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Japan must see childrearing as responsibility of society to prevent abuse: novelist

Mana Tamura, a novelist who experienced abuse as a child, smiles at her son three days after his birth, on June 25, 2018. Tamura is positive about the influence the baby will have on how she interacts with others. (Mainichi)
Before the birth of her first child, novelist Mana Tamura expressed worries in Tokyo, on June 12, 2018, that she would project the abuse she suffered as a child on her own. (Mainichi)

"Please forgive me" -- these words scribbled in the phonetic hiragana script left by Yua Funato, who died at age 5 in Tokyo's Meguro Ward of alleged neglect, moved the Japanese government to introduce emergency measures to prevent child abuse.

While Yua's parents, who were arrested soon after the incident, were showered in harsh blame by the Japanese public, 30-year-old Mana Tamura, who has published a novel based on her own experiences of abuse as a child, says, "Attacking the parents (of abused children) won't make such incidents disappear."

Tamura's family was made up of her two biological parents and a younger sister, but because of her father's alcoholism, he couldn't hold a steady job, and the family could not live on the salary of her care worker mother alone. The family could not even pay the fee for the children's provided school lunches, and they spent all their time sifting through garbage. She and her sister hardly attended elementary school.

Roughly until the time Tamura turned 12 years old, she was struck almost daily by her parents in the name of "discipline." She and her sister, who was also subject to the violence, came to refer to the timing of their parents' attacks as, "the mood switch has been turned on."

"We didn't like to be hit, of course, but it wasn't like we hated our parents," explains Tamura. "Violence wasn't all they did to us. There are memories like my mother focusing on cooking vegetable dishes and my father buying me books, too." She was unable to report the abuse to a child welfare consultation center. "I felt that if the center rebuked my parents and blamed them, then I would feel bad too," she recalls.

Even now, Tamura says she cannot bring herself to blame her parents -- because she understands the social and living conditions that they faced. "My parents had no relatives in the area to rely on, and they were trying to raise their children all by themselves in a situation filled with struggles," she says.

"Parents who can raise children without resorting to violence can only do so because they have a favorable environment in which to carry that out. It's not so strange that there are parents in the same position as mine that cannot properly raise their children," Tamura emphasizes. "There needs to be a system that allows for more proactive external intervention for at-risk households."

Tamura is concerned about Japan's tendency to rest the weight of responsibility for childrearing on the shoulders of parents alone. The government and child welfare institutions tend to take a passive stance toward taking children into protective custody.

"In order to really decrease cases of child abuse, we need to perceive childrearing as something an entire society engages in," Tamura says.

When those who were abused as young children raise their hand against their own children, it is called the cycle of abuse. When the Mainichi Shimbun first interviewed Tamura in mid-June this year, she was about to have her first child, and expressed her worry that she couldn't say with absolute certainty that she would not slip into abusing her own child depending on the situation. But three days after giving birth in late June, when Tamura looked at her child, she said with a smile, "I feel the cuteness even more now that the baby is born."

"I don't necessarily think that my parents didn't consider me to be cute. I think my son is adorable now, but part of me also doesn't know what could happen in the future," she clarified. "That's why I want as many people as possible to be involved in the care of my son."

After leaving the hospital, Tamura called friend after friend to her home. "After having him, it seems like how I relate with people will also change. I have a feeling thanks to this baby, my world will also expand."

(Japanese original by Haruka Udagawa, General Digital News Center)

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