Letters: adoption from Japan, book bores, returnees, workers’ rights and fleeing U.S. guns

Some letters in response to recent articles in the Community section:

Japan discourages open adoption

Thank you, Ryan Yokota, for your article on the adoption of infants from Japan. Like the Americans in the article, we — a Canadian couple — also adopted from Japan, in 2012.

Also, we too would like an open adoption [where the child eventually gets to know his/her biological mother as well], but have to respect that our son’s birth mother isn’t ready, and may never be. This is disappointing but understandable, as the mindset of birth mothers and birth families in Japan is certainly not the same as that of North American birth mothers in terms of self-confidence or access to counselling (we also have a daughter adopted from Chicago in 2007). There’s a complete lack of information on the long-term and whole-life benefits of open adoption for birth parents and adoptees in Japan.

Our son is “full” Japanese, from very good, educated Japanese families on both sides, and that’s shocking to Japanese nationals, as they’re ready to accept the adoption of mixed babies or infants of socially deprived families, but are mortified that “upstanding” Japanese families would choose international adoption rather than the more acceptable orphanage system when considering where to place a socially unwanted child.

One aspect you didn’t cover in your article is that Japanese “special adoption” is made attractive to birth mothers/parents/grandparents on the basis that the child is then erased permanently from the family koseki [family register] page, thereby making the family bloodline “clean” again for suitable future marriage of the young woman involved. There can be a lot of pressure put on the young woman or couple by the grandparents to choose an adoption plan that makes the child “disappear” legally.

The harsh reality, though, is that our son no longer holds Japanese nationality, as he no longer has any proof of having been born within Japan.

There are negatives to adoption from Japan, some of which prospective adoptive parents aren’t told about when working with the acting U.S. and Japanese agencies, and which may cause problems in the long-term future. But for now, it’s an interesting program to have worked with in terms of the realities of adoption in a First World country that still holds on to stigmas from ancient times.

Thanks again, and may you keep writing on Japanese adoption!

Cobble Hill, British Columbia

What book ‘big boys’ can’t offer

I agree with Thomas Dillon’s “Tokyo: what not to do and when not to do it” column. I particularly endorse his comments about the Kanda-Jimbocho bookstores. It is much better to visit the “big boys.” Wandering the back-streets and perusing the shelves in small bookshops is a complete waste of time.

Who would want to slow down and browse, in the analog sense, and let their minds wander over the random assortment of titles that turn up? English-language books are not too hard to find, although this might require communicating with shopkeepers.

Above all, do not search for out-of-print books, or those signed by the author. I can’t imagine who would be interested in those old, dusty and used items. Ugh!


Returnees are much more diverse

As much as we want to praise the “Kikokushijo” article as many other returnees have, there are a few points we’d like to raise.

First, the returnees that the author focuses on make up only a portion of a large group. The article generalizes about returnees and presents us in too much of a positive light. We don’t all “feel a deep commitment to give back to Japan” — some returnees channel their energy into becoming “normal” and become closeted about their upbringing, while others grow sick of the pressure to fit in and turn their back on Japanese culture. Due to the diverse range of opportunities that Japanese youth are exposed to today, we must take care when defining what the returnee issue is in the first place.

Second, the argument that returnees’ resilience comes from foreign experience is not as simple as it seems. Many students who find it too difficult to adjust to local schools abroad switch to Japanese schools and abandon the opportunity of having an “international experience.” These Japanese schools provide a “way out,” allowing students to avoid the challenge of adaptation. Students that are given the “returnee” label are those that were flexible enough to adjust to foreign culture, and have then been able to find their balance in biculturalism. Also, not all returnees owe their resilience to an upbringing in a multicultural environment, as some spend most or all of their lives in foreign countries before relocating to Japan.

That said, returnees face a unique set of challenges that need to be addressed if Japan is to embrace different cultures and become a truly globalized nation. We hope that this debate will encourage discussions about nationality, identity and diversity on a larger scale that seem to be critically lacking in our society.


Work conditions worse than in U.S.

Thank you writing this, Ms. Okunuki.

I currently work on a gyōmu itaku [contractor-status] contract and receive no health insurance, overtime pay, paid vacation or sick days. I know my situation could be much worse and I really feel for the lowly paid contract workers working menial food-service jobs and the like.

Being from New York City, even the lowest-level part-time work guaranteed me breaks and overtime pay. I would also never be asked to put my safety at risk for fear of litigation. This is coming from a country that many Japanese deem as selfish and caring only for profit.

I believe the situation in Japan needs to change, and it never will if people don’t acknowledge the elephant in the room. Japanese people often tell me that Japan is a country unlike any other, which cares about the wellbeing of all individuals rather than a select privileged few. Although I don’t believe this is true now, I hope it can be a reality someday.


I’m afraid of America

Yes, I would agree with William Bradbury: Japan really is a haven for the psychologically troubled. And since every gaikokujin [foreigner] is looked upon as somewhat odd or eccentric, it’s far easier for those with psychological ills (mild to moderate at least) to live in Japan.

Take me for example: I’m an American who is terrified of guns. The strict gun control laws in Japan are a blessing to Americans like myself who have decided that enough is enough and no longer wish to risk living in a society where every Tom, Dick, and “Dirty Harry” can run around blasting away with the world’s most powerful handguns and/or rifles.

Yes, I know, there’s a very low probability of actually becoming a gunshot victim in America, but still, the risk does exist! Folks in Santa Barbara, California, are very aware of this fact now. I’ve visited the fair city of Santa Barbara in the past, and it’s truly one of the most attractive cities in America. The climate is sunny and mild. The city boasts some of the most beautiful architecture seen on the west coast. University of California, Santa Barbara is a world-class university. And yes, the residents are fairly friendly. However, like everywhere in America, handguns can be purchased as easily as one would buy a vacuum cleaner or a kitchen knife in Japan. Who knew that nearly everyone in America wants to join a “well ordered militia”?!

After the recent mass shooting in Santa Barbara, many residents will be rushing out to their local gun shop to buy a weapon or weapons for “personal safety.” Sadly, the risk of becoming a shooting victim increases with each individual purchase of a firearm (the laws of probability and all that).

Call me paranoid about living in America — perhaps I am — but at least I know that in Japan I can safely walk around any city or town at any hour of the day or night and know that no one is going to point a gun in my face and demand money, no one is going to suddenly start randomly shooting people on the streets, and if I should knock on the wrong door by mistake, I won’t hear someone yell “Freeze!” and then fire a deadly weapon at me at almost point-blank range!

I’ve lived in Japan for 30 years. On average, about 12,000 Americans die each year from gun-related violence (tens of thousands more are injured annually). This means that over the past 30 years there’s been about 390,000 shooting fatalities in gun-loving America! Most of these gun shot victims would be alive today if America had better gun-control laws, like those found in Japan, Great Britain and Australia.

Then again, maybe America is simply a far more violent society (duh!)! Perhaps guns are just the choice of weapon since they are so easily purchased and convenient to own in the United States of Armed Response.

Actually, one of the most sane decisions I’ve ever made in my life was to call Japan home. I wish I’d realized this in my younger days back when I first arrived.

Americans like to boast that they love freedom, but isn’t “freedom from fear” a basic human right in any civilized society? Apparently not in America. Personal privacy used to be a coveted right as well, but not anymore. I wonder if the NRA [National Rifle Association] and the NSA [National Security Agency] are the future of America? “Oh say can you see . . . ?” I know the NSA can.

Otaru, Hokkaido

Comments: community@japantimes.co.jp