Institutionalized Children in Japan

I just got home from having dinner at Kumfa with Kamada-sensei again. This time, I drove so that she could try some cocktails. She was very excited to try a Mai-Tai!

Kumfa is slowly becoming my favorite place to eat dinner. Even though I’ve only eaten there twice now. But I’m totally up to go again and again. It’s like the Tateyama version of Khyber Pass for me (only, you know, different cuisine).

We had made plans for this dinner last week, but this morning, Kamada-sensei came up to me and said that she might have to cancel. She wasn’t specific at the time, but she said a student was having some problems, and she might need to go to his house and talk to him.

Later, she explained the problem to me.

I’m going to change the name of the student, for privacy reasons. I’ll call him Toko. (I’m pretty sure that’s not a real name. xD)

Toko is a first year in the special education class, which Kamada-sensei teaches (or at least helps to teach, I’m not sure). I’m not sure exactly what his disability is, because she can only explain it to me vaguely (she probably doesn’t know how to explain it in English; why would that be something she learned to say?). He basically can’t tell right and wrong apart; he’s just stuck in that stage of development where children haven’t figured out that their actions affect other people or something. (Give me a break, I only studied Psychology for three months.)

This means that Toko really doesn’t have any sense of personal boundaries. He can’t recognize what is his and what isn’t. This leads to several problems. He steals a lot—unintentionally, since he just picks up things because he wants them or is attracted to them somehow.

The next problem is a little difficult to explain, so I’ll just use the example she gave me. One day, Toko saw a man working construction by the side of the road. The man took a break and started to smoke, and Toko saw that and apparently became curious about it. Kamada-sensei didn’t continue, but I can guess what happened next—Toko tried to smoke.

He also has an affinity for fire, apparently, because she said that he got hold of a lighter and tried to burn some things. That shit is dangerous for someone who doesn’t understand consequences.

The other problem is the personal space issue—she is afraid that he, like many young boys with his problem, will become some sort of sexual harrasser. Because he doesn’t understand personal boundaries. He won’t understand when someone tells him no—he wants something, so he should take it.

That’s the worst-case scenario, though. Another student recently transferred schools because of that problem, actually. He apparently touched a girl inappropriately—on purpose, unlike Toko’s so-far-accidental harrassment—so they made him move schools.

Kamada-sensei is worried about Toko, because she wants him to stay with her, but if he continues his bad behavior, they will have to move him to a different house and a different school.

Because the other problem is, Toko is in a foster home.

There seem to be a lot of children in the area that are in the foster home—which is more like a group home or an orphanage. I talked to Kim (CIR, not predecessor) about it—why are there so many orphans in Japan? She said that there are probably just a few areas where they are concentrated, so that’s why it seems like there are so many. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but assuming that’s true, I have another question.

Why the fuck would you send orphans to the inaka?

“Inaka” means “countryside.” There are not a lot of resources in the countryside.

There are even less resources for children with disabilities.

I understand that people might want to send children away from cities, where maybe they might get into more trouble, but at the same time, cities have a lot more resources for helping troubled kids than rural areas. Right? Maybe I’m wrong. I dunno, maybe I just feel that since cities tend to have more money, they would have more money for resources to help kids. (But then again, you can look at the Los Angeles area and argue that that is not the case.)

In any case, children like Toko need a special kind of care, like professionals who know about stages of development and how to advance children through each stage. (You know, people not me. XD) Unfortunately, the teachers here aren’t really trained specifically for that (as far as I know), and they have to take care of many other students, too. They do their best—Kamada-sensei’s care for Toko really touched me—but the fact is, there just aren’t enough resources to take care of these kids that need just a little more help.

It kind of relates to the mental health care problem we have in the U.S. And the problem we have with helping people with disabilities worldwide. As a whole, we people of the world need to take better care of our children.

Toko is in the institution because his mother can’t take care of him. She doesn’t know who his father is, and she is incapable of dealing with consequences, apparently.

(By the way, “institution” is the word that the teachers use. I really don’t like it, but I think that the use of the word itself really says something about the kids’ situation. Or maybe it just shows lack of English vocabulary. I don’t know.)

Kamada-sensei said that she wanted to get in touch with his mother again, because she thinks that if he doesn’t have any sort of parental figure, he is going to end up hating… well, everyone. His father is absent, his mother is irresponsible. Who can he trust? And if he is constantly pulled out of schools, away from teachers he has built a rapport with… Seriously, who can he trust?

Kamada-sensei confessed that she wants to be like a mother to him. That was really touching to hear, as much as it is troublesome. It is very difficult to strike a balance between teacher and parent, just like it’s sort of difficult to strike a balance between friend and parent, or friend and teacher. (Or in Michael Scott’s case, friend and boss).

You know what I mean? Like, as a parent, I figure you have to be an authority figure, but at the same time, your child should be able to approach you when they have a problem. I think teachers should be sort of the same thing, too, but it’s dangerous to play at parent for a student. I can only see that ending in heartbreak.

I’ve been wanting to write about this particular topic for a while, but I couldn’t find a good way to introduce it. This entry is my chance, so here it is:

In Japan, the parent-student-teacher relationship is really different. Teachers are more often in charge of disciplining the students; in fact, I’ve heard that some parents don’t know how to discipline at all. This strikes me as troublesome, because I sort of get the impression that parents aren’t really involved in their children’s lives at all. (Or at least not in their development, which probably has something to do with how repressed Japanese people are, but as I said earlier, I’m no psychologist.)

(And another problem: I have a cultural bias here, especially since my family seems to be very German, so I have the bias that suggests discipline is a huge part of the parent-child relationship. XD Ah, Germans…)

That’s not true, of course. Japanese parents are very involved in their children’s lives. The schools here really involve the parents A LOT. They have a PTA, and there are tons of days when parents come in to watch classes. I think the school keeps the teachers very informed, too, through like, newsletters and student reports. I just wonder what it’s like to have Japanese parents. Like, what is the Japanese parenting style like?

I know there are stereotypes—like, their kids have to get good grades all the time or whatever OR ELSE—but I mean, what is it really?

I would like to read more about Japanese parenting, disability and mental health policies, and possibly even child development. I feel like I read about child development in college a lot, but maybe it’s just because they emphasized it so hard in Psych 1… Besides that, I only have Freudian shit from all the Horror film classes I took. (Horror critics love Freud. He’s the best thing that happened to them since Bram Stoker.)

So what do you think? Got any reading recommendations for me? Got anything to say that might make me think?

To finish this rather long entry, let’s go back to Toko. Kamada-sensei said that she was trying to teach him about right and wrong. She mentioned the Seven Deadly Sins and the Ten Commandments, and I’m not sure those are the best ways to teach someone about right and wrong. I feel like that’s just saying “Don’t,” and if you tell a kid “don’t” all their life, that’s just going to mess them up more. It might feel like they can never get anything right.

What’s more important is teaching them why some things are right and some things are wrong.

So I pulled out a quote from Kite Runner, because I’m literary like that.

“There is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft… When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness.” (Khaled Hosseini, 2003)

In a nutshell, the reason some things are wrong is because they hurt other people.

She really liked that, and when I went on to explain using examples from his case, she liked it even more and said she would try to explain that to him.

Basically, the newest problem that prompted her worry this morning was that he went into the girls’ locker room and stole some things. I think she said that he stole some underwear and some feminine pads. He didn’t know what the pads were, which is pretty funny, but it’s also a little horrifying what he did think. She said he thought they were diapers. Great, now he’s going to go around his whole life thinking that girls wear diapers.

XD Like that’s the biggest problem.

Anyway, she is afraid that this breach of girls’ privacy is a bad sign. I told her that if one uses Hosseini’s character’s logic, one might say that by going into their private locker rooms, he has stolen the girls’ right to privacy.

Her eyes lit up, and I felt really happy for being able to (possibly) help. I don’t know how much help it will be—right and wrong is a very complicated notion, and so is what Hosseini is talking about. And I’m certainly no saint, so I’m not even qualified to talk about it either.

But my philosophy is that we just have to try to be as kind to other people as we can—and that means giving them respect.

Hmm… Whatever respect happens to mean in your culture. o_O

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15 Responses to Institutionalized Children in Japan

  1. Kim says:

    I love that kid.

    The reason there are so many in your area is that the local orphanage is right down the street from you (close to Gake cannon) kids from that orphanage go to schools in Tomiura, Tomiyama and Tateyama, so we get a ton of them. Last year I think we had about 10-11 kids from the orphanage and all of their backstories were sad as hell.

    Toko is a little scientist, this feeds his klepto behavior, because he LOVES taking things apart and learning about things he has never seen before. It was hard not to laugh because he would often come into the staff room and blatantly steal things off of the VP’s desk.
    I was banned from giving him any prizes for games because he stole so much stuff everyday, it was too hard for the orphanage to tell what I had given and what he had taken.

    He is smart though, picked up on how to use a computer super fast and is a really good singer!

    But the kids bully him. To some extent I understand because he is very different (and clearly autistic, although the teachers don’t seem to understand what asbergers is..) but I have seen him be teased and physically abused (TRUST me those kids got a firm talking to) but the worst part.. and I won’t name names here is that the TEACHERS bully him too.
    Some of my worst days at Tomiura were because of that. Teachers teased him, left him out, blatantly said they hated him and encouraged their students/clubs to do the same. SO FURIOUS.

    Ms. K really does her best with him and really really loves him, but I wish they would send her to special training for kids with disabilities like autism, because I think they are going about that kid’s education all wrong.

    He learned how to greet me in English WAY before the other kids in his class though :D


    • Hmm… Well, the new Kim told me that they had a lot of orphans at her school in Asahi, too, so it just made me wonder why there were so many EVERYWHERE. But are the ones down here mostly at those schools, and not at like Shirahama or Wada?

      It’s kind of interesting that Tomiura has a high number of them, AND is the school with the highest scores in the area. (I think. Someone told me that. Or at least the smartest students in the area.) One might suppose the opposite would happen, because in my experience, kids with a lot of turmoil in their lives tend to fall behind in school, just because they have so many other things to deal with.

      Have we talked about the student you mentioned before? Because Toko is a different student that I haven’t talked about yet, because he’s not in any of my classes. Regardless, your comment sounds accurate. XD I think both kids seem very sweet. I absolutely love the one we discussed before, even though he won’t talk to me anymore after some kids teased him about liking me. :( But! Sometimes, when we run into each other in the hall and no one else is around, he’ll charge at me like a bull, and I’ll pretend that he killed me. XD

      Toko seems like a sweetheart, too, though, and it’s a shame that there aren’t enough teachers or information on different educational techniques that can help him. :/ I rarely see him, except sometimes between classes. He doesn’t usually eat lunch with his class…

      I feel really bad that I don’t understand Japanese, so even if there is bullying going on, I probably can’t understand it. There was one day when a student was speaking rather harshly to the student we discussed, and though I didn’t know what he was saying, I basically said, “Hey stop it.”

      D: I’d like to be able to protect the kids from the teachers’ bullying (and each other), but at this point, I have no idea what’s going on. DX

      Thanks for your comment!

      • Kim says:

        Nah “Riku” isn’t considered special ed… “Toko” is.. he is SUCH a fun kid if you get the time to talk to him. I used to get to spend a lot of time with him because a teacher whose name I won’t mention preferred to take naps during his class period and randomly made me “teach” him computer skills (though usually encouraged him to play video games).

        I understand why some teachers get frustrated with him.. there was this one time when he fell down the staircase and got hurt really badly (smashed his head open and needed stitches) and I was CONVINCED he had been pushed and got mad and told the teachers it seemed stupid to believe that he had fallen on purpose (as some of the kids in his class claimed) and he was clearly being bullied. None of the teachers seemed to care. I was RAGING about that for a week, until I SAW him do it on purpose AGAIN and when I asked him about it he admitted cheerfully that he had done it the first time. So, I guess it is hard for them to protect him, when it is hard to know for sure what is self inflicted.

        Haha I wonder who does have the highest scores? I would assume Maruyama, but who knows. I think we at Tomiura always just claim our kids are the best because they ARE.

        Also, it goes without saying, but don’t repeat any of what I said at school!

      • What class period is that? O: And what video games can you play on the school computers? XD

        Oh wow… That kid… *shakes head* Why the hell would you do that on PURPOSE? |D Knucklehead…

        Hahaha! I don’t know which school actually has the top scores, but you’re right that the Tomiura teachers always claim to have the best kids. They are pretty great. I’m pleasantly surprised.

        Of course I won’t repeat any of what you tell me!! Don’t worry about it. I know when to keep my mouth shut.

        Speaking of which, funny story… I’m not sure if I wrote about this yet. I was talking to some of the first year girls during lunch, and they asked if I like Kamada-sensei. I told them yes, and I asked them if they like her. They said no, but when I asked why, they didn’t know how to explain in English. Eventually, we figured out that they wanted to say “strict.” And then they shut up, and I got the feeling that they were worried I might tell, but there’s no way I’d tell her that. xD It’s our secret.

      • Kim says:

        I actually (co)taught most of the special ed English classes last year, unfortunately this year’s schedule doesn’t really allow you to do that since they increased the number of English classes by a considerable amount. If you are interested though just let Ms. K know and if there are any open periods she will probably let you help. You get to do fun games with them.

        General consensus feelings towards K-sensei at the school (students and staff) is very VERY negative. I always liked her though. You should HEAR some of the gossip. Teachers are the WORST gossips..haha especially when drunk.
        I’m glad that you two hit it off, so she has at least one person on her side.

  2. clairemariedavidson says:

    Wow, this is really said. But like you said, I don’t think the state of mental health care is much better in the US.
    On the topic of “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” did you read that whole comments war about Liza Long? There’s this post that got a lot of attention: and I thought it was kind of interesting. I thought it was so weird that Long used her son’s real name and his actual photo and said that he was a future school shooter! Who does that? (Mission accomplished on starting a conversation, though.)
    But like many people pointed out in the comments, Kendzior’s also suggesting that Long’s parenting is the reason her kids have problems, which is unfair. And the whole reason both of these blog posts went viral is because of the national obsession with Adam Lanza’s personal life, which also says something about the way mental illness (and violence and crime) is treated here. I thought it was interesting that there was so much backlash on both of these articles.

    • Actually, mental health care is pretty shitty worldwide, as is care for people with disabilities. For example, a friend of mine from Sweden is dyslexic, and she used to tell me that she got absolutely no help in school. She loves to read anyway, but it is very difficult for her. (Actually, I hear about a lot of dyslexic people who like to read. I think that’s interesting, too.)

      I don’t read internet comments, to be honest. Most of the time people come off as very ignorant. :/ But I did read a rebuttal to Long’s blog that basically said that she was demonizing the autistic community, even though some people said that Long never said her son was autistic. That rebuttal was more angry and less coherent, so I didn’t really take it seriously. XD It sounded like both sides didn’t really make their point well, which is why there were so many misunderstandings.

      I hadn’t read that article though! Thanks for showing it to me! Long sounds like a real sociopath. I actually thought there might be something more to Long’s article, because she sounded pretty… er… stressed out, we’ll say. I also thought it was a little weird that she would call out her son like that. But I think the more important more to take away from it is that we need to start actually talking about mental health. Probably more so for Long herself. ;P

      Yeah, it’s really fucked up that we’re all interested in him now. The attention encourages people who want attention the same way. And it’s really stupid that it takes something like this for people to say that he needed help. We need to fucking pay attention when people are stil ALIVE and haven’t hurt people yet.

      In any case, in light of that article you linked me to, I’m going to remove the link to Long’s post from my post. :/ While I think we should continue to talk about mental health, I would rather not support someone who treats her children that way, regardless of how “difficult” they are.

  3. Mari/万理 says:

    I’m always inclined to compare every anecdote I hear about children in institutions to my own experience, and some elements of your story seem similar to what seems to be the standard narrative of kids in group homes in the US–frex, I went through something like seven different sets of caregivers in less than a year, and I was in what was considered to be one of the better institutions in my city. There seems to be this definite lack of commitment to giving children consistency in both of these systems, which I think is a real shame. These kids (at least the ones in the US) don’t seem to get a consistent set of values taught to them at all, and they don’t have *any* of those close family ties that most people have, so they seem to wind up directionless and without anybody really looking out for them. It’s pretty sad to watch.

    I’m really curious about reading more on how mental health is perceived and treated in Japan, and how foster care works, but–damn it, 日本語が読めないではだめ!!*rage* I do not enjoy being so illiterate.

    • I’m interested in learning more about it, too, but I can’t find anything. I kind of wonder if it’s something that people just don’t talk about. For example, one of my teachers DEFINITELY needs to see a therapist, but I get the feeling that it would be inappropriate to tell her so. In America, I wouldn’t hesitate. :/

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