Autistic Haven: Japan.
Japan is ableist. The country itself has tried to make strides on this front, like introducing mandatory hiring quotas for physically disabled people. Yet, many buildings still aren’t accessible and general cultural attitudes towards disabled and neurodivergent people are still quite behind. While living there I told next to nobody about my aspergers.
So it may strike you odd that I believe Japan is excellent for those on the autistic spectrum.
Last night I had dinner with a dear friend. As with most of my friends, she’s a fellow aspergirl. I’m prepping for a return to Japan for an extended amount of time. We talked about geeky shops and Love!Live events. Then we talked about our neurodivergence.
“Japan is awesome for autistic people.” She got me and I got her. It is. And it also kind of sucks.
The worst part about Japanese culture is that there are too many damn rules. The best part about Japanese culture is that the rules are explicit and so is your place in society.
An example: When I was 18 I signed up for a bank account. This was done with pen and paper. For one reason or another, I wrote over one letter of my name an extra time, so it was slightly darker than the other letters. Besides this, my physical application was in pristine condition. Because one letter was filled in darker than the others, I had to redo the entire application. The bank required me to take an hour-long train from my dorm building to their bank office.
Sure, I’m glad they were cautious about my identity.
Rules are also kind of good. As a teen, I’d have a Mister Donut on the train to school. I came straight from suburban Michigan and had zero experience with public transportation. So I was quite surprised by the looks of disgust everyone around me gave as I happily ate my donut.
Then I heard the rule, you cannot eat in places not designated for eating. Once I understood and was able to follow this rule: people sat next to me on the train.
These rules are beneficial for having a safe, functional society. In Tokyo, everything works. Trains are on time. People do what they promise. In a city with roughly 30 million people, there’s surprisingly high trust.
They try to keep things pretty sensory-friendly as well. The use of bright lights, loud noises, and strong scents is minimized, and it is considered impolite to be loud or disruptive in public spaces.
Japan Tokyo is perfect if you have special interests. Like most people on the spectrum, I have special niche interests that I care solely about. Throughout my life, this has been astronomy → social subcultures → technology. I no longer want to be an astronaut but I’d love to write/document subcultures and their intersections with technology. Tokyo alone is full of creative people who dedicate their lives to their passions. Whether you have an affinity for 50s rockabilly, south central LA, immersive art experiences, animation…There are large social groups you can be a part of. Tokyo itself is a very lonely city however when it comes to weirdo passions I’ve never felt a place with more of a sense of community. Don’t believe me? There’s a Luther Vandross themed bar. A maid cafe modeled after European aristocracy. Better French bistros than Paris. There’s so many people who have entire full-time careers based on creative pursuits and their obsessions. It’s really inspiring to see and great if you’re an autistic person who wants to find community or start a business.
When I left Tokyo, I had years left on my visa. At the time it was the right decision for me. Sometimes I think about living continental, half years in San Francisco and half years in Tokyo or Osaka. That’s far from now though.
I also have oppositional defiance disorder(lol) and I hated following meaningless rules. But…one thing I really miss about living in Japan is that even if I don’t agree with the rules, I still know what they are.
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