Bonsai Monogatari: Japan in 1000 Words

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I first became acquainted with Japan when I was 15 years old though a two-way cultural exchange. Socially awkward as a result of a disfiguring accident that occurred when I was five …the trip was a chance to see the world beyond my rural Michigan town and hopefully make some friends.

 

In 1980 “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” was my go-to resource for learning about Japan. In it anthropologist Ruth Benedict described the Japanese people as . . .
“both aggressive and unaggressive,
…militaristic and aesthetic,
insolent and polite,
rigid and adaptable,
submissive and resentful…etc.”

crysanthemum

On the positive side of this dichotomy, I found my new Tokyo friends to be polite and very hospitable. AND I loved the aesthetic, ritualistic processes of Japanese daily life. During my stay I learned to gracefully back out of my shoes and step up into the house and say all the required greetings.

 

Japan was a place where everything had logical or spiritual significance. Nothing–not school, family, or religion as I had been exposed to it, had provided me with a framework that held my teenage soul together like the Japanese culture. Japan was so intoxicating that even as a teenager I began mimicking the quiet, purposeful movements of the people. And, soon after my return to Michigan I began to plot WHEN and HOW I would return and live in Japan.

Sado

To this end I hooked up with a Japanese college student studying in the U.S. His name was “Right Man” and he was from a small island in the Japan Sea…a remote, historical place called Sado. Right Man said it was the REAL JAPAN. At 18 I married “Right Man”…but before I could move to Japan permanently, he had to complete his degree at MSU. During that period I studied the language and by my husband’s instruction learned to cook, clean, and speak with soften tones. I could close a door without a sound, and silently set dishes onto a table. None of this was easy, but in 1986 I achieved my goal and moved to Sado—living on a 500-year old estate complete with a tea house, temple, and family burial grounds. There Right Man wielded his power as the only person who could possibly carry on the long family legacy.

 

As was customary, every so often demons came to perform a household exorcism. Unfortunately, their dancing did not expel the evil from our home. One day, while cleaning the futon closet, I found several magazines containing nude photos of very young girls…innocent erotica. My husband’s explanation went something like this: “Boys are first attracted to girls who are 10 or 11. It is natural for men to still be attracted to that beauty. It is fantasy, art…nothing more.”  This explanation was hard to swallow, but comics depicting doe-eyed, characters in school uniforms as objects of sexual desire were commonplace; child pornography perfectly legal at the time.

 

Japan comics

“Petit Tomato” was a monthly collection of child nudes created by Sumiko Kiyooka, a woman who was near retirement age.  It was sold on newstands like any other periodical. 

Every spring, as the snow melts, the shape of a monkey holding a seed appears as a bare spot near Sado’s tallest mountaintop— signaling the planting season. Not long after our second planting season, my husband abruptly announced he would rather live the easy life in America than carry his family burden. The seed sewing monkey not only signaled our return to the US, but my first pregnancy. I had a daughter and two years later a son. From their birth I raised them to be 100% Japanese using books, toys, and videos shipped regularly from Sado. I knew no less than 150 Japanese children’s songs.  During these years we lived near Detroit in a transplant community of engineers and their families sent here to support the new Mazda plant where Right Man worked. My children and I were accepted into the close-knit community and treated like any other Japanese family living there…participating in their play groups and teas.

 

Although I was proficient in my duties, Right Man was very strict. He was the other side of Ruth Benedict’s assessment of the Japanese character…that is “aggressive, militaristic, insolent and, rigid.” His trimming and shaping of me was constant…and eventually I lost my mind and my children. What I did not lose was my adoration for Japan. In my afflicted state I became a karaoke queen and took an English teaching job in Tokyo. There I binged on Japanese culture and in the process came face to face with some unsavory aspects.

Translator

In 1997, after studying Japanese manufacturing on my own, I secured an interpreter job back in Michigan. For the next 4 years I followed Japanese engineers around as their voice…imparting their philosophy to American workers. During that time I received custody of my son but sadly my daughter remained with Right Man.

 

In 2001, after 21 years in the culture, I moved to St. Joseph/Benton Harbor to work for an American automotive company…eventually falling in love with an American man. Returning to my roots, becoming the tall Michigan white pine that I was born to be, seemed natural…much easier than becoming Japanese.

 

In 2006, I received an unexpected call from my estranged daughter. She needed my help. Right Man had taken fantasies, normalized by his culture, into reality. By his own confession and a mountain of evidence he was convicted of 1st degree criminal sexual assault and procession of child pornography.

 

Many people become mesmerized by exotic places; seeing their art or customs as unique expression …without knowing what goes on behind paper doors so to speak. Japan’s fascination with child erotica and incest is a product of their traditions; and their tolerance is befitting their national character. It’s important wherever you are to be aware of these connections . . . and understand that all cultures are man-made systems of value; created and judged by our limited sensibilities— unworthy of blind followership. The fact is there is a true north…an ultimate truth that rises above our own systems. It’s our job to identify this, and live accordingly– regardless of where we are born and our exposure.

The details are in the manuscript.  Love, Stacy

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29 thoughts on “Bonsai Monogatari: Japan in 1000 Words

  1. This was very difficult to read. I got a lump in my throat I couldn’t swallow. I’m so sorry that this happened to you and I’m so sorry for your daughter. I hope she found peace with you and can try to put all the awfulness behind her.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I can identify with the simultaneous attraction to and repulsion from Japanese culture–I think you are right that ultimately, we need a more reliable guide than a human culture.

    By the way, I have to ask–what is a “karaoke queen”?

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    • Well for a couple of years I sought love in all the wrong places. I began going to karaoke bars in Detroit and on long weekends I’d fly to Tokyo and do the same. Then I moved to Japan again and continued my reckless search for a Japanese man who would love me for me. Those were my jet-setting karaoke queen years. I could really sing then! You may have read the about my final trip when Ya-chan held me under the water. He was a strong character in my life but never my husband.

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      • Oh, I see! That part makes a lot more sense to me now; thank you!

        If you don’t mind my asking, what were the qualities you admired in Japanese men? And what part of yourself did they not accept?

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      • At the very end I was repulsed by the idolization of young girls (the tolerance thereof) and the shame culture (which I wrote about in a separate answer). Those two things ate away at the love I had for Japan.

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  3. Having lived i Japan now for exactly one year today, I have witnessed the dichotomy of the people here as mentioned in Ruth Benedict’s quote. I am a people watcher at heart, so it’s been very interesting observing and getting to know this behavior. As a business English teacher, it never ceases to fascinate me how my students are simultaneously respectful and condescending.

    I really love this statement, “It’s important wherever you are to be aware of these connections . . . and understand that all cultures are man-made systems of value; created and judged by our limited sensibilities— unworthy of blind followership.” As the pressure to assimilate grows, I often have to remember things like this.

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      • Although these are Rose Marie’s words about students I believe, I will try my hand at answering a different perspective which is as a former wife, lover of several Japanese men (my karaoke queen days), and former interpreter. If rules and norms (which are sometimes obscure and unexplained) are followed, then respect is abundant. It is also part of the omote, genteel surface we all admire. However Japan is also a shame culture. Berating to humiliate is an accepted practice among adults and as a means of keeping everyone (adults and children in line). Many western cultures depend upon individuals feeling guilt and this is sufficient. I saw school teachers, managers, husbands, fathers and mothers shame their students, employees, wives and children. This produces a condescending manner which is the ura foreigners don’t always see, ignore to adore, and sometimes believe in some twisted way is a positive trait that makes the Japan a wonderful culture.

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  4. since im learning japanese martial arts like shitoryu karate and ninjitsu from childhood , i have a strong attachment to the japanese culture , not only they have a spiritual life , they have self respect and harmony, the cultures influence in western life is so awesome , even they had a cool and sweet fashion trend, the anime of the japan are world , i love to admit im an anime love , especially when it comes to one piece , naruto and dragon ballz.

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  5. ” Japan’s fascination with child erotica and incest is a product of their traditions; and their tolerance is befitting their national character. It’s important wherever you are to be aware of these connections . . . and understand that all cultures are man-made systems of value; created and judged by our limited sensibilities— unworthy of blind followership. ”

    Do elaborate more. Very intriguing.

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    • This paragraph is loaded isn’t it? By legend The Japanese islands were born out of incestuous relationship between siblings. Bathing and sleeping together until children are preteen is accepted and touching, even if not commonplace, is not taboo. Inter-familial relations like this and more is acceptable bonding . . .a natural outcome. The national character makes conforming to the norms and keeping secrets expected. For us, this all played out in the control my ex had over me and my daughter. And there were manifestations in other relationships I had both privately and professionally with the Japanese. These traits are ultimately harmful, to children especially. There is a long report I’ve attached to a post page called Dear Japan. I believe this report is more or less accurate. I really enjoy your questions by the way! I believe you are very informed about these things. I have many details in my book but have yet to line up publication! Alas. It’s time may come.

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  6. This is a great post. I’ve spent a lot of time in Japan, mostly Misawa and Yokosuka, but also Okinawa, while in the Navy. I agree with your assessment. They are a complex people, as I have come to know through my Japanese mother-in-law 🙂

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    • Thank you Margaret. Individually we are better and have enjoyed some good times together, but because of my role in what happened to her (in that I was not physically present for a time during which she naturally lost trust in me and turned to her father for security. . .) our relationship is fragile. I love her so very much but her heart struggles.

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      • It will dear friend until she can forgive. And you can pray for that on her behalf as you have authority as her mother to ask that her heart melt and find peace and forgiveness towards you. This is a mother’s kind authority that stands at the throne of God, with tears and supplication for her child.

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    • I do love it! Sometimes, however, I have a little panic attack, PTSD or anxiety in certain situation situations so I never imagine traveling there again. But I certainly hope for the best when it comes to the nation and the people! And. . .I stir up some mean Japanese home cooking every so often which my ex painstakingly taught me.

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  7. Hi Stacy.

    I’ve only recently started to follow your blog but after reading a couple of posts I just wanted to say I really like your honest style of writing. I’m amazed at your ability to still keep a logical and focused mind after what you and your family have experienced. It’s so easy for people to turn bitter and resentful after such experiences. You are a very strong person indeed.

    Looking forward to reading more posts in the future, all the best 🙂

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  8. Thank you Rising for your kind words. We could all very well wallow in the past and I did for many years, heartbroken over it all, but then I received the gift of forgiveness which is precious to me. By that gift I was able to see the things that occurred in a new light and gain perspective. If only my children, my daughter especially could love and feel loved as we are intended. I pray for you, your husband and your expecting bundle Yuukei (cute!)

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  9. Stacy, I am so impressed by your insight and beautiful writing. My husband and I were so taken by the country on our recent trip to Japan that we even wondered if we might be able to live there. Your post has made me realize how superficial our impressions of Japan were. We saw only the abundant beauty and good but did not see nor imagine the negatives that, of course, exist in all cultures.

    May your relationship with your daughter continue to grow at whatever pace is necessary. Thank you for making me see more clearly.

    Liked by 1 person

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