I am currently planning a story set in present-day Kyoto, Japan, and the main character is a boy (10 to 12 years old) with Asperger syndrome, raised by a single mother who is struggling to get by. I would like to know more about what cultural attitudes are like towards people with autism in urban Japan: how much is known about autism and other mental disorders by the general public and by educators, how autistic behavior is perceived and reacted to, what kinds of resources are available for parents of autistic children, etc. These are my main questions, but I’d appreciate any other relevant information as well (what elementary schools are like in Kyoto in general, how divorce/single mothers are perceived, and any other tidbits/info about daily life). I want to be fair, accurate, and culturally aware while telling this story. Thanks!
I’m Vietnamese, not Japanese, but I can say that generally across Asian cultures, mental illness and/or developmental issues are a kind of stigma and shame that the family’s very reluctant to share or see outside resources for help. I’ve seen exceptions to this “need to keep it a secret” among Vietnamese Catholic families I know with autistic children, as the families are more open to share their stories through spiritual support and tight-knit community.
Japan’s educational system is pretty rigid and set to high standards, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the autistic child would struggle greatly to keep up with his peers. This would reinforce the family’s sense of shame and stress. Again, across Asian cultures and especially Japan, there’s also a very established sense of the need to respect and recognize the rules and authority of elders/superiors, and a sign of autism is difficulty with following the rules, further complicating the child’s conformity to Japanese culture. Another sign of autism is the tendency to fidget, make spontaneous movement or noise, and being unable to sit still or keep quiet. Drawing attention to oneself like that is likely to attract disapproval in public, when it’s expected in Japanese society to be respectable, tactful and polite. I’d imagine that would be even worse in a crowded train station.
That being said, I’m not a definitive authority on all things Japanese, let alone Kyoto, as I haven’t been there myself and mostly speak from my experience among the Asian American community. So of course further input besides mine would help you even more.
Thank you for your response, Sibir! I really appreciate your perspective. And no worries about not knowing more. I’ve realized I tend to post oddly specific research queries here in the Research board, so it’s doubtful any one person would ever have all the answers I’m seeking anyhow. I’ll just need to do some more digging of my own. In any case, I’m grateful to have direct input and opinions from actual people if I can, rather than just the information I can glean from Internet and library searches. So, thanks a bunch!
No problem! I’m glad I could help even just a little bit. There’s the “mental weakness, not mental illness” attitude and the idea that if it’s not talked about, it doesn’t exist. That’s a big problem that needs to be fixed and I hope to see changes in perspective later down the road. It won’t be easy, but you’re better off finding and asking someone who is actually Japanese, for the best possible idea of the lived experience. I’m sure it’ll be worth the trouble.
While these are written from the perspectives of Asian-Americans, you may be able to extrapolate their experiences back to families still living in Japan. Left here for your review and consideration.
Thanks again to both of you! I finished this story. I asked my Japanese American neighbor for his thoughts on it as well and then submitted it for publication. It has been accepted for the Insignia series!
Glad to help! And congratulations. DM me on Twitter so we can squeeeeeeeeeee together.