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Call for Submissions: How Has Japan Changed You?

Alright, so I’m starting something new! “Your Story ここからそこまで” is a new site dedicated to telling other people’s stories about Japan. I’m looking for people to feature on it. If you’re interested, check out the information here!


Hello writers!

Living in a foreign country can change you in ways you may not even notice or sometimes in big ways. How has Japan changed you? Think you could share a story about this change in 500-1,000 words?

These changes can be big or small, positive or negative, but the key is they must have narrative and focus. “Your Story” is all about sharing experiences, so please remember not to write your piece like a travel or news article. Basically, personal narrative and memoir style submissions please.

Also, the submissions must be based on true events or circumstances so please no fictional entries. Authors of all the submissions will be asked to sign a contract stating their story as truthful to their knowledge. If some submissions contain information found to be untrue, the submission will be rejected and/or removed from the site.

If you have a true…

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And So Depression Strikes Again…

It is 2:15 a.m. and I hate myself.

I’ve been feeling it all week long, the push to get up and out of bed in the morning, that lethargic pull on my feet all the way to work. I’m what is considered a “functional” depressed person because I can do daily tasks and work 95% of the time. Never mind the crying fits I might have, the constant sudden need to sleep for hours upon hours, I’m still contributing to society and that’s generally how you get diagnosed with medication and such: How much of your life is spent making people above you happy with you?

My worries are multiple, and the worrying wears me down, like water on stone just slowly but surely. The job hunt, application processes, the various hobbies I keep up to keep me sane, continuously seeing friends who need more reassurance than I do, because that’s how I paint myself to the world.

I’m the stone, you can rely on me, I’ll always be here. Never you mind the raging river, I’m strong enough to brace against it.

I am the one people call when they need to talk, and I love that I am that person people call. I enjoy feeling needed, who doesn’t? But it always feels wrong to lean back. Showing my weaknesses, it’s always the hardest thing for me to do, because it always feel like I’m showing something ugly, distasteful, gross, or otherwise a nuisance. I was made fun of as a kid for crying, I was the “Drama Queen” of my family, always making something out of nothing.

I’ve been told kids of divorce often feel this way, especially the older ones, the ones who feel like they have to hold everything together (even though that’s not their responsibility, it can still feel like it is one anyway). I think in hindsight, getting the “Drama Queen” label only made me believe harder that my emotions were just invalid, ridiculous, useless, and otherwise…a nuisance. I know there was no ill intent behind the nickname, I know people just wanted me to “lighten up,” but even good intentions have consequences.

I have to be the one who has all her shit together, even if sometimes I’m fracturing a bit. I’m getting better about putting my feelings out into the world, prepped for the expected derision, but nowadays I’ve chosen better friends. My support base is amazing, my friends and family continue to grow and be more loving every day. I’ve also learned that people who don’t appreciate me as I am don’t deserve me, and I do now cut out toxicity.

But there are still moments I hate myself.

The trigger this time tonight was about my volunteer work. This whole year, I’ve secretly been counting up all the ways I have failed my groups, both in the higher and lower ranks. I didn’t get enough donations, I didn’t prevent problems (I couldn’t have foreseen), I didn’t work hard enough to get the business cards done in time, I could’ve done more on communication, the list just goes on and on and on in my head. I don’t say anything to anyone involved in the group, because it’s not really logical how I’m feeling.

I’ve done a lot too, because there were so many unexpected drop outs, changes in the system, but I always feel like I never do enough. I can’t just do the meetings, I have to set up interviews, I have to help with this event or network this thing, it’s a constant moving entity of side work. All the same, when I get like this, the list comes back, and I can’t reconcile logic with my depressive mind that is absolutely sure everything I’ve done is for naught.

I hate myself because myself is never going to be good enough for me. I’m a fake, I think, and one day everyone is going to wake up and see the impostor that I am. It sucks to think this way (because my logical side knows that is not accurate information).

I really want to do more, but the exhaustion keeps me from even trying. I will still get up tomorrow and do what I need to do, but I’ll be carrying this visceral hatred towards myself the whole time. Odds are no one will notice, odds are I won’t be telling anyone close just yet, I’ll just be me.

So far as they know, I’m still the rock in the river. They’ll see my shine, my smooth exterior, and never know the cracks under the waterline. And it’ll all be fine, eventually.


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On the Sexual Assault Narrative: Aziz Ansari

The #MeToo movement and the #TimesUp movement brought a sense of much needed change of social consciousness on rape, sexual assault, sexual coercion, and the term consent. Dialogues continue left and right, with women constantly coming forward to reveal their stories to the media and bring predators to light. We are all gathering together to track down these “villains,” bring them to at least a public justice with their “true” natures revealed.

And that’s where we actually fail to make real change.

The Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K.’s of the world are easy to condemn. Big men with big power using their power against the women below them on the media totem pole, skeezy hotel rooms, a narrative and plot we’ve known. It’s familiar territory, Lifetime movie drama that, ironically, would be easy to translate to a big screen.

But then we have the Aziz Ansari story.

Aziz Ansari proclaims himself a feminist. He wrote a book, got an award a “Woke Bae,” and up until the article hit seemed like the “cool guy” you would want to date. To the public at large, he would be the last person suspected of sexual coercion or assault. Surely a guy who prides himself on getting what women want and even joining their movements couldn’t be responsible for such a thing, right?

Women and men alike have fired at Grace, the anonymous photographer who just had one of the worst nights of her life published for the world to see, with all the fervor we usually reserve for the “villains” in our stories. Her story is full of moments she could’ve gotten out of there, they say. Her story has alcohol and going home with a guy along, they say. Her story can’t be believed because she never said no, they say.

Let’s change this narrative to something familiar. We the public are the police. Grace is a woman who feels violated, coming to us with a story. So now we ask her all the standard questions: Did he put a knife to your throat? What were you wearing? Did you drink? Did you say no? Oh you didn’t actually have sex? Well then, case closed. You weren’t raped. You weren’t assaulted. Case closed. Who would believe you anyway? This story would never hold up in court…

All too familiar, isn’t it?

Despite all the progress we make towards giving women platforms to be heard, we still fall back to the same narratives comfortably enough when a woman’s story gets messy, complicated, and focuses on someone well regarded. Rapists and sexual molesters can’t be people we actually like, because that doesn’t fit with our perceptions of them as ugly monsters.

For women, we are also inviting the terrible idea that we ourselves might have experienced sexual coercion or assault, but we refused to put that label on our past encounters. Our stories can’t have that label, we protest, because…Because we didn’t say no, we didn’t get out, we drank that wine, we dressed that way, we went home with that man, we didn’t…oh.

The realization that your own life’s narrative holds more pain than you want to face is devastating. We say he was just being pushy, we could’ve done more to prevent it, and the excuses cushion us from the truth. Stories like Grace’s happen to women every where. We go into a date thinking we will end up having our bodies respected, only to end up ending our nights in tears and scalding hot showers.

Aziz Ansari gets to keep his dignity and respect. He will never see himself as part of the grand problem, because in his mind “he’s a feminist.” He doesn’t have to admit wrong when he’s on those red carpets talking the talk, ignoring the fact he doesn’t walk the walk. In the end he is as Grace shouted at him that night: the same as every other man who doesn’t respect women’s bodies.

Feminist men exist, those who recognize that a woman’s body isn’t a plaything. Aziz Ansari isn’t one of them. He wants to have the moniker, yet he also wants to treat women as if they’re still just objects for his use. Or maybe for him it was just this one particular woman that he saw as vulnerable, as someone with no clout to control a narrative like this one, and knew he could get away with treating her in an awful manner. Someone anonymous, someone with a standard story that no one will believe, and no proof besides her own words what happened.

We see people finding all the faults with Grace, not the faults of a man who promised to the world at large he was a feminist, but behind closed doors was just as much a creep as a stereotypical drunken horny frat boy.

But as someone so widely liked and respected, he will control this narrative, and so will those who like and respect him. Already we see articles like “The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari” that cut down Grace for, to paraphrase, “not calling a cab, being weak, and using her story as revenge porn against a man of a different color.” Because, as we all know, “good women don’t go home with men alone.” It’s disappointing to see that still, despite all of the conversations and talk, it’s still too much to expect men not to be aggressive and forceful for sex, and women are still expected to “know better” than to expect anything more.

And we have near apologetic levels of defense for him, such as “Aziz Arsani is Guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader.” Boiling down the entire encounter to “bad sex” as if it were that simple, as if women are groomed from childhood to not take the initiative in anything (much less sex) before we get to adulthood. Consent means more than just saying yes or no, more than just being uncomfortable and giving non-verbal cues. Aziz Ansari didn’t get consent, he just jumped right into the porn narrative where the guy got the girl home and now they can bang.

Grace’s failing is that she expected to be treated with respect, and it’s unfortunate that almost no one thinks she deserved it.

Jessica Valenti, a Guardian columnist and author, points out a similar thought by tweeting, “A lot of men will read that post about Aziz Ansari and see an everyday, reasonable sexual interaction. But part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers ‘normal’ sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful.”

Our cultural narratives about sexual assault need to change. We can’t keep going back to the same old tropes, of the disbelieving public and the overly victim blamed women. We can’t keep blaming women for expecting basic bodily respect.

The media outlet Jezebel is calling out Babe for many narrative detail issues in “Babe, What Are You Doing?“, citing that putting out all of the gritty details about the story actually undermined the more important discourse within it:

Because Babe did not have the range or depth to present Grace’s story for what it is—a starting point to discuss the ways consent can feel blurring, no matter how clear we might wish it were, and our lack of language to describe this—we all ended up opening up a conversation that did us no good at all. The story had the unfortunate effect of leaving the door a little wider for self-righteousness, allowing detractors to reiterate their shitty assumptions about millennial women and their motivations instead of questioning a set of injustices so commonplace that many people seem not to register them as injustices at all.

Babe had an opportunity to change the sexual assault narrative, to get the story focused on how we remain tied to the ideas of consent being “you must say no or it’s ok.” It had a vital chance to open the dialogue towards what it means to have someone a decade your senior and a supposedly “woke” Hollywood feminist treating you like you don’t matter to him except as a  sex object.

But instead the media has been presented a grand way to re-victimize Grace, and tear her narrative to pieces, along with the narratives of so many other women out there who have experienced this story.

It’s vital to change the narrative, because we’re not just change it for Hollywood alone. The U.S.A. Gymnastics association allowed a doctor to sexual molest and assault women for years, paying girls to keep silent (and yes, girls as most of these victims were underage). These young girls grew up in the culture of being one of the more “woke” when it comes to these issues, but even still their stories are only now being heard after decades of abuse. He was a doctor, a trusted and well respected person, with the control of the narrative for years. We can’t keep letting that happen.

We can’t stop talking and revising what it means to be sexually assaulted, coerced, molested, etc. We need to keep talking about Aziz Ansari, and we need to continually reevaluate how we treat the victims. The narrative needs to become one where if a woman goes home with a man and leaves feeling violated and in tears, we validate that experience instead of dismiss it.

Grace, I believe your story, and you deserve better.

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On MLK JR. and the Legacy We Need Today

Today my home country will have the opportunity to celebrate the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. This great man devoted his all to the cause of equality. Every speech and march was a crusade against tyranny. His galvanized thousands upon millions of people to come together to protest against the unjust nature of American society.

If only he could be here now…

At a time when my own so-called (but not well regarded) President calls less fortunate countries “shitholes,” enacted a Muslim Ban against Islamic peoples from Middle Eastern nations, and continuously badgers for a border wall, I wish at times we had another Martin Luther King Jr. to step up and orate the world into seeing how divisive and abhorrent racism truly is.

“I Have A Dream” is the speech many people know and love. The countless quotes pulled from it will be the main sound bites for the news features, and people will point to it as the leading example of the message Martin Luther King Jr. wanted us to learn.

But that’s oddly enough not the speech that stuck with me.

My favorite Martin Luther King Jr. speech is obscure, to say the least. It’s actually not even supposed to be a civil rights speech, but instead an acceptance letter for an honorary doctorate. For some reason, this one particular part of it resonates with me (underlined for emphasis):

As you well know, racism is a reality in many sections of our world today. Racism is still the coloured man’s burden and the white man’s shame. And the world will never rise to its full moral or political or even social maturity until racism is totally eradicated. Racism is exactly what it says. It is a myth of the inferior race; it is the notion that a particular race is worthless and degradated innately and the tragedy of racism is that it is based not on an empirical generalisation but on an ontological affirmation. It is the idea that the very being of a people is inferior.

I wish more people could read those lines. We all know the iconic lines of, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'” But to lay out what racism at its core really is, as well as put the shame where it belongs is just as important as the dream. It’s pointing out the root of the problem, and demanding action.

Racism must be eradicated, but how?

This speech actually continues on to talk about it:

Well, it may be true that morality cannot be legislated but behaviour can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can restrain him from lynching me; and I think that is pretty important also. And so, while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men if it is vigorously enforced, and through changes in habits, pretty soon attitudinal changes will take place and even the heart may be changed in the process.

Changes in law, changes in the government, changes from the top to demand that the bottom obey these laws, must be just and equal. Right now, I don’t believe my government wants equality, but instead wants to encourage that “myth of an inferior race.” The administration in the White House feels no shame in its desire to rip apart families with ICE and immigration, in threatening to take away the dreams of DACA recipients, in lambasting NFL players for taking a knee (an act Martin Luther King Jr. would’ve surely been proud of, non-violent and attention getting as it is), and the list can just go on and on.

We cannot stay silent when we see injustice, for that is how it wins. Even if all we do is call out racist behavior when we see it, it’s a step in the right direction. Call your representatives, write letters, get yourself open and vocal.

Martin Luther King Jr. wanted a world of mutual understanding and respect between white and black people, but we white people must make ourselves worthy of that respect. Until then, we can carry this shame.

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On A Depression Swing

I’ve been sick for about two weeks, but I’m finally getting well again. As one can imagine, being sick for that amount of time is not a fun experience. I was running back to the doctor each week trying different antibiotics until one round finally worked, which put a small strain on my money situation.

Also, if you hadn’t seen from the previous posts, I was a part of a comedy show, a Rocky Horror shadowcast performance, and went to a friend’s Halloween party. All of these things were fun, and I’m glad I’m kind of stretching my wings out into different things, creating new hobbies. All the same, also put a big strain on my financial situation.

In between all of this, my cell phone screen got cracked beyond saving. Due to it being shattered, I couldn’t upload anything to back-up. Why? Because the only way anyone can unlock their phones these days is through a touchscreen, and phone companies still haven’t figured out how to help you without unlocking your phone…which can’t happen if your screen is cracked. You get the idea. I spent a good 30,000 yen and then some to get it fixed, after trudging through a typhoon to get to the store over in Kawasaki.

All these problems, I realize, are first world and self-inflicted problems. I put all these responsibilities on myself, I didn’t say the magic word “No!” to any of these events, and I should’ve been more careful with my phone (although it just fell from my bed to the floor while encased, so…I dunno, accidents happen). Still, it’s all accumulated to the point where I found myself on the verge of tears throughout this whole week.

And as per usual with me, I haven’t told anyone about it. I was a part of an online peer support group not that long ago, but my problems seemed insignificant in comparison to other people’s so I just downplayed all my issues.

Then, my uncle died.

When I first received the news, I was with people. We were having a good ol’ time. So I found a dark and quiet place, sobbed long and hard into my hands. While everyone else was dancing, I was trying not to go into a full on breakdown. I managed to get myself out of that hole by bribing myself with, “When you get home, you can shut off. You can cry and stay in bed all day. You’ll do nothing but go numb. Go through the motions now, feel super awful later.” Amazingly, it worked.

I went back to my friends, smiled and joked around with them, not ruining a single thing. When I got home, I threw myself in bed and didn’t get out of it for twenty four hours, until I had to go back to work. My physical illness got worse. I’ve been told heartbreak can manifest in physical ways, and I get the feeling that’s what happened. The next few days I had fever spikes and a cough that wouldn’t quit.

See, my uncle was a good man, a bit gruff and rough around the edges, but a good man. I didn’t know him much when I was growing up, as he lived in California and I lived in Kentucky. This summer I went to visit my mother in Las Vegas, so I got to see him and my aunt. Both of them were interesting to meet with all of us being adults. We could have actual discussions, about things that mattered, about family here and there. My uncle bought us all beer, and I discovered his good tastes and mine aligned.

I remember hugging him before he left for California, thinking it was a great start. I would come back next year, and we’d, well…

The thing about mourning someone in Japan, or really any foreign country, is that you’re not with the family to grieve. You’re not there to share in the reminiscing, you’re just left with what you’ve got. I also didn’t and don’t know if I deserve to mourn like everyone else, having only met him a few times in my life, but I suppose having seen him so soon it hurts more than I expected. I wasn’t shocked, we all knew he had health problems, but it cuts in ways I don’t have words to really express.

With everything else going on, I now feel guilty. My guilt for daring to be alive and complaining internally about it, for being sick, for breaking something so expensive, for being stupid and piling on too many things on my shoulders. I keep thinking I should be better, I should do more, I should be in America, I should devote more to studying Japanese, and-.

Fraying apart at the edges here and there until I finally become slips of nothing.

Depression always starts of as a gradual thing for me. It begins with a pressure on my chest, and it just keeps pressing down over a period of hours or days. Then I breakdown, sometimes again for hours or days. I’m lucky in the sense that I can still pull myself together and fake it at work. I’ve been on time, doing all my worksheets, getting those projects and speeches done…All the while ignoring the desperate need to curl up into a ball and just stop existing for a while.

I tell myself that I should be working on those Stonewall Japan projects too, that people are counting on me far more than I need them. I’ve gotta be stronger than this thing weighing me down. I want to live, but I don’t want to live with people thinking I’m a slacker, that I’m good for nothing, because that’ll just confirm what I think of myself when I’m in the darkest hours.

If you’re expecting this post to end with sunshine and hope, well, sorry. I’m still raw, in pain, and not getting out of it anytime soon. I’m on day three of what I expect to be a possibly week or two long depression swing. At some point I’ll crawl my way out of this mess I’ve made, but for now I am this wreck of a person. One thing to note here is that I’m admitting I’m a wreck and that it is okay to be this way.

I tell this to other people all the time, but I don’t really tell myself this enough: All thoughts and emotions are valid. My guilt, my self-hatred, my sadness, my numbness, it’s all screwed up, but it’s all a part of me and what makes me who I am. I’ll miss my uncle, I’ll stretch money until payday, I’ll go to work, I’ll just have to keep going.

Even if it’s really fucking hard right now.

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Letters to My Students: Introduction

When it comes to teaching, there is a lot that I can’t say to my students in a classroom. I teach them English, try to encourage and motive them to improve in it, and in the end just try my best to make sure their grades reflect their efforts. So much gets left unsaid, either because there just isn’t enough time to talk about certain things, or because it’s not appropriate to get into [that specific conversation] in the class.

With the added challenge in my case of language barriers, my Japanese students sometimes don’t really understand what I’m trying to say anyway. They’ll just nod their heads and smile when I’m trying to have a Robin Williams carpe diem moment. It’s tough trying to be some kind of “inspirational” role model like person when your students can’t speak your language well.

It sucks because I feel as if sometimes they don’t get how much I care, or they just assume that English teachers aren’t invested in them as much as Japanese teachers. Sometimes that can be the case, there are many ALTs who come here for the vacation experience and not the work. I’m not one of them, never was, but I think my students would assume so until they got know me.

I’ve written one letter before to my Junior High School girls when I lived in Ibaraki, but I always meant to write more. I’ve filled pages of notebooks with things I’ve wanted to say to so many students. I think it’s about time I do it.

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On #BendtheKnee

“The unity of freedom has never relied on the uniformity of opinion.” -JFK

Freedom is an interesting concept. The idea that we’re all entitled by birth to pursue happiness, follow whatever religion we want without governmental persecution, these are all relatively new ideas. The United States of America considers itself “free” and most of its citizens would say they have “freedom.”

Which is why I think when they see the Colin Kaepernick‘s #BendtheKnee movement, these citizens get pissed off. How could someone not #StandUnited for a song of freedom? How could you bend a knee to our precious flag?

And in turn, those who support bend the knee ask how could people be forced to stand and pledge for freedom that doesn’t include their skin tone? With police brutality caught on camera, when black bodies die because cops panic shoot, and nearly none of these officers see a jail cell? Here is a simple, powerful message done without violence to show their not going to stand for oppression anymore. Black Lives Matter, and they want to be heard.

Back and forth we go on the debate. It’s interesting to me that for so many people they find the kneeling so offensive. If we see North Korean propaganda videos of them all standing together and singing their national anthem, we would call that obvious oppression. No citizen in North Korea has the freedom to say no to standing or singing; it’s not their choice to do these acts. So how is it we’ve got a President of America that wants to do the same? Give no choice or freedom to protest?

Telling a group of disenfranchised individuals that they must “do as their told” for the sake of being “united in freedom” is oppression. Telling someone that they must be “obedient” to the government and its status quo isn’t freedom. Protesting, rebellions, these are the foundations of our country. Not liking this choice of protest might be understandable, but everyone has the right to freedom of expression and free thought.

In the end, there are two conversations at play. The #StandUnited conversation which argues for the total loyalty to a country that has served them well, and the #BendtheKnee protesters and supporters who want to shed the light on the country that had abused them. When it comes to the conversation worth having it’s the latter, because when one side of the conversation has people dying and being actively oppressed it deserves to be taken seriously. Dismissing and jeering at protesters is only proving their point: Their voices don’t matter to the status quo.

Until they are heard, they must continue the #BlackLivesMatter and #BendtheKnee movements.