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For all its many attractions as a place to live, Japan can be unforgiving for anyone who’s perceived as different.

There’s a phrase that comes up repeatedly during Hikaru Toda’s “Of Love & Law”: “reading the air” (kūki o yomu). It describes the unspoken way in which people are taught to assess a situation and adjust their behavior accordingly. Though it’s meant to denote tact and consideration, what it really means is conforming — and for those who can’t (or won’t) do it, reading the air can be stifling.

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