Arama They Didn't

2:19 pm - 04/25/2012

In Japan, Suffer the Children [TRIGGER WARNING: Self-harm, rape]

HONG KONG — “She just took the razor and then she started cutting in front of me.”

That was how the photographer Kosuke Okahara began a six-year connection with several young Japanese women who regularly harmed themselves through cutting, making thin, repetitive slashes on their wrists, forearms and thighs.

The theme of his photographs, assembled in a compelling new video presentation by the Asia Society, is called Ibasyo, which Mr. Okahara says means inner peace or “a place where one can feel.” His poignant pictures are all the more remarkable for their rare penetration of Japan’s famously closed-off society and what he calls “our culture of shame.”

“The story’s not only about cutting, but more like a feeling of how they live,” he tells the executive producer of the piece, Shreeya Sinha, now a Web producer at The New York Times. “Sometimes loneliness they face. Sometimes anxiety they face.”

Mr. Okahara, 31, says he had heard about cutting as a social phenomenon. But he didn’t know why the young women would do it.

“I could assume, OK, depression, but why depressed?” he said. “What I encountered was a story inside a family. Like violence. Also rape. I knew there was rape in the society and many women shut their mouths because they don’t want to talk.”

One of the young women, Sayuri, said she had been raped by a relative. “I don’t feel like I’m worthy of anything since then,” she told Mr. Okahara.

Statistics on cutting and self-injury are rarely collected or reported in Japan, and the behaviors are almost certainly underreported, experts say. But a survey in 2008 asked nearly 3,000 students this question: “Have you ever injured yourself deliberately with a knife or other sharp material?” The survey, published in the journal Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, found that 12.1 percent of girls reported at least one experience of self-harming. (For boys it was 7.5 percent.)

In the United States and Canada, studies of high school students “consistently show a 13- to 24-percent prevalence rate,” according to a useful fact sheet from Cornell University’s Research Program on Self-Injurious Behavior. A survey in Britain in 2004 found that about 10 percent of young people between 11 and 25 had self-injured.

Also from the Cornell information:

Many individuals who practice it report overwhelming sadness, anxiety, or emotional numbness as common emotional triggers. Self-injury, they report, provides a way to manage intolerable feelings or a way to experience some sense of feeling. It is also used as means of coping with anxiety or other negative feelings and to relieve stress or pressure.

As he photographed the young women in Japan, Mr. Okahara gradually became friends with them. “Part of my life,” is how he puts it.

“Sometimes they cut every day, sometimes once a week,” he says. “Sometimes when they feel better they don’t cut even once in a month.”

One of the women, Kaori, called him one night, sounding drunk, saying she had taken a number of the pills she normally used to allay her anxieties and help her sleep. How many pills?

“About 270,” she told him.

He rushed to her house and called an ambulance, despite her protest that she couldn’t afford it. The rescue squad came, and she recovered.

All six young women went to psychiatrists, Mr. Okahara says, and three of them have gotten better.

There is a parallel phenomenon among young Japanese men, one that is more widely known and chronicled, called hikikomori, which means “withdrawal.”

“The anxiety, loneliness and stress felt by these women mirrors the unhappiness and dislocation felt by the hikikomori, or social isolates,” says Michael Zielenziger, the author of “Shutting Out the Sun,” which examines the shutting-off syndrome in Japan. He says he is “not surprised that these girls would find such negative ways to express themselves.”

In a story in The Times Magazine, Maggie Jones said that while “female hikikomori exist and may be undercounted, experts estimate that about 80 percent of the hikikomori are male, some as young as 13 or 14 and some who live in their rooms for 15 years or more.”

In his book, Mr. Zielenziger writes about this “cadre of 1 million young adults, the majority of them men, who literally shut themselves away from the sun, closing their blinds, taping shut their windows and refusing to leave the bedroom in their homes for months or years at a time.”

Mr. Zielenziger says Japan’s rigid and hierarchical society, combined with a bleak economic future, has literally sent kids to their rooms. As Maggie began her piece:

One morning when he was 15, Takeshi shut the door to his bedroom, and for the next four years he did not come out. He didn’t go to school. He didn’t have a job. He didn’t have friends. Month after month, he spent 23 hours a day in a room no bigger than a king-size mattress, where he ate dumplings, rice and other leftovers that his mother had cooked, watched TV game shows and listened to Radiohead and Nirvana. “Anything,” he said, “that was dark and sounded desperate.”

“There are plenty of 19-year-olds in America who think they’re facing a pretty bleak future,” Mr. Zielenziger told Rendezvous in a phone interview. “But imagine a 19-year-old in Japan where there’s much less freedom to be yourself. You have no power in society. There are lots of reasons to be depressed. To them it makes sense to hide out. To hide out in your own little subculture.”

Almost to a person, he says, the hikikomori he met were smart, inventive, sympathetic, imaginative — “the kinds of kids in America who are starting Facebook or Instagram.”

“They just want to be different, but their world won’t let them,” Mr. Zielenziger says, noting that these kids are often bullied or punished at school. “They’re called schizo or lazy. Crazy or lazy. But they’re not that. They just want to be different.”

International Herald Tribune Rendezvous

I put the whole article under an lj cut because it starts off graphic and I don't want to upset anyone who doesn't want to read it. I'm also not sure what other tags to use for this article besides 'health'.
roomgirl 25th-Apr-2012 02:41 am (UTC)
I think a rape warning would be appropriate as well, for the mention of it towards the beginning of the article. And I added the Japanese culture tag since it deals with issues in Japanese society.
rexona_woman 25th-Apr-2012 02:43 am (UTC)
Thank you, added.
hisjulliet 25th-Apr-2012 02:54 am (UTC)
This is really sad. Cutting can make you feel good at the moment, but it really doesn't help you with your internal problems at all. And you will most likely regret it in the future, like I have. I really wish more young people realized this.
prushrush 25th-Apr-2012 03:03 am (UTC)
but it really doesn't help you with your internal problems at all

This, so much this. While I don't regret cutting, I do regret not getting help and ending the mental torment sooner.
hisjulliet 25th-Apr-2012 03:08 am (UTC)
I don't regret cutting my self either. But I do regret making a big scar on my arm from it. The scars can make some people regret it. lol I should have explained myself better...
liime_arix 25th-Apr-2012 03:48 am (UTC)
Yeah, the after effects of cutting do make people regret it (and also feel shame depending on the person). It's honestly really painful when even though you've stopped, the feeling of shame stays with you.

Edited at 2012-04-25 03:51 am (UTC)
hisjulliet 25th-Apr-2012 03:55 am (UTC)
I agree, the shame stays with you. Especially when a person has to see the scars of it. It just takes you back to the time when you did it and the type of state you were in. You can never escape it really...
pamuya 25th-Apr-2012 03:32 am (UTC)
well said. it just disguises the bigger problem.
prushrush 25th-Apr-2012 02:58 am (UTC)
First, thanks for calling it self-harm and not self-mutilation, as so many are wont to do.

As a former self-harmer myself I can identify with the feelings that they just goes to show that unlike what many think, self-harm is a real issue that needs to be addressed globally. This is a great article (I did not watch the YouTube video, I'll have to build some strength for that) that doesn't hype or dramatize self-harm. Thanks for posting this.
asaphira_sachi 25th-Apr-2012 03:15 am (UTC)
cahbiebie 25th-Apr-2012 03:49 am (UTC)
so sad :(
thank you for this
yuui1010 25th-Apr-2012 04:49 am (UTC)
I want to help them.
atarashiiyoake 25th-Apr-2012 06:40 am (UTC)
Thanks for the warning. <3

Don't really know what else to comment on this, really. It's a complex issue.

Edited at 2012-04-25 06:45 am (UTC)
doujoushin 25th-Apr-2012 07:47 am (UTC)
Honestly don't know what to comment.

Thanks for posting it.
reyahh321 25th-Apr-2012 09:06 am (UTC)
Ohh, They need help... ;( Thank you for sharing this information. Gives us more knowledge on what these people have gone through.

Edited at 2012-04-25 09:08 am (UTC)
bokunostation 25th-Apr-2012 09:59 am (UTC)
What Zielenziger said about these kids being "different but their world won't let them" makes me think that he's probably right.
It really is a relieve to see how some people still care about self harm,etc. I wish I can meet someone who won't laugh at the reasons behind my cutting habit. /shrug
Thank you for posting this article.
vampyrrep 25th-Apr-2012 02:25 pm (UTC)
this is sad and i hope that things change in Japanese society to help these girls...women..♥ i have friends who have gone through similar things of self-harm and i've tried my very best to reach out and to get them to seek help..i hope others will do the same for these women not just in japan but in the rest of the world..♥
soritt 25th-Apr-2012 03:22 pm (UTC)
According to the statistic, 1 out of 10 high school students self-harm. But there must be reasons why there are many people self-harm but not many are noticed/cared/supported ~
rim1789 26th-Apr-2012 09:40 am (UTC)
Thank you for this OP <3
isolacompulsive 28th-Apr-2012 04:30 am (UTC)
Thank you for posting this. Does anyone know if there are any kind of resources available in Japan for people who self-harm?
botanbutton 8th-May-2012 12:50 am (UTC)
This is a good and informative article.
I hope more and more things like this bring self-harm and such to the light and that the people who suffer can get help.
This is one of the reasons I've been thinking about adopting/starting a home for young people.
I want to help them get as much love and help as possible cause they deserve it.
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