This guest post, including picture and video, comes to us from Spring Day. Spring Day is a world traveling American stand-up comedian, writer and actor based in Japan. She also happens to have cerebral palsy. You can follow her nonsense and silly bits @springdaycomedy, www.springdaycomedy.com, and on YouTube.
A lot of kids talk about running away from home. I actually did. At 13 years-old, I decided I was going to escape to Tokyo, Japan where I could live independently and that’s exactly what I did.
I grew up in the Kansas City area to parents who had no business being together. Drugs, insecurity and mental illness are not stellar matchmakers. I have always felt that my mild cerebral palsy was always harder for my parents than it ever was for me. Because most children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy at infancy, parents have to wait and see if their child is going to be mentally challenged as well. This is a very real possibility because cerebral palsy happens in the brain and mental disability takes years and years to determine. My parents think the verdict is still out on me… (^_^)
I think my parents were terrified that I was going to be financially and physically dependent on them for the rest of my life. That’s a lot of pressure on two people in their twenties who aren’t sure they really want to be together and on top of that, are terrible with money. Therefore, my parents had a very hands off approach to parenting. If I wanted to do something, I had to figure out how to do it on my own. Sometimes my parents went out of their way to not help me.
When I was 17, my parents bought a car with the steering wheel on the right side. (A practically unheard of setup in America unless it’s a mail truck.) This car was perfect for me as I have motor control over the muscles on only the left side of my body, I would be able to drive it very easily. I remember going outside to look at the car the day they brought it home. As soon as my dad walked inside the house, my mother got out of the shiny new vehicle, walked up to me, looked me in the eyes and said, “You are never getting this car.” A few months later, Mom left Dad, taking the car with her. I wasn’t all that surprised or disappointed when she took the car. It was comforting to know I wasn’t the only one that needed to escape. The only thing I really wanted was a one-way plane ticket to Japan, anyway.
I’ve always been drawn to foreigners I think it’s because they know what it’s like to be different. One of my best friends in junior high school lived with her Japanese grandmother. Her grandmother was always very nice to me and taught me how to make tempura. After hearing tales from her about how futuristic Tokyo is, how it has the most efficient public transportation in the world and how culturally important it is to look after and include everyone in a group, I decided I would study Japanese in University and then move to Japan to live forever.
My junior year in university, I received a scholarship to study in Tokyo while living with a young Japanese family. My host mother was a champion. She had been informed about my disability but not educated. She was prepared for the worst and set up a doctor’s appointment to get the level of my disability assessed and to see if I qualified for a disability card. By the end of the exam I qualified for level 2 disability. The card made transportation, public gym, movies theaters, hospital visits and medicine cheaper. I was urged by my doctor and by the Department for Disabled People at city hall to use my card and it’s benefits as much as possible. I almost cried, I was so relieved that I wouldn’t be considered a burden.
On top of that, being a blonde, blue-eyed, white foreigner, most Japanese people are too distracted to notice that I’m disabled right away. When I don’t use my right arm or hand, they never ever think it’s a disability, they just think it’s a culture difference. When I meet a Japanese person for the first time and extend my left hand to shake their right, they immediately start talking to themselves in Japanese going, “Crap! I’ve been doing it wrong!” Then I have to tell them, “Well, actually…yes you have. I am very offended.” I can’t begin to describe how nice it is when I extend my left hand to shake the right hand of a complete able-bodied stranger to not have them look at me incredulously as if to say, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know how to shake hands? I’m not going to kiss it, if that’s what you think.” It’s frustrating because not enough time has passed for me to be able to say, “Look, I would love to offer you my right hand to shake. It’s just that I think we should know each other better before I scratch you!”
Oh! I almost forgot, the transportation system! To someone who essentially grew up under house arrest in rural towns because it wasn’t possible to go anywhere or do anything without a car, Tokyo is an escapist’s heaven. Tokyo streets are brighter than the Las Vegas Strip, the sidewalks are wide and smooth, escalators and elevators are everywhere. The trains and no-step buses will take you anywhere you need or want to be from 5 AM to 1 AM. If it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and you’ve missed your train because you’re drunk, you can pass out in the station, take a taxi, go to a movie, sit in a McDonalds, internet cafe or karaoke box for a nap and not have to worry at all about you or your belonging’s safety. Random acts of violence in public are pretty much unheard of here. Japan is an extremely safe place, as long as, you don’t have any family in it. If anyone is going to steal your money, take your things, beat and/or kill you in Japan, chances are it’s going to be a family member. If you don’t have any family, that’s fantastic news. Take advantage of it.
Japan is not perfect but it is a wonderful place to escape, if you need one. It’s been a wonderful haven for myself for the past 15 years and I highly recommend anyone living with a mild disability to at least visit Japan for a few weeks to see how a bit of technology and a stronger sense of community can make living independently a lot easier, enjoyable and possible for everyone.