Monday, June 8, 2009

Unique Japan

Yuko raged. She was furious at male doctors and she was furious with her home country. And it was reasonable. After all, a week ago she had a radical mastectomy.

Why after 30 years of research was the survival rate the same? Why was so little research funding going toward breast cancer? Why did every doctor she talked to have a different answer?

And what is this “nonsense,” she exclaimed that Japan has a low incidence of breast cancer. Too many of her Japanese girlfriends have had breast cancer. The water, air, and food here is not that different in the U.S. “The truth,” she railed “is that doctors in Japan do not require women to get mammograms.” She ticked off all her friends and family who had never gotten an exam. By the time cancer is diagnosed it has spread to other organs and thus not recorded as a death by breast cancer.

“There is nothing special or unique about Japan” she concluded, “just that women matter less.”

I was the maid of honor at her wedding years ago. We both had gone to Smith, a woman’s college, where we learned to speak up. She came to the U.S. after failing to become a JAL stewardess. She was told she was too tall, 5’9”, and that it would be impolite for her to look down on most of the airline’s clients.

I listened and hoped that the dinner and empathy I brought helped a little to one of my oldest friends. There was not much more I could do as my friend at Japan Without the Sugar tells me Japan is unique, it is after all the only country blessed with four seasons.

My mammogram has been scheduled.

Get Involved: Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is the world’s largest source of nonprofit funds for breast cancer research and community outreach programs with $1 billion invested to date. Although Komen has international affiliates, there are none in Asia,


  1. Five seasons deshoo?

    On a slightly more important note there are stirrings of the pink ribbon breast cancer awareness campaigns.

    On a tangent I have just recalled the unseemly approval of Viagra by the ministry of health, in glaring contrast to the stone walling of the birth control pill. Perhaps women's health is not so important in Japan.

  2. And you do know that women are pregnant for 10 months in Japan, uniquely.

  3. I think you need to learn how to count. If you count in weeks like most people, the term for carrying a child is the same as every other country in the world.

  4. Discrimination runs rampant in Japan. From doctor's not treating mammograms, to citizens no being able to enter onsen's because of tattoos, to landlords not renting to foreigners, to some businesses denying people access based on their physical appearance (if they look western they can't enter). I could go on and on but this type of behavior will continue until people start to complain. That seems a bit hard for most Japanese. Citizens need to become activists. Contact the TV stations, newspapers, diet members, and city official. Nothing will change unless you complain. So if you want less women to die of breast cancer someone needs to step up to the plate and make a difference. The wheel that squeaks the loudest gets the most grease.

  5. I kid you not, can't tell you how many times I've chatted to ladies going on about being pregnant for 10 months. Apparently they count month zero as 1. Same for auspicious years (36 for women? I forget.) Anyway, Japanese are fond of complex counting systems, in my humble experience.

    Think you are generalising big time there about discrimination in Japan, Kevin, though you my be right. It might be more that we gaijin notice it for the first time as being on the receiving end for the first time in our lives, rather than Japan being significantly worse than other countries. But there I go generalising again. Dang.


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