Voices | COMMUNITY CHEST

Much for Japan Times Community readers to crow and squawk about in year of the rooster

A selection of unpublished letters about Community stories from the first half of last year:

It’s about being different

Re: “Meet the man who gets frisked by the Tokyo police five times a year” by Baye McNeil (Black Eye, Jan. 22):

I don’t think it’s just being black. It’s being different.

I ride a 50 cc bike or a bicycle, so I’m visible. I’ve been pulled over and questioned many times.

Once I was in a park eating a bento. The cops pulled up and wanted to know why I was in the park!

By the way, I’ve stopped responding to kids’ conversations in parks. Twice, five patrol cars came and informed me they had received a report that a foreign pervert was bothering kids.

I won’t bore you with the accounts of my being denied access to bars, capsule hotels, toy stores, onsens, etc.

P.H. REVERE
Oita

Put on your big-boy pants

Re: “Japanese who’ve studied in U.S. see nation changing for the worse under Trump” by Patrick Parr (Foreign Agenda, Feb. 8)

Parr’s article demonizing America since Donald Trump became president should have come with a disclaimer. There was zero effort to get a true picture of America — just a bunch of liberals whining about what they were told by the mainstream, anti-Trump media. They quoted CNN almost word for word.

Here in Middle America, there are no racists running around celebrating, no businesses gleefully turning back women, no immigrants being herded anywhere. No conservatives burning cars or setting fires, or breaking windows. No Trump supporters have attacked people on the streets. No, that’s all been done by anti-Trump liberals.

There is, however, a general relief that adults are back in charge in Washington. That someone is taking security seriously — like Japan does, I might add. That someone is in charge that knows business, has done a budget, and understands what over-regulation and taxes are doing to businesses, big and small, and stunting growth and innovation.

If you’re afraid because America is no longer a pushover and you’re afraid you are going to get fewer freebies then stay home. No problem.

But if you are a fan of the USA because it is a strong, vibrant and trustworthy country, then put on your big-boy pants and come on over … and welcome.

SHELBY DUBOIS

Hungary deserves better

Re: “The confessions of a Japanese-to-Hungarian translator” by Amy Chavez (Japan Lite, March 26):

I am a Hungarian expat. Someone forwarded the above article to our email address thinking I would like to read it because of my connection to Hungary. Well, I wish that he hadn’t.

Please, who wants to hear about urine samples and colonoscopies, and which side of a restaurant space the author is seated, when it has no relevance to anything? All translators have to do dull things too, in every country, but there must be other aspects as well to this job — interesting things and positive things, maybe, which we didn’t hear about.

If it had been written about a different country, not about Hungary, I still would have found it annoying because of the author’s particular take on life, but obviously being about my home country, it hurts a little. There is a bit of contempt there from the author, deliberately focusing on things that are dull, insignificant, unpleasant and connecting them to my country (which, in my view, deserves better) and ignoring anything that might be interesting or even pleasant there.

I am not a frequent visitor to my home country, but my friends have just been to Budapest three weeks ago for the first time ever and they gave a very different account — they actually noticed things they liked and things that they found interesting.

B. CORNFIELD

Both countries in a bad light

When I spotted the title of this article I felt curious, as I always do when I find something regarding Japanese in Hungary. As a half-Japanese who grew up and is still living in Hungary, I feel that the relationship between these two distant yet closely related cultures is interesting and worthy of comparison, drawing out the differences and parallels.

But as I read more of the article, I felt increasingly uneasy. Respect is one of the most important facets of Japanese culture. Respect for each other, for the family, the school, the company, the nation. It’s basic. Everyone who gets a bit closer to Japan, who spends time among Japanese and takes efforts to study this amazing, rich culture must come to realize that respect is more important than the knowledge of language or anything else.

The translator in the interview apparently showed no or only minor respect towards her employers. I don’t think that when it comes to cultural differences, the first thing to come to mind is the difference between medical examinations, especially urine tests. Isn’t there anything more obvious or simply less private?

And all this with the company’s name! Now, all the world knows that somebody at the firm mentioned had a colonoscopy, which I don’t think is anyone else’s business. Where on Earth is loyalty? The translator should have known that if she gave an interview and gives the employer’s name, then she is representing that company in the interview.

Finally, when talking about medical treatment, patient confidentiality is an important issue. She should have kept this in mind. That is why respectable health clinics have their own Japanese interpreters and companies usually don’t take their own colleagues to medical check-ups.

My opinion is that the interview showed both parties in a negative light. A reader might think that Hungarians show no respect towards their employers and see Japanese as strange, weird people with silly customs. How could this possibly improve Japanese-Hungarian economic ties?

If I were a Japanese employer and read this article, and that part about the colonoscopy — a serious and extremely private examination, which the interpreter found rather funny — I might decide against dealing with Hungarian employees.

On the other hand, seeing this article through the eyes of a Hungarian (and thus Western) person, you wouldn’t be able to find any respectable features about Japanese people either. You would learn one thing, that the executives call the interpreter many times, but so what?

The Japan Times is an English-language newspaper, and being so, I think most of the readers are from abroad, people who are interested in Japan. But this article presents Hungarians as disrespectful and Japanese as miserable and strange. How is this helpful for either side?

I ask that you and your journalists do some broader inquiry next time you are planning to introduce a situation like this. And evaluate the interviews. Neither Hungary nor Japan is like this. All the article did was introduce an interpreter who still needs to learn about respect.

DIANA SAYURI MATSUZAKI
Budapest

The homestays from hell

Re: “The psychological perils of a Japanese homestay” by Damian Flanagan (Foreign Agenda, March 29)

I’m 22 currently, and last year I spent 10 months in homestays in Japan. And it was Hell. I was actually shown this article by some of my friends, Mexican students, the very same students who took me in when I sought refuge from my hellish host mother. They know so much about what I went through already that it instantly brought me to mind.

It all began when my university made it very clear to me that I was to respect this family and never do anything to inconvenience them. That really got the ball rolling for self-contained emotions.

The first family I was placed with were wonderful: They took me out, showed me festivals, invited me to sit with them and discussed my English culture, even took part in a sports day at the children’s local school. They seemed genuinely interested in my life, and it was lovely.

The problem arose one day about a month into my home stay, when we left to see a festival in Nagoya one hot day, and my room’s (very expensive) air conditioning unit was left on automatic. We came back to find a suspiciously chilly draft and a treacherous stream of condensation coming from the vent outside my room. The mother walked up to me, uncharacteristically plain-faced, and launched into a long explanation of how expensive air-con units are to run and how irresponsible I’d been.

For a week following that, the mother, as well as the two children, seemed completely reluctant to speak to me, and the offers of group outings ceased. I started to panic, feeling like I’d been rejected from the perfect family and ruined my chances at a normal life for the next nine months.

Shortly after that, the mother sat me down at the kitchen table and explained to me that they could not keep me in the house any longer. She had been diagnosed with a heart condition, which was aggravated by stress, and couldn’t afford to have me, a troublesome foreign student, in the house anymore. I essentially mortally wounded my first host mother, and it felt that way for the remainder of my trip.

I was then hurriedly relocated to a new family, and things got worse. I was confused and stressed, having to figure out my new route to university, and hadn’t had time to buy presents for my new family as I had my first time.

Things started off well, as they always do: questions about my favourite foods, what England is like, what I want to do in Japan. I was even invited to my host mother’s brother’s wedding ceremony and had a kimono fitting organised for me. She failed to take into account my Western feet, and assigned me size 4 sandals for size 7s, but that seemed to be mostly an accident at the time.

The problems started when the mother got stressed with the children. The family had two sons, aged 7 and 2 (A-kun and K-kun). The 2-year-old was a typical toddler, wandering around, picking up all sorts of things and wailing at his older brother.

The mother didn’t seem to have any experience of this behaviour, despite having a 7-year-old. She would constantly make comments about how A was a good boy and never did any of this. She would hold her feelings in as best she could, as was the Japanese way.

I, at this point, was unwittingly following the English etiquette rule that you should never interfere with other people’s children — to do so would have been a slap-in-the-face insult to one or both of his parents. So I kept a distance from the child whenever he was naughty and stood by quietly as his mother scolded him at ridiculous volumes. Only once did I step in to save him from falling off the couch.

Then, one day, out of the blue, the mother confronted me in a cloud of rage, accusing me of never taking care of the children. She told me I was irresponsible and needed to do a better job.

At this, I instantly recalled the fact that nowhere in any of my prep sheets or homestay agreements did it ever mention that I was expected to take care of anyone’s children. I had my own life to worry about. I had studies and language barriers to tackle. All of this I was thinking in English, of course, and attempting to translate into my measly Japanese.

My host mother took my silence to be an admission of guilt and continued to bombard me until I couldn’t take any more and ran upstairs to gather my thoughts.

The result was a badly written letter that I left stuck to my door with adorable Japanese stationery. After that point our entire relationship was a boat-full of tension, occasionally punctuated by a harsh comment, followed by another passive-aggressive letter or Post-It note: “Sorry. I said too much. But as I have said many times, your room is filthy. Please fix this.”

I was also harassed at every opportunity, such ridiculous fights including but not limited to:

“You use too much toilet paper.”

“You bought your own toilet paper into the house as if we can’t provide for you, and embarrassed me in front of my friend.”

“Please buy your own milk, you drink too much.”

“Your clothes are too dirty, don’t wear them for so long — they smell and make our laundry smell bad too.”

“Don’t wash so many things, only wash what you have worn today.”

“Never take more than one shower a day, it’s extremely wasteful and you spend too long in there anyway.”

“Don’t spend so long in your room, get out more.”

“Don’t come into the house late, it’s suspicious and unsafe.”

“Don’t stay with other people, it makes us look like we can’t take care of you.”

It took me a little while to figure out that I couldn’t win: It was 40 degrees Celsius outside, so if I wore one set of clothes all day they were too smelly. If I changed, there was too much laundry. If I showered after class to negate the problem, I was hogging the shower and wasting their precious water. If I went to see friends after being at uni all day I had to return within half an hour so as to be accounted for — never coming back late or being able to stay with a friend.

This carried on for months and months. I was brought to tears at one point, unable to properly express my frustration in Japanese, as none of my host family spoke any English. At this point I was told I was “hard to look at,” a term that seemed synonymous with “ugly,” and I retreated to my room once again. There were also instances in which I would sneak around the top floor of the house trying not to be heard, and would overhear fractured conversation about how much of a bother I was as my host mother chatted to her friends.

My life in this Japanese household only lasted nine months, but it was plenty enough to give me psychological damage. I felt like an ape to those people: overly tall, massive feet, no language skills and a tendency to smell horrifically. I genuinely had to check myself when I got home, leaving my shoes outside the house in the rain, showering three times a day and barely speaking to the family for fear of being an imposition.

I was quite depressed. I lost over 6 kilograms while I was away without noticing, partly due to never asking for seconds because of the tense atmosphere. This kind of story sound familiar?

ROSIE

Enough of the painted faces

Re: “Brando’s turn as an Okinawan ‘host in a shell’ haunts debate over ‘yellowface’” by Nicolas Gattig (Foreign Agenda, April 5):

I wrote just yesterday about Japanese entertainers who use “blackface” makeup to amuse their audience and why this is wrong. Perhaps there was no intent to offend or express racist sentiment, but African-Americans and other blacks have often been offended nonetheless. Let’s stop with all the painted faces, shall we?

Asian-Americans have never forgotten the ugly, racialist portrayal of the Japanese character I. Y. Yunioshi in the Audrey Hepburn film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” There was also the “brownface” used in Sir David Lean’s epic film “Lawrence of Arabia” by white actors attempting to portray Arab characters. Egyptian-born actor Omar Sharif was one of the few Arab actors to star in the film. The white British actor Alec Guinness and American Hispanic actor Anthony Quinn both played Arab roles, dressed up in traditional Arabian-style costumes while making much use of darking makeup for the brownface effect.

The famous black comedian Eddie Murphy once did a “whiteface” satire on “Saturday Night Live” where he pretended to be a white boy with a nerd-like personality. That was 23 years ago. Could he do the same sort of comedy today in the PC era? Don’t know. What of all the white actors who wore “redface” and war paint to portray Native Americans in so many John Wayne-type westerns back in the 1940s and ’50s? How the American public loved these “cowboy and Indian” films, with the redface always the bad guy.

Blackface, yellowface, brownface makeup, etc., such racialist attempts to bridge the color barrier without actually having to work with nonwhites reminds white folk everywhere just how Jim Crow our culture really was not so long ago. Oh, don’t let me forget white British actor Sir Laurence Olivier playing the dark Moor Othello in the celebrated film version and on stage back in the 1950s.

ROBERT MCKINNEY
Tama, Tokyo

An adventure in health care

Re: “Found in translation: At a Japanese hospital, life-saving cancer care and top-class staff” by Siok Hui Leong (Foreign Agenda, June 7):

My knowledge of doctors and hospitals in Japan is above average, having lived here for 46 years while working in the health care industry and receiving medical care, including four operations. But this year I experienced total immersion in the system and came out fully convinced it works both medically and economically. This is the story.

Initial diagnosis

In February at the Jikei University Hospital I was diagnosed with vocal-cord cancer, a squamous cell carcinoma. My first lesson was to appreciate the conservative nature of Japanese physicians. Vocal-cord cancer can be observed by putting a camera up the nose and down the throat, but that was not enough.

What followed were lots of tests: chest X-ray, CT scan of the head and neck, a camera check of my esophagus and stomach, pulmonary function, a battery of blood tests, EKG (electrocardiogram) and a biopsy of the vocal cord.

Tests concluded the cancer had not spread to my neck, head, lung, esophagus or stomach — all good news. But the biopsy revealed a vocal-cord cancer at stage 3 on a scale of 1 to 4.

Practically everyone is cured of a stage 1 cancer, and practically everyone dies of a stage 4 cancer. Stage 3 cancers have a 60 percent morbidity rate — bad news. On the other hand, 40 percent of stage 3 cancers are cured — good news. My second lesson was to focus on the good news.

Treatment

No need to list the range of treatment options fully explained to me by Dr. Hama, a throat specialist. His conclusion was to combine radiation and immunotherapy (not chemotherapy) via an IV-administered monoclonal antibody drug called Erbitux sold in Japan by Merck Serono.

So my next consultation was with Dr. Kobayashi deep inside the hospital where radiation is administered. He spent a good one hour explaining the procedure and likely side effects. I was to be given 35 radiation treatments, one per day, five days a week for seven weeks. For the first four weeks the radiation would be given over a wide area of my neck, and for three weeks it would be focused on my vocal cords.

To ensure the radiation is focused in the same area every day, a mask that fits tightly over the head and neck is made from a plastic sheet heated then molded to the face with a mouth air hole. A black marker is used to indicate the radiation boundaries based on a CT scan.

Dr. Kobayashi explained the possible side effects of radiation therapy, essentially a burn inside and outside the throat that gets progressively worse as treatment continues. In some cases eating is a problem and hospitalization is required.

Back to Dr. Hama for an explanation of possible (probable) drug side effects that include dermatitis, acne and painful swelling of finger and toe tips. Therefore, a third doctor was added to the team from dermatology, Dr. Ishiji.

My third lesson was to think of the side-effect benefits. From radiation I could enjoy tasty soups and the soft food babies love. From the drug-induced acne I could relive my teenage years without worrying about girls.

The drug was administered every Friday after a blood test. Dr. Hama established the vein access then sent me to a large room with nice lounge chairs around three sides and nurses in the middle preparing the drugs.

Over a two-hour period I received the Erbitux and three IV bags of anti-allergy drugs, all under the watchful eyes of nurses. It was so relaxing, I often fell asleep for the duration.

Results

Treatment ceased in mid-May and various tests were repeated, i.e., X-ray, CT scan, camera up my nose. The conclusion: cancer gone.

But the side effects persisted. I basically lost my voice but it is coming back slowly. The acne is gone but there is still dermatitis on my arms and legs.

Dr. Ishiji assured me this would go away, and just to be patient. My wife admonishes me not to complain. She says, “The cancer is gone and I like your softer voice.”

Dr. Kobayashi and Dr. Hama want to see me every month, then every two months, and finally every six months for five years. Only then can we be sure the cancer is really gone. This means the picture album of my vocal cords will get bigger.

The system works

You get to know the personnel in a hospital if you go there every day for seven to eight weeks. The doctors were completely open in terms of treatment options, probability of side effects, and their optimism. The nurses were always smiling, kind, gentle, caring and, most importantly, compassionate. This may be part of the Japanese DNA — to be helpful and of good cheer to all patients, every day. Bless them for what they do.

Last but not least is the cost. I, like 100 percent of all citizens in Japan, have mandatory health insurance that covers 70 percent of all costs, while patients pay 30 percent out of pocket. Payments into the system are directly related to income up to certain limits. The more you earn, the more you pay.

My most intensive treatment was from mid-March to mid-May, or two months. The out-of-pocket charge was ¥40,000 or $400, all inclusive: doctors, tests, radiation and drugs, for each month.

Conclusion

The hospital is 10 minutes from my home, there is no hassle in receiving medical care on a timely basis, no one goes bankrupt paying for care, politicians do not fight about who should or should not be covered by insurance by whom.

I think I will stay here.

P. REED MAURER
Tokyo

Send your comments and Community story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp