press, although he was very sore for a while.  From that day on, he became a local hero for saving a Taiwanese man’s life.  My mother understandably was very proud of her father, and raved to me about how her entire family was fed really well after that, because they would receive gifts of great food from local people.

They would come home after the war was over.  There she lost her mother to some kind of illness. My mother couldn’t tell me what kind of illness, but she recalled that they placed many incisions on her mother’s lower legs to let fluid drain from them.  When her mother died, her younger sister was still trying to suckle on her breast and crying.  My grandfather remarried after a while in desparate need to have someone take care of his young children.  My mother however, never accepted this woman.  My mother would leave home to live in mainland eventually.

My mother was brought up as a catholic, with a Christian name of Clara.  My father’s family had a background of
Joudo Shinsyuu, which is a branch of Japanese Buddhism.  In Japanese traditional marriage, wife would join whatever religion her husband and his family practices by default.  I have a feeling my mother held a special place in her heart for her catholic upbringing, and it was apparent especially in the early years of my growing up.

As a child I remember my mother singing Christian songs with Japanese lyrics at home.  Her voice was high and frail, yet beautiful.  She must have shown me how to pray to God.  I remember when I was around 7 or 8 years old, praying every night in bed after the lights were out.  With my hands clenched on my chest and eyes closed, I would whisper, “Please God, protect my mother, father and my little sister. “  This lasted for a while until I was no longer irrationally frightened about terrible things that may happen to my family.  What’s interesting is that there never were any insistence from my mother, that God existed as a form of higher being.

I was exposed to two different religions, and it didn't seem to be a problem since my family wasn't deeply involved in any kind of rituals or concentrated teachings.  My father was never there to protest even if he secretly disapproved anyway.  Regardless, little by little, my mother would stop singing her Christian songs.

I was only in my lower teens when my mother talked about her past.  I regret not asking questions about the details of her stories.  Gathering from the little I know, I could still see that my mother had lived a multicultural life just like I have.  I wonder, as a result of exposures to different cultures in early years in her life, if she just wanted to settle where she did, in a "normal" setting for a "normal" family.   With my father, who seemed to be in love with her, and his family, of prestige and stability with long history in one location.  

Being a part of my father's family could have seem to my mother, like getting back to her original heritage of the upper class family, before her ancestor was banished.  My mother often  seemed to be proud of her lost heritage as she talked about "what could have been if".  In my mind, this a indication that she had been deeply influenced by the societal conditioning, once she landed on to the mainland.  Perhaps she realized she wasn't valued the same way she was back home anymore.  She very well could have suffered from feeling of inadequacy once she was subjected to the system of cultural judgment in the mainland.

The apparent social prestige my father’s family had in “the mainland”, might have been very attractive to her.  Of course it helped that she loved my father.  Perhaps the life with my father was the socially admirable "status" she so wanted.  It must have been comforting to her too, to know that she would be able to provide her children, my sister and I, the social prestige, so that our lives would be easier in her mind.

She was doing right by the society.  Sure there was going to be a trade off for what she was getting.  She was willing to work for it.  Only thing was... in order to have the “status” she thought was valuable, she needed to live by the village conscious of my father's town and the unreasonable patriarchy of his family.  I know she couldn't make sense of neither.  I know that because she complained to me all the time.  Yet out of desire to belong, she tried to fit there.  She probably desperately wanted to belong.  Because she wanted to belong and "be good", she sacrificed her personal happiness and was dragged through misery.  

As she struggled, she probably had same thoughts most wives of her generation in Japan had.  "I would have to sacrifice only until my children are grown... only until the tyrant of the town is gone... only until... only until... " And the time to stop sacrificing would never come for her. By the time she realized that, it was too late to pull out.  

A few years ago she mumbled that she felt like she wasted her life away, and that she didn’t know what her life was about.  She felt she had endured much, and she had nothing to show for it. What is left is her pride that she now belongs where she is.  And because her first born daughter broke the cycle of "sacrifice for status and honor", she ended up bearing the worst of pain.

I have cried for my mother and her hard life this past week.  Now that I stopped carrying the emotional baggage that didn't belong to me, a space in my heart opened up to be genuinely compassionate toward my mother and her life.  The old warm fond memory of my mother… how I used to see her as a young child came back to my heart.  She was my sunshine when she wasn't unloading on me.  She did try her best. 

I wonder how she is spending her days now, frail and confused, five thousand miles away.  I am now free to feel untainted love for her.  I do need to tell her very soon, that I truly love her.

Friday, October 2, 2009

New post as a guest blogger "Herbivorous Boys of Japan"

Recently I was invited to write a post for a Twitter friend of mine, Ryan Taylor (@c_rh) who has a blog "Caught*Red-Handed" (Click on the title of this post above to link or if it doesn't work for some reason here is the URL: . Sorry tags I know how to use for links don't work on this page.  Someday I'll have enough time to learn everything I need to know?) 

I wanted to introduce him to my readers properly and wrote a paragraph or two.  I was just getting ready to post it when the browser closed on me.... Poof it disappeared. So I will wait till next time to describe Ryan and what he has brought to my outlook about Japan.  Tonight I just want to say big thanks to him for giving me an opportunity to write about the phenomenon being seeing in Japan, the rise of the "Herbivorous Boys of Japan". (

I hope you'll enjoy.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

6. Strength in Vulnerability

For the past week, I sat down at my desk and opened a blank Word Document on my Mac many times.  Every time, I stared at the white space on the page, only to closed it without putting anything down.  

I wanted to draft a new article for my blog on a subject in line with my previous articles.  Each time I attempted to put down the fragments of thoughts I had floating around in my head on the page, I couldn’t hold on to the fragments to let them turn into a thought.  The fragments remained too abstract and too widely scattered, to be pulled together and close to me.  I eventually surrendered to a possibility that it’s not the time to continue the story the way I want to tell it.  It was probably time to sort out what happened recently that has distracted me.  

I got on a new roller-coaster-ride of my personal journey.  Yes… again.  The series of rides just keep going.  This one seems like an extension of a ride I’ve been on in the past.  Only, it’s going to a new height, and taking me to a yet another plane.

The ride started as a result of a step forward I have initiated, to get closer to my immediate family in Japan, by being honest in a way that’s unprecedented for me. 

For the first time in my life, I opened up and communicated to my mother and my sister, about some of my hidden, but true feelings regarding my hometown and our family life.  This came as a result of series of correspondence that took place between my mother and I, prior to my blog writing… the correspondence that included some inadvertent rude remark from my mother that lead to misunderstanding and pulled a significant trigger in me. 

I have been attempting to handle a strong sense of anger this triggering ignited in me for quite sometime.  As I was planning a long awaited visit to Japan in a near future, I saw the need to address the anger that seems to linger and had no intention of leaving me.

I saw many things that needed to be done.  One of them was to show my mother who I truly am, by coming clean with some feelings I held inside for a few decades.  So I formed an involved letter, and sent it to my mother.  I wrote this letter with much consideration and control, through multiple trials and errors, to avoid hurting her senselessly.   I emphasized that I do love her, and that I am grateful for her love and efforts to raise me through very difficult times.  A copy of the letter was sent to my sister to include her in the process of my “coming out”. 

The content of the letter mainly consisted of my views never expressed outwardly before, due to 2 things, as some of the readers may already know.  One is deeply imbedded teaching which dictated me not to disgrace my family or culture by expressing the negative.  Another is that I took protecting my mother’s mental and emotional state as my duty since my childhood, so I learned to conceal my true negative feelings automatically.  Of course, whenever my mother and I got together as adults, we often had fruitless arguments, as any daughter who wants to break away from her mother psychologically would experience.  That’s different from truly opening yourself up after having to look deep inside of yourself as an adult and becoming aware of so many components in your life.

To contrary to the reality I am seeing now, in my past as an adolescent and an adult, I have always considered myself to be open, aware and honest.  I lived by a strong belief that I knew what was going on.  I had a strong conviction toward my right to live my life the way I thought I should be able to, and was proud because I put great effort toward living the way I believed. I remember I often thanked my lucky stars that I was so free and happy living in the US.

Yet it is obvious now that I didn’t let myself be conscious about the depth of the negativity I held inside, about my family life and culture. The nagging whisper in my head I chose not to listen to, as a young excited expat back in Berkeley, was only getting louder through the years.  The whisper got louder and louder and it finally got loud enough for me to recognize that I can no longer ignore it.

I will choose to not reveal details of the letter for my mother's sake, but I want to let the readers know that I informed my mother, of the hurt I've been carrying, and that I've actually never really felt love toward my hometown and it's culture. I also let her know the reason why I was writing the letter at this time.

Letting myself come out in this way, especially in front of someone like my mother who is weakened as she is aging, was not something I could decide to do easily.  I agonized over whether I should actually go through with it or not.  I sought opinions of a friend, my husband and my counselor who is almost at my mother’s age.  And I concluded that, while I can’t take the impact it would have on my mother lightly, it needed to be done for many reasons.  One of the most important reasons was to prevent my children from getting sucked into an unhealthy cycle of the “Old Hurt” any further, by taking care of a part of my pain.  The part that I inherited from my parents and the environment they lived in.

In response to my letter, my mother expressed simply her sympathy, and sorrow that I had to share my negative feelings about things when she is weakened.  I anticipated this kind of response, and I understand how she feels.  I am sorry for her sorrow, and I know some people would never do this to their parents.  But for me, this needed to be done.  I only put a fraction of what I wanted to communicate in order to leave a room for her dignity and sense of acceptance from me.  I have no regrets that I made an attempt to communicate with her, in order to protect my children, and to have a relationship with her on the base of honesty and undistorted love, in the years that’s left for us.  My only regret is that I didn’t do this much earlier in my life, when my mother was young and strong enough to bear the reality easier.

In retrospect, it feels as though the misunderstanding that happened between my mother and I earlier, which propelled me to initiate this communication with her, happened for a reason.  I felt I was given an opportunity to address an ongoing issue because of it.  I must say it took a lot of concentration, time, energy and caution to open up just the right way so that it would be meaningful, not hurtful. 

Right now, I am emotionally exhausted.  No wonder people avoid this kind of personal work, by just trying to “accept things we need to accept as an adult”!  I did for years.  Why be burdened with deep guilt for hurting your parents who did the best they could…  Why open up a can of worms when we can just keep ignoring because we are adults!  Why give our parents grief.  Never mind that our subconscious won’t accept some things it recognizes as things we shouldn’t live with!!  After all it’s only subconscious. Right? …Wrong.  Dead wrong for the person I am today.  I thank my current husband and my children for helping me be who I am today.  In my case, they aided me to learn the role of the mighty subconscious.  Subconscious is not to be ignored.

In actuality I don’t really mind the exhaustion.  For this decision to open up has given me a new window to see out from, in my heart.  Through this new window, I am seeing in everyone, somethings I’ve never seen before, including a part of myself. 

Since the letter had been sent, my sister and I have been in more frequent communication. Besides using emails, we had a long phone conversation.  I have learned a lot through the conversation.  I am continuing to learn something new about my mother, my sister, and even my late father as a result of my opening-up.  There is a hint of regret in me that I lost so many years of getting to know my own family just because I was blocked from freely expressing myself.  Even the regret itself makes it clear to me that the value of this recent revelation, far outweighs the negative.

Understandably my mother seems lost for now.  My sister and I broke through a wall we didn’t know we had between us.  Right now I feel extremely exposed and vulnerable.  Yet I feel stronger.  It’s a kind of strength that’s new.  It’s just utterly amazing to personally feel the “strength during the state of vulnerability “, the kind of strength I’ve always heard about.  It feels genuine and more solid.  It feels like my puffed up roots on steroids with fake strength have been dug up from sandy ground.  I feel like I am replanted into fertile rich soil.  My roots shriveled up a bit, but now they are increasing in thickness and length, growing deep.  They are gaining real strength and stability. 

I no longer have a coping mechanism to conceal what I don’t wish to feel.  And I don’t have to hold my breath anymore each time something happens that stirs up something inside me.  I can breathe, feel, and see things more clear than ever before.   My hurt is enhanced. So is my joy and happiness.  I see more clearly which baggage I can unload off of me, and which baggage I need to take responsibility of carrying through to the end.

It feels I am almost at the end of the first round for this particular ride I got on only a little more than a week ago.  It is possible that the ride may stabilize and stop for a while.  It is also possible that a sudden assent, a drop or a sharp turn is still ahead. 

No matter what is awaiting next, I feel that the ride will eventually make a stop at a very good place.  I have a feeling, after this ride among many I am yet to take, that I would actually be able to laugh without a tint of sadness hidden in it.  I have a feeling I would be closer to being free in a true sense.  And I hope dearly that my true freedom will ultimately bring a sense of harmony and peace among people around me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tea Break

After reviewing what used to be titled "4. The Inheritance of the Old Hurt", I realized it was too long to read casually in one sitting.  I wrote the article with such feverish concentration, that I didn't realize how long it actually was, even after having it edited several times and re-reading it.   It also seemed that the article contained 2 separate parts describing separate issues.  

So I separated them into 2 articles.  They are now "4. The Secret of the 'Perfect Village' " and "5. The Inheritance of the Old Hurt."  Some thoughts that were lacking in the original version were added, to both of the new articles.  I believe my views are presented clearer this way.  

Comments people graciously posted with "4. The Secret of the 'Perfect Village' " are actually for the article before I split them in halves. 

I regret that it may be confusing for readers who have already read the old version.  I hope you'll see an improvement, if you happened to have enough interest left to read the new version.  

I am learning as I go, and I appreciate your support. 

5. The Inheritance of the Old Hurt

What we experience with our family as a child shapes us. I have described some of what I consider to be the damaging elements in my childhood, in my previous article.

Despite those damaging elements I was exposed to by my parents as a child, I still hold deep love in my heart for my parents. I'm sure many others feel the same way about their parents. My parents tried to love me the best they could. Sadly, I feel that their ability to parent didn't reach the full potential because they were blinded by the severe distress they had to endure. The distress seems to be born of the mental conditioning that is ancient, preserved by unyielding respect for a cultural belief, that they must carry on the pattern of behavior their ancestors carried on for generations.

There seemed to be a disregard for personal happiness there. I saw mental neglect. And it's not just there at my little hometown. It seems to me that the suffering exists at the national level.

I don’t believe that the overall lack of emphasis on happiness and mental neglect is present now because people of the nation today are intentionally neglectful, careless or unloving. I believe it’s because adults of the community are holding inside, deep and ancient pain. Pain that comes from carrying the burden of cultural principles, patriarchy, and group conscious. The pain they inherited from the generations before them. This pain is something so anciet and familiar that people don’t even see it exists most of the time. It’s the kind of pain that eats away at each person’s inside as it’s passed on generation after generation.

Think of any physical pain. Let’s say a severe stomachache or headache. Imagine the symptoms never being addressed so that the pain never goes away. Imagine the pain continuing without relief for days, months, or even years. You can expect that the continuous pain would start causing some dysfunction in your daily activities. The same thing happens with the pain of the heart. The only difference is, that the continuous unaddressed severe pain in your heart will hinder your ability to process reality.

So what do people do with the inherited pain, when it’s level is so high it becomes intolerable, and their reality is distorted? Unconsciously, they spill this overflowing hurt on the only people that are available to inherit… their children. Adults who have inherited this pain will inflict the severe hurt they couldn’t endure themselves, onto the precious children they so dearly care about and want to love. I believe that’s what parents pass on to next generation. And sadly, I see the passing of the pain is happening as we speak today.

To me, as far as the community I knew in Japan is concerned, this old pain seems to have a strong connection to the cultural value the nation held for centuries. What comes to mind is again, the Bushi-Do principle of: loyalty, courtesy, bravery, faithfulness and modesty. This principle of samurai warrior seems noble. But not if applied in a way it seemed to be applied to the community I grew up in.

I am aware that my interpretation here may be overly simplistic and dramatic, but I believe it would help explain the mechanics of conformity in my birth place. It seemed that loyalty, courtesy, and faithfulness were demanded of people in the community, to serve three elements at any cost – honor of the family, the superficial integrity of the community they belonged to, and the survival of the company they worked for. Bravery was also demanded of people to withstand the pain inflicted upon them in serving and fighting for those same three elements no matter what the cost. Lastly, modesty was demanded of people as well, in order to discourage them from putting themselves first before those three elements.

What is alarming is the way people seem to practice these principles with a sense of pride. I cringe because I see this pride to be filled with pain and hurt, caused by irrational adherence to a set of rules that worked in the time when Japan was in the period of constant feudal war.

When I see, the deep-seeded presence of the pride filled with sense of honor and hurt, and the way people praise this pride, I can’t help but sense a disaster lurking just around the corner from them. A kind of disaster similar to what a community may face, if, some life-threatening, undetectable toxin has been released in the air they breathe for ages, and majority believes there is no toxin present at all.

So everyone is breathing the air that contains the toxin with no detectible smell or color. The toxins are poisonous enough to eventually make people who breathe it ill, but not very rapidly. The negative affect of this particular toxin is slow and the deterioration of health occurs over a long period of time. By the time people realize there is something wrong with their health, the poison has already penetrated deep within the body. It’s not easily reversible.

I see the pride filled with pain and hurt in Japanese society, as the toxin in the air they breathe. The toxin mixed with certain hallucinating agent in them, as this pride is considered a noble thing and makes people feel good for a while. I believe the negative effect of concealed “inherited hurt” is just as gradual and subtle, but extremely damaging. The damage would be so great that it encourages people to resign to it and let the damage spread further.

One of the most obvious signs of resignation is denial. By denial, people keep the painful cycle of handing down the old hurt.

Regretfully, I didn’t escape the cycle. I’ve also been a culprit in passing down of the old hurt to the next generation. My current husband pointed out one day, after going through some conflicts with me, that I seem to have suffered some kind of severe trauma in the past. He pointed out the reasons why he thought so. It was only after that point, I came to realize how I had been hurting my own children inadvertently because of the pain I was carrying inside.

My children believed in me. My children came along with me through difficult times after my divorce. They loved me despite my flaws. I was devastated to discover that I, the only person they could depend on everyday, was hurting them like I’d been hurt by my parents. And because of that, I can now at least attempt to prevent myself from passing the old hurt down to my children. Since I have become aware of some of my own pain, I can let the pain lay where it belongs.

I still have a lot to tell. I also still have a lot to learn. As painful as the process of this step in self-discovery has been, I am grateful. For this particular process is turning out to be, perhaps one of the most significant pivotal points of my life.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

4. The Secret of the "Perfect Village"

Children are vulnerable. They come to this world in a completely helpless state, where they have to rely on capable adults to provide food, and a place to be safe and warm. 

Once they become self-aware, they need mental support, in addition to the essentials for staying alive.  They depend on adults around them for their emotional comfort, sense of security, and guidance in moral. 

I occasionally hear someone say, probably out of desperation, that children don’t need parents to grow-up.  True, children may not need uncaring abusive parents to grow.  If adults are not available to care for them, some children are capable of survival by learning to be street smart.  But we all know that growing up without love and support of caretaker is hardly a foundation to become a mentally healthy and happy adult.  When children are not provided a safe place to be, with someone who loves and accepts them for who they are, they can become susceptible to a life-long depression.  Because a child without security, love or acceptance by someone, would not have a positive image of himself or the world he lives in.  He will not be able to hope for a brighter future for himself, because he is not capable of imagining one.

Unfortunately, the strong parental support children need to grow up to be truly happy functional adults, are not always available in our world, and my little hometown is no exception. 

I was born in a small city of 50 thousand people, situated near a beautiful coastline of a small peninsula on the Pacific side, in central Japan.  It seemed like strong support of adults for their children would be available in a section of the city I grew up in, an innocent sleepy community.  Why wouldn’t there be?  Grown-ups of the town seemed to say nice things to one another.  They cared for the elderly.  Each family line was carried on to by the younger generation.  People stayed within the boundary of how they should conduct.  In doing all those things, no one complained outwardly.  Everyone even did a lot of volunteer work for the community.  Such “ideal community” would surely be an environment where people can keep their children healthy, mentally and physically, wouldn’t it? 

What I discovered after a year of counseling was in contrary to the superficial image of what this community provided.  I learned that I had never really felt protected or accepted as a child.  The child inside me, who’d been locked up for a long time until recently, still weeps today, because she couldn’t comprehend what was going on with adults around her.  When she felt hurt and sad, she couldn’t express it to anyone.  She couldn’t trust adults who were supposed to be showing her how to live.  When I made this realization, I looked into more of what had happened in my childhood. 

No continuous physical abuse was inflicted on me to my recollection.  So I ruled it out as a main factor. -

This is a slight derailment from what I would like to focus in this article, but it may give a clearer picture of social mentality that was present back in those days. There was less caution against physical punishment then. There were a few unrelated incidents I experienced that may have contributed in my repellence against my hometown. 

One time when I lied to my mother about skipping a piano lesson during my grade school years, she slapped me across my face.  (Looking back, It’s interesting how she told me never to lie again, but didn’t encourage me to tell her why I didn’t go to the lesson or suggest that I quit if I don’t want to play piano.) What became more prominent in my recollection of my past is the abuse that took place in schools.  Teachers were notorious back then for choosing physical punishments on students, whatever offence students committed.  The offence usually was missed homework or violating a dress code covering things like length of a skirt or style of your hair.  I recall being pinched and struck for a missed homework when I was in third grade, and being struck with a hardcover book when I missed an after-school club meeting in middle school.  I remember the feeling of humiliation.  Personally, these incidents lead me to believe that it’s not the physical hurt that lingers and affect a person’s life.  It’s the mental hurt that is more powerful and damaging.  

Physical punishments are now considered inappropriate in Japan today as is in many societies.  Yet I know for a fact that a portion of adult population in Japan still believes in physical punishment as an effective and necessary tool to mold children.  

- So what was so wrong that I couldn’t trust adults? 

To summarize, it was the way adults, including my parents, who are supposed to be looked up upon by me as a child, didn’t make efforts to do the right thing.  They didn’t seem to see any point in correcting the wrongs and making them right.  This apparent disregard to moral and the indifference in adults, left me confused, untrusting, and feeling unprotected.

Another reason why I, as a child, felt exposed could have been because I thought I had to be a mental protector to my mother and my younger sister.  I know now there are limits to what a small child can do, and it’s not possible for a child to care for an adult mentally. But I didn’t know that at the time.

I mentioned in my previous article, that I was ordered by my mother never to discuss anything that has to do with family publically.  When she said family, she meant my father’s entire family, which included not only his wife and children, but also all his relatives who bore the family name.    Why?  There were two reasons for this.  One is because my father’s family was very well known in the community and highly regarded, at least superficially anyway.  So no member of this great family could afford to tarnish the family’s prestige by revealing that we are also imperfect humans, just like anyone else.  My mother was especially paranoid about this, which explains the second reason, the effect of Village Conscious.  She was just another victim of social polarization.

My mother was from another part of the country, and was the subject of rejection and subtle group abuse by people in the neighborhood as well as my father's family.  She tried her best to protect her image and prevent any severe harm to come to her or her children.  She attempted this by trying her darnedest to appear to be perfect and fit into the community.  And one of her strategies was to keep everything that might be construed with the slightest negative connotation, secret. Hence, her strict order to a toddler, who couldn’t selectively keep things secret, to “Keep her mouth shut”.  She also unloaded her frustration and pain on me, a very young child.  Sharing with me the sordid details of her relationship with my father, as well as her struggles relating to my father’s family and those who made up this community we lived in.  I suspect my mother didn't have anyone to confide in.  This caused many ill effects on my life, that I will be discussing it in another article.  

It didn’t help that in this environment my late father was an absent one who was emotionally unavailable to everyone including my mother, my sister and I.  No, I’m sure he didn’t intend to abandon us.  He was actually regarded as one of the more respectable members in the community.  After all he was his father’s son, graduated from one of the most prestigious universities in Tokyo, and made something of himself in the society’s view.  He just was never there, because he was at work all over Japan as a consultant most of his life.  

He was a workaholic who put everything he had into becoming a success in the company he worked for.  His hard work provided for his family well financially.  I remember my mother repeatedly reassured my sister and me, that our father loved us.  She said that’s why he worked so hard and we didn’t see him very much. 

I empathized with his struggle and respected him, especially when I turned old enough to understand the harshness of the working environment in Japan.

Eventually though, I believe this “working hard for the family” and “brutal working environment of Japan” became an excuse for him to stay away from things that made him uncomfortable about his personal life.  I am certain that he was also plagued by his environment where he grew up, regardless whether he was conscious of it or not.  I fail to see now why he had to submerge himself into the world of work the way he did.  I wonder if he didn’t have a severe emotional impairment he needed to run away from everyday.  There were suggestions that his personal life was very dysfunctional.  One of the things I noticed was that he appeared not to have any close friends, but was well received by people who didn‘t really know him.  I also noticed that the company he had dedicated his life to, showed very little sympathy when he passed away of cancer.  I often felt that he didn’t even know his own parents and siblings.  More sadly, I, his own first born, never really knew who he really was.

Where I stand now, I feel my personal growth was stunted because of the way my parents related to me in an environment that seemed very puzzling to me for many reasons.  My parents probably were not able to see what was going on with me.   They couldn’t have seen what was going on with me, because they were too busy coping with everyday life themselves.  They had no time to address their own issues. And I feel for them for their own struggles.

On the other hand, through my childhood experiences, I seemed to have developed a persona of a protector or a warrior.  There was a constant urge in me to try to protect someone who may have been misunderstood or mistreated.  I often assisted my classmates who were ridiculed just because they had a disability or difference.  I fended for new students who moved into our community and were being ostracized.  I remember taking pride in doing those things, although I was labeled odd.  It’d lead me to believe I was someone special because I had the natural urge to do what seemed to be good deeds.  So there were some positive that came out of my upbringing.   

Recently my younger sister informed me that she thought of herself as “Big Sis’s Girl”, as in “Daddy’s Girl” or “Mommy’s Boy”.  It was a relief for me to hear this in a way.  I realized now that I did try to protect my sister.  Now that I’m older, I can’t help feeling a twinge of anger... anger toward the way my parents chose to live, in a place where my sister needed to be protected by the older sibling, just another child herself… I sill love my parents, for I understand that they did the best they could.  Still I wonder today, if my parents were ever concerned about the environment we were in.  If they were, I wonder if they tried to address it openly.  I eventually left my sister there, and the regret of doing so would haunt me for years. 

As one of my mentors pointed out to me recently, I can’t ignore the possibility that my reaction to how things were in my hometown could have had something to do with my own mental “wiring” or make up.  I’ve been told more than once that I am more sensitive than others, so it makes sense that my experiences may have been magnified through my own processing.  I was probably prone to more hurt because of it.  Ironically, I believe my sensitivity aided me to notice things around me, perhaps with more depth.  

I knew there was something very unhealthy there where I grew up.  More than likely it still is.