Government mandated harakiri--Japan says the quiet part out loud.
Plastic bag in hand, I jotted out of the LIFE grocery store in Setagaya. Turkey meat, wheat buns, and cheese–I planned on cooking a small meal with the new person I was dating. At 19, the only meal I felt confident in cooking was a turkey burger. I took a double take when I saw a baby, strapped in his carriage, alone. I watched the baby from afar, expecting his mother to be nearby. Once five minutes passed I realized that this baby was alone. And after another five minutes, his father finally came out of the grocery store and made their way home. Although I lived in Japan for about a year, this shocked me. Parents have no issue leaving toddlers alone outside of grocery stores for extended periods of time. I would have known this sooner but I almost never cooked. (shrug)
This experience highlighted my appreciation for Japanese society. In my few years of living in the country, I can recall many occasions of children succumbing to violence from strangers. Yet there still remained a communal sense of trust that I have never experienced in America. This was a huge contrast to my rearing on the West side of Detroit. So much so that I even considered raising children in Japan. Even a little brown baby of mine would fare better in Tokyo. My Japanese partner and I would discuss the prospect of having children. He wanted to have a daughter named Shiori and I wanted a son named Teddy. “What would you do if we had a disabled kid? What would we do then?” He thought about it for a second – “Well, that would depend right? If they can’t see or hear or something well, fine. There's special tutors and stuff. If it’s cognitive…we should consider something like abortion.”
The idea of having to take care of someone for the rest of my life terrifies me. That’s the risk you take when you have kids. But I was even more shocked by my boyfriend’s reason.
“They wouldn’t be able to add anything to society…”
The solution to this hypothetical predicament would be the same(termination). Yet reasoning unsettled me. I would not want to have that responsibility. My partner would not want to “burden” society with this responsibility. In my heart, I know that cognitively disabled people have a place in our society. The idea of taking care of an adult child until my death frightens me.
Some would say both of these thinking patterns lay the foundation for eugenicist policies. That’s a reasonable assertion. For this post, I’m dissecting how two less-than-ideal “solutions” can have different origins.
Japan has a rocky history of disability rights. Although the government has made laws about disability employment quotas, I’ve heard from disabled friends that the country is not great when it comes to things like accessibility. When I lived in Japan there was an attack on a disabled people’s facility that left nineteen dead. The perpetrator was a former employee of the facility but he also gave the motive of disabled people’s lack of “contributions”. This week, Yale professor Yusuke Narita has made waves with his comments on Japan’s elderly population. Narita suggested that Japan’s elderly(who remain the oldest in the world) should undergo mass seppuku to relieve strain on society. These ideas aren’t new. LDP leader Taro Aso made similar suggestions a decade ago. And while culling the elderly is far-fetched now – the idea behind it isn’t so strange. PM Kishida is currently proposing a retirement tax.
I intended to write this article with the purpose of denouncing collectivism. Yet while writing, I realized that America’s brutal hyper-individualist culture also has a way of discarding the elderly, the disabled, and the vulnerable. While the arguments aren’t centered around the societal greater good, most people don’t pay attention to those in the margins because it doesn’t benefit us, as individuals.
Cities like San Francisco allow drug users and mentally ill people to live in absolute squalor because it’s not too big of an inconvenience to people with the power to change anything. We don’t need government mandated harakiri, we just let people die a slow/painful/demoralizing death.
Is that any better?
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