Some readers’ mails in response to recent Community articles:

A mother’s tale

Re: “Cultural and legal hurdles block path to child adoptions in Japan” by Charles Lewis (The Foreign Element, Oct. 1):

After reading the article about adoption and foster parenting in Japan, I thought you might like to hear one woman’s experience with both.

I came to Japan the first time from 1968 to 1969. I lived in Osaka, but the main reason I came was to meet Mrs. Miki Sawada.

It was at the height of the Vietnam War and there were literally thousands of babies being born between American servicemen and Asian women. I was just a very shy young woman who thought it was shameful that the U.S. at that time refused to acknowledge responsibility for those children.

As Saigon was falling, planeload after planeload of children was being brought out of Vietnam by agencies such as the Holt Foundation in Oregon, or the Pearl S. Buck foundation, called Welcome House.

I really wanted to do something for the Amer-Asian children, but I was still almost a child myself. I returned to the U.S. and started working toward my degree in teaching, all the time in the back of my head one day wanting to return to Japan.

Both Pearl S. Buck and Ambassador Edwin O. Reischauer recommended I try to volunteer at the Elizabeth Saunders Home in Oiso, Kanagawa. It was an orphanage started by Miki Sawada (granddaughter to the founder of the Mitsubishi group and wife to Renzo Sawada, an ambassador of Japan to many countries). She started the orphanage after World War II, to help with the children born between American servicemen and Japanese women that were being abandoned.

Ten years after my first meeting with Mrs. Sawada, I received a letter from her asking if I was still interested in working at her orphanage. Of course, I accepted, and they were some of the most enjoyable years of my life, even though I almost died.

Unfortunately, I became very ill while I was working at the Elizabeth Saunders Home and lost the ability to have children. It also was a sadder occasion because the world lost a very outstanding woman, when Mrs. Sawada later passed away.

At the time I was at the orphanage, the children were no longer mostly Amer-Asians. Very few children were available for adoption, as they were still tied by law to their birth parents’ families. On the holidays, often the children with families would go home to them, but there always a few children left in Catch-22 situations where they couldn’t be adopted but nobody ever came for them either — those were the children that broke my heart.

I was so lucky — I met the sweetest young Japanese fellow who said it didn’t matter to him that I couldn’t have children, and he understood my desire to become a mother. After being married for four years, we had an interview with an agency in Tokyo that specialized in overseas adoptions and passed all the requirements. Our name was put on a waiting list and we were told it could be a long wait.

At first we had such silly ideas: a little girl, one who was biracial like our marriage, etc., etc. But one morning, only four months from when our name was put on the list, we got a phone call from our case worker. She called under the pretext of looking for a foster home in the Shonan area [in Kanagawa Prefecture]. It was still morning, before I went to work.

I asked her, “Have there been any babies available?” and I think she could hear the pain in my voice. That afternoon, when I got to work, our headteacher said there had been a phone call from our case worker, and he said, “I think they have a baby for you,” but I said, “I just talked to her this morning and she said there were no babies.”

He said, “Please sit down and call her.” He had been as excited as my husband and I throughout the whole wait; actually, all my fellow teachers were just as excited, as were the students. Everybody was crying after that telephone call.

Well, to make a wonderful story a little shorter, she said, “We know you wanted a baby girl but we have a newborn baby boy, 10 days old. Would you like to come on Monday to see him? Be sure to bring a bottle or two of milk and clothes, etc.”

When they brought him into the room, we saw the most beautiful baby in the world, our first son, only 10 days old and still with his umbilical cord attached. I let my husband hold him first because I knew I would have plenty of time with him. We counted his fingers and toes — and cried, of course, because he was perfect.

As time went by, we heard about the foster parent program and learned that there was a little financial assistance on offer. Since we were both teachers and weren’t the wealthiest people in the world, we knew we would need help if we were to become foster parents. We went through very rigorous training and background checks. Our preference was for children who would never be able to go home to their birth parents, so they would in all essence be our children, except under the law.

We were surprised that there were more baby boys available than girls. Most people seemed to want a cute little girl, and they seem to think that girls are easier to raise than boys, although I’ve heard from friends with daughters that that isn’t necessarily so.

Our house was quite small, so we either had to have boys or girls, and since our child was a little boy, we went with boys.

Within a year we went from a family of three to a family of six — all of a sudden we had three sons born in the same year, plus a 6-year-old. It just seemed like every time we visited the baby home, another baby would catch our eye. My husband finally said, “Let’s stay away for a while.”

Yes, we raised four little baby boys to be fine adults. It wasn’t easy — no joke, there were times when those raging teenage hormones just about sent us through the ceiling, but we managed, and they did too.

Now they are in their twenties, but those hormones are still raging. Actually, one is talking on his cellphone right now, and he sounds like he belongs to the Japanese mafia — really irritating, to say the least!

When people hear about us, I say the kids handled everything better than us, as they couldn’t choose us, we chose them, but I believe there was a stronger force involved in all of it.

Always remember, parethood is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year job. One of our sons was born very premature. He had food allergies, asthma and eczema, and we had a lot of emergency runs to the hospital in those first few years.

Time has gone by so fast. Unfortunately, four years ago I lost my husband and my sons lost their dad, but we are all still together.

It hasn’t always been easy, and it still isn’t. I have become disabled, but my sons have stuck by their old mom. Mom is trying to find a place for herself in this city she loves so much, so my sons can experience adulthood without a nosy mom looking over their shoulders all the time.

If you really want to adopt a child, there will be one waiting somewhere for you. There are also different styles of foster parent programs available. For instance, there is one program for people who can’t take a child full-time, but can take one for the holidays. For more information, please contact the Child Guidance Center in your area.

One mother’s experience: My children weren’t born through my body but from my heart. We weren’t the best parents in the world, but we loved our children and somehow we managed. We tried the best we could — sometimes it wasn’t good enough, but they were loved.

One thing that saddens me is that there are so many wonderful Japanese foster parents who have raised so many children and who never get credit for what they have done. Our family was in the news a few times because we had every race under the sun in our family, but I felt and still feel that there are more Japanese couples that deserve more credit than we have received.

I am now 65 years old and there is a Japanese couple who started as foster parents the same time my husband and I did, and they have had their fair shake of horrendous illnesses themselves, but they are still going strong.

The last time I met them, the husband was head of the Foster Parent Association in Japan — now that’s a tough job. And at that time, they had their newest son, a darling little boy of about two with Down Syndrome.

I really think the next time the Emperor and his wife come to visit Hayama, they really should meet this fantastic couple; they really deserve honor for what they have done, from the country of Japan.


Aren’t we all strays?

Re: “Strays become woman’s calling” by Kris Kosaka (Oct. 12): Susan Mercer, you are a saintly woman. God bless you.

In a very real sense, aren’t we all “strays”? How many of us struggle to find our place in the universe? How many of us never really feel at home no matter where we find ourselves living?

Modern social mobility has led to a lot of loneliness, isolation, so-called alienation, and a terrible feeling of despair. So much so that one sociologist characterized America as the “lonely society.”

Dogs and cats must find themselves in the same predicament, and it’s wonderful that Susan Mercer and her loving and patient husband, Hitoshi Tojo, have taken in so many stray cats and dogs, providing them with the care and love they need to not only survive, but thrive.

Dogs are people, too. I know this to be a fact because I speak fluent corgi, and I’ve come to realize that dogs have a life just as rich as our own in so many ways.

The more I learn about humans, the more I love my corgi. Dogs never gossip. Mark Twain once made the observation that if you rescue a dog from the gutter, he will never betray you. This can’t always be said of a man.

The photograph showing Susan giving her jovial friend Dynamite a warm hug says it all. Hopefully Japan Times readers will become involved and either volunteer to help with Susan’s rescue efforts or donate money. Every shelter in Japan should be a “non-kill” shelter. It’s possible, if enough people get involved.

Susan’s children are lucky to have such a compassionate mom. They’ll have rich memories of all their furry friends from childhood, while learning important lessons about the value of such animals and their place in our world.


Otaru, Hokkaido

Mary’s legacy will live on

Re: “A friend to kanji learners worldwide” by Louise George Kittaka (Sept. 10):

I was much saddened to hear that Ms. Mary Sisk Noguchi passed away at the end of last year after a severe illness. As a longtime kanji learner, I always enjoyed her columns in The Japan Times, which I found very helpful and inspirational, often in a funny way.

Who would have thought that her last one was written under such suffering? Please convey my deep-felt sympathy to her family. May she rest in peace.

Her legacy will live on — of that I am quite sure.



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