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I am always saddened to hear of people in Japan committing suicide, but am not so surprised by the numbers after being married to a very “samurai” type of man for 14 difficult years. I am an Australian woman whose parents are Greek.

During my marriage I met many of my Japanese husband’s friends, relatives and associates and their families. Our children played with theirs. What I observed with great heartache was the cold attitude of the parents toward their little ones in terms of physical affection. Often, if a child cried because he hurt himself or had an altercation with another child, and naturally ran to the mother for comfort, the mother would actually push the child away or turn the incident into a scolding session.

After so much of this, I took it upon myself to actually comfort the children with a hug and some words of encouragement. Magically all would be forgotten and they’d go off happily to play again. I stopped keeping my opinions to myself and would vehemently scold the mother involved, hoping that she would learn that nurturing, cuddling, hugging and kissing her children is not smothering — it’s mothering. It doesn’t create “weak” characters but rather encourages empathy and a strong sense of security and protection.

Here in Hawaii many full-blooded Japanese families have assimilated with so many cultures, and the one common thread I admire is the love, warmth and affection they show each other, especially their children, who grow up to be strong, respectful and dutiful members of society. To see mothers cuddling their little ones and fathers giving their children big hugs and kisses is so heartwarming.

People in Japan tend to throw themselves into every aspect of Western culture, often to the point of absurdity, yet the most important and natural aspect — physical affection — seems lacking. If Japanese culture is all about saving face, then Japanese are humiliating themselves in the eyes of others by perpetuating a cold, cruel image. Is it any wonder that a person could commit suicide so readily when there isn’t available the physical act of just a simple warm and caring hug?

juliette mitsutsune