Why I Have Not Written About Japan

On July 26, a day when I should have been celebrating the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I was attempting to process the news of an unimaginable hate crime. Instead of gathering with my disabled peers in joy, I was sobbing as I imagined what the victims had experienced during and after the massacre in Sagamihara, Japan.

You haven’t heard about the massacre? I would bet you aren’t the only one.

Around 2:20 AM, a former employee of a residential facility for the disabled in Sagamihara committed the largest mass killing in Japan since World War II. He broke into the building, tied up the staff members, and stabbed the disabled residents, killing 19 and injuring 26. The victims ranged in age from 18 to 70, both male and female. Most were stabbed in the neck. throat, and chest as they slept in their beds.

I waited for the “mainstream media” to cover the story. After all, hate crimes and terrorist acts have been receiving a great deal of attention. Nice, Brussels, Orlando, Paris, Munich – I’m guessing you recognize recent stories related to these places.

Instead, I read stories like this Japan Times article which described the crime as a “mercy killing.” According to the article, the killer believed he was providing mercy to the victims’ caregivers because “it would be better if the disabled disappeared.”

There was no mass outcry of horror and disbelief. There were no large expressions of sympathy and solidarity.

Then, slowly the messages began to come from the worldwide disability community as they wrote social media updates, blog posts and essays. Reading them, I was grateful for these brave writers who took the time to capture the loss, rage, sadness and fear so many of us felt. I was able to share their work when I lacked the energy and stamina to compose my own response to this terrible act.

I tried to write. I attempted to find words to express my emotional response. If ever there was a time when I needed to add my voice to help draw attention to an event, this was it. But whenever I tried, I got stuck in the same mental prison.

Those nameless victims? They were me. If I had been a resident in that facility, I would have been one of those who went to sleep one night in July only to have my throat slashed while trapped in my bed, unable to escape injury or death.

The victims’ only crime – my only crime? Being born disabled. Less than. A burden. Incompetent.

Murders of disabled people are incorrectly called “mercy killings” by media outlets because of the ableist belief that disabled lives are so invaluable or unbearable that our murders are acts of mercy. Don’t believe me? Remember Tania Clarence – the mother who killed her three disabled children and was only charged with manslaughter? I wrote about the case in this post. How about the mother who received a charge of involuntary manslaughter for VOLUNTARILY poisoning her disabled daughter and killing her? If the victims of these crimes had not been disabled, would the charges have been more severe?

Writing about the massacre has also been difficult because my own personal care situation has been strained for the past month. Last summer – almost exactly a year ago – I wrote about how life is different when personal needs are met. Just this past month, I have had two Personal Assistants (PAs) out of work for hospitalizations; one out due to a broken foot; one out due to complications with her pregnancy; and one out due to a family emergency. These are legitimate reasons to be absent from work. But my need to use the toilet, get dressed, eat, get in and out of bed, work, live – insert action of your choice here – does not stop just because I do not have my regular staff available to work for me. Yes, I have other staff but they are not always available to work at a moment’s notice. If it were not for the support and assistance from family and friends, I would have no choice but to rely on institutional care like my disabled peers in Japan.

Facing a crisis in personal care, knowing that I would be institutionalized without the generosity and kindness of a support network I have carefully cultivated, and reading about the murder of innocent disabled people in a setting where they should have been safe – well, writing has not been a priority in my life. It is a shame, because I need the therapeutic outlet of writing even more when I am stressed and emotional.

I really need to write. I am a writer – and writers need to write.

So, I set a goal to post something – anything – about Japan this weekend. I am not certain this post captures everything I want to say about it, but at this point it is the best I can do. To the friends and family who have reached out to me since the tragedy in late July, I appreciate your kind words. Thank you for sharing stories and for helping to call attention to this tragedy. We owe it to the victims to continue to fight against the stigma and negative attitudes towards the disability community. We must ensure all life is valued, so nobody has to fear that society views their life as a burden or expendable.

Because that disabled person trapped in an institutional bed? That person is not just me. It’s you.

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18 thoughts on “Why I Have Not Written About Japan

  1. A really nice post. As someone with cerebral palsy married to Japanese lady with cerebral palsy, I would continue to point out that it really does get press here. Could it get more, absolutely. Is there perhaps a culture of shame, regarding disability in Japan, most likely. But I can can assure from watching the news, no talking head here in Japan thinks that the killer was ‘being merciful’. The Kyodo/ Japan news report was simply reporting how Uematsu himself described the killings. Most reports, like this – and English language version of the Yomiuri – the best selling newspaper on Japan – condemn the his actions and seek to find ways to stop such things happening in the future. Behind the Scenes / Experts weigh in on Sagamihara attack – The Japan News http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0003120742

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    • I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. I’m glad the incident is still getting press here. We don’t see much of it here, and the translation issue makes understanding the nuances difficult. I appreciate you sharing the link and look forward to reading more follow up.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes I still think that’s because it happened in Japan. It’s not an earthquake or a typhoon, nor does it involve manga or anime. Those are types of story the media outside of Japan prints about Japan. As a comparison there is not much news about America makes the press here – beyond the obligatory Donald Trump stories. I simply wouldn’t expect it to make much news outside of Japan.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Dee. It has been a story that has weighed heavily on my heart and mind, but I couldn’t frame a response. How can we respond to this in a way that does not minimize or trivialize not only the horrific event itself but is also sensitive to members of the disabled community, for whom the attitudes and prejudices that allowed this to happen are an every day reality?

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    • Thank you for asking the question. It is difficult to respond to hatred. Like many other advocates, I encourage others to be mindful to how pervasive ableism is in our world. And then do your best to stop adding to it. Do not assume everyone accesses the world or information in the same manner you do. Recognize the accommodations granted under law are not ‘privileges’ but civil rights. Share essays and posts by disabled writers, particularly when stories about disabled individuals are being told by nondisabled. Always remember – anyone can join the disability community at any time. Everyone, regardless of physical or cognitive ability, has value.

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  3. I don’t know you personally, but there is a vulnerablility in your writing here that draws me in as a reader. Thank you for being willing to put your honest words out there – for yourself, for us, and for all of those who cannot write for themselves.

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    • Thank you very much for such a kind compliment. It is always encouraging to receive the words which make me want to continue to grow and explore my writing path. People who do know me personally often tell me my writing is very “me” – they can hear me/my voice in their heads as they read my work. Sometimes when I meet people who only know me through my writing, they tell me I sound exactly like my writing! I really don’t know how to NOT be myself when I write, although I never consider it being vulnerable to write about my disability. Perhaps because that is a topic I know well.

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  4. Denise, that was my birthday. I did not hear about this. My grief was immersed in the story of the French priest, slaughtered while he celebrated Mass that day.

    I did not hear one news report about this.

    Chilling.

    Your words speak volumes. They may not have conveyed everything in your head and your heart. But they are powerful.

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  5. The deepest essay I have read both about the killings and the threat of institutionalization present in the disabled community as opposed to the non disabled community, it is my Facebook overnight status I hope it receives the wide reposting it deserves!

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    • Thank you James! I appreciate the kind words, and you sharing them. We need to work to preserve our liberties and safety. As my friend and former boss Constance Laymon famously said, “I’m too sexy for a nursing home!”

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  6. As you’ve shared, this was a hard post for you to write, but I appreciate that you did it and the emotion you must have felt when doing so. It has prompted further conversation around a critical topic and all of us have become better informed as a result. Well done!

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  7. Thank you for writing about this. I did hear about it in the news when it happened but it was soon eclipsed by other stories. At that time I just couldn’t take in yet another hate crime or mass killing. I remember thinking: oh, no, now the epidemic of mental derangement of angry young men venting their hatred and rage by killing has spread to Japan. It was especially heart-rending knowing how helpless people with disabilities can be (both my late parents.) Hatred is erupting everywhere and the whole planet is hurting. How can we heal?

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    • I have been asking myself that question for the past few weeks. I don’t know that I have a good answer. I think acknowledging the fear and anger is important, but that doesn’t promote the idea that all lives have value. Compassion fatigue is real. There are so many good causes to fight for, but one can only do so much. As I explained in the post, when my own personal care is in crisis, I don’t have energy to be the advocate I would like to be. I appreciate your insightful comments.

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