The following entry, like everything else in this blog, is completely fictitious, and any resemblance to any real people, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The opinions expressed by the fictitious characters within this fictitious entry are also purely fictitious, and are based on ideas the author has acquired by studying various anthropological studies of Japan. Any resemblance that these opinions may hold to any actual opinions of any actual people is purely coincidental, and these opinions are not meant to be taken as representative of any actual individuals or groups.
The English conversation school where I work occupies the fifth floor of a half-empty building located between a pachinko parlor and a soft-jazz izakiya. The first and sixth floors of the building house Leopalace, a nationwide chain of real estate developers whose hastily-built apartment complexes resemble miniature prisons. On the top floor is a school for teenagers who, for various reasons, have been deemed unfit for regular school. Sometimes I see them walking to the elevator, sporting hair tossed in massive waves and wearing brightly-colored, mismatched clothing; but I know very little about them.
One of the students from this school also comes to Kriasho. He is always eager, never afraid, to talk to foreign teachers, and from our conversations I’ve gathered that he is very intelligent. He speaks English moderately well but very slowly, often crossing his arms while he plots out his sentences. I asked one of my co-workers why he goes to a special school, and she didn’t know the English word to explain. She keyed a command into her dictionary and turned it toward me. “He has this,” she said quizzically:
bipolar disorder (n)
The other day at lunch, this student came up in conversation, whereupon another co-worker commented on his condition. “He seems so smart,” she said, frowning, “it’s a shame that he has such a weak mind.”
I had a sudden flash of everyone I knew who’d ever struggled with depression, who’d ever taken medication for a mental disorder, who’d ever talked to me about their problems; then of my own darkest moments; and finally of the day the ambulance drove away from Welling. I thought about how all but a few Japanese people avoid seeking professional help for mental problems. I chose my words carefully.
“In the West, we don’t believe that depressed people have weak minds, and actually, most people are quite comfortable—“
My point was lost as someone spilled a small portion of nikujaga and several frantic hands reached to wipe it up. The same co-worker picked up again:
“I think that really intelligent people often have weak minds. I would hate to be that smart if it meant that I would have a weak mind too.”
I cursed the nikujaga that had spoiled my argument but couldn’t gather my thoughts enough to respond coherently before the conversation switched to Japanese and my chance was lost. I wonder how much good it would have done had I been able to speak. (I like to think it would have done a little.) I wish this type of thing came up more often so that I’d have more chances to share my opinions, but unfortunately the Japanese people’s preferred method for dealing with these problems is to just not talk about them, I'm sorry to say.