First of all, I would like to say what a beautiful, thoughtful, well-written manga this is. A lot of care and love went into this work, and it is very much reflected in the end result, which is truly a work of art. This is one of the best, most thought-provoking manga I’ve ever read–and I’ve read a lot of manga.
I once read a quote regarding world travel that said something like, “If you’re American, and want to experience culture shock from a completely modernized society, you should visit Japan.” I recalled this piece of advice when I was thinking about this manga and the cultural differences it shows in its treatment of autism. To be honest, I’ve been reading manga about day-to-day Japanese life for so long, I’ve become completely accustomed to many of the little peculiarities other Americans seem to find disarming. This manga, however, shone a light (if you’ll pardon my pun) on an unglamourous, complicated part of reality that gains very little recognition in Japan: mental illness and disability.
As we discussed in class, and as any foreigner reading this manga can immediately tell, the basic Japanese way of life is very largely rigid, conformationalist, and traditional. There are some among the Japanese youth who make it a priority to challenge conventional standards and practices, but by and large the consensus seems to be that this is a “phase,” so to speak–once you’ve left your twenties, you’re expected to “grow out of it” and “settle down” into an “acceptable” way of life. In Japan, difference is mostly frowned upon, or at least regarded as an unnecessary complication for those around you. Even dying your hair–no matter how unnoticeable, flattering, or well-done the color may be–carries a stigma of immaturity and irresponsibility.
Is it any surprise, then, that in a culture that prioritizes convention, politesse, and self-sacrifice, mental illness generally goes undiscussed? Japan’s national suicide rate ranks it at 17th in the world. The US is 50th. You can see the pressure that Sachiko places on herself to be a model wife at the beginning of the book, as well as the pressure that her husband, Masato, places on himself to be a good employee and provider. The expectations that Sachiko faces are totally normal: a common compliment in Japan, in regards to things like cooking, cleaning, and laundry, is, “You’ll make a good wife.” Similarly, the reaction many people have to Hikaru–of bemusement and bafflement–is the same reaction they might have to any “disobedient” or “ill-behaved” child. Hikaru has difficulty getting along in Japanese society largely because all societal difficulties and differences are regarded poorly in Japan–even more than in American society, the expectation of conformity and adherence to the “unspoken” is extensive.
Hirose, Yumiko, and Hiroki Sasamori. “Current Status and Issues of Autism Education in Japan.” NISE, http://www.nise.go.jp/kenshuka/josa/kankobutsu/pub_d/d-292/d-292_14.pdf. Accessed 28 Nov. 2016.