VanOrd, Analysis 6 — “With the Light”

Last week in class we had a pretty long introduction on this week’s reading of With the Light. Because this book is a “manga”, which many of us in the class were unfamiliar with, we required some background information to get going. I will admit by the end of the video and class discussion last week I was feeling very overwhelmed by the idea of reading this book. As I began to read it over Thanksgiving I was initially frustrated by reading from the right side of the page to the left and reading inside little circles, rectangles and squares. But, as I read on and became more used to reading in the midst of drawings I actually liked it.

This surprised me due to my lack of knowledge on manga and Japanese culture, but I really did. I definitely agree with what the professor said, and what other students have attested to in their blog posts, that this book was the most accurate portrayal of autism we’ve come across thus far. I found this manga to be very moving as it told the less-pleasant side of what autism may be like for families, especially in even less aware or accepting cultures.

Up until this book I believe we’ve only looked at autistic characters that live in either the United States or that live in England. I really enjoyed seeing how Japanese culture was shown to respond to an autistic child and the family.

For my research this week I was curious why Japanese society is portrayed less accepting than American society of people with disabilities or who are neurodivergent. My first thought was that maybe they had a lower rate of autism in their society, therefore they are less surrounded by it and less familiar with it. This turned out to be false. In fact, Japan has the highest rates of autism in children (161 out of 10,000 children) and the U.S. is the fifth highest (147 out of 10,000 children) with Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom having higher rates than the U.S. as well.

So, since it must not be a lack of prevalent autism in their society, I began thinking it must be their culture that highly regards obedience, respect and success that make the society as a whole seem less accepting than other cultures. The stigma of autism is hard for anyone in any culture to maneuver around. I can imagine that in Japan where control is important, a child that is seemingly out of control would be hard for the public eye to give the benefit of the doubt to.

This is not only Japan but all people everywhere: when something is new it can be scary and frustrating; then as a response people generally avoid things that scare and/or frustrate them; then the lack of understanding or willingness to learn about this new, scary thing only further propels the misconceptions people have of autism and the behaviors and differences that those with ASD possess. Even though in Japan autism is common throughout the society, basically 2 people in 125 have autism, the mere stigma of being different, uncontrolled, disobedient, disrespectful or even unpromising for success, prevents people from feeling comfortable educating themselves on the topic. This lessens awareness and spreading awareness is a huge first step in understanding.

I’m unsure how this could change in Japanese society, but as I read the book it certainly gave me hope for not only traditional Japanese families who don’t want to believe their child is neurodivergent, but also for all families in general who struggle with this new and intimidating task of figuring out autism. I appreciated the struggle between the parents, Masato and Sachiko that took place in the beginning of the story. It showed the day to day miscommunication, frustration an exhaustion that can come from learning about your autistic child. It also showed that if all members of the family are willing to learn and try hard as a family than they can overcome the hurdles that can come along with ASD.


One thought on “VanOrd, Analysis 6 — “With the Light”

  1. danielbowengv

    Totally understand the feeling of being overwhelmed when it comes to being introduced to the manga culture. It’s certainly one of the more vibrant and alien communities that’s come to prominence in recent years and with that I think that the entrance threshold is quite high for people not in the community. Additionally, as someone who loves reading manga I think that often members of the community when advocating its consumption as media, may inadvertently ward people with their enthusiasm.

    For example, here’s an incredibly mean-spirited rant article I found which I feel generally sums up what I think most people feel about anime fans:

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, “The stigma of autism is hard for anyone in any culture to maneuver around”. Of all the insights gained in this semester, I’d say the greatest boon is a much deeper appreciation for those who work with and are neurodivergent individuals. “With the Light” does a wonderful job communicating the difficulty and suffering borne from when people see those as different from them as defective and failures. Sachiko seems like a wonderful mother and when we read this text and look at Tobe’s artwork we can, in some small way, feel her pain.

    I think that one of the great strengths of manga lies in the seamless combination of text and words that appear on the page. Humans are visual beings, “Some sources even suggest that visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text, which explains why we often find ourselves re-reading the same sentence eight times or staring at a page and realizing we have no idea what we’ve read” (Golden). So each time you turn a page in a manga you immediately are struck by the visuals of each individual panel and after bolster your understanding of the scene with the text on the panel.

    But I digress, you’re absolutely correct in saying that the Japanese culture is much more interested in obedience, respect, and success. All of which, no doubt, play hugely into the isolation and stigma that comes with being neurodivergent and having a neurodivergent child. I think much more than this; however, is that the Japanese culture has a much, much greater expectation for conformity than most societies. This preference of conformity and harmony is known in Japanese as (和) “Wa”. “Individuals who break the idea of wa to further their own purposes are brought in line either overtly or covertly, by reprimands from a superior or by their family or colleagues tacit disapproval. Hierarchical structures exist in Japanese society primarily to ensure the continuation of wa” (Neary). If you don’t live up to these expectations or meet standards you essentially lose most of your status in the Japanese society.

    Because of this Hikaru and his family are much more isolated and shamed for something that is out of their control and that they’re trying their best to live a good life with. Still, the message of the novel is uplifting and reaffirming that when people work together and try to alleviate one another’s pain everyone can live good, meaningful lives.




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