What’s Not Being Said
By Aki Hirata Baker
I am looking over my old photos. I am seldom smiling; actually I look more pissed than anything else on most. Thinking back on it, my youth was often punctuated with funky moods, depressive thoughts, and heavy feelings.
Growing up in Japan, there were plenty of things to be pissed about (as youngsters often do). For me, however, the rigidity of the tradition was definitely a point of dissatisfaction; my life was ruled by “what to say,” “'how to move,” “how and when to look at someone (yes it is a thing)” and so on... oh, also don't forget how long my uniform skirt should be, as if they can measure my intelligence by the distance between the hem of my skirt and the wooden floor of the gymnasium. The biggest point of confusion on my end was not understanding the silent cue for “when to speak,” which was “never” for a young person born in a female body. What had to be said was too wordy, too opinionated, too smart, and always too much for “a person like me.”
These things affect one's mind and body. By the time I entered middle school, I suffered from serious headaches, as well as tendencies to get sick for no apparent reason all the time. I often joke I had no choice but to move to the States because I wouldn't have survived Japan — and a joke always includes a kernel of truth at the core. I lost my mother to suicide, and my grandmother who is a survivor currently stays at the hospital for depression and anxiety. I was born into a family legacy of depression and anxiety, and overcoming them required drastic measures.
By October, 17,000 people have passed away from suicide in Japan, taking far greater number of lives than COVID did in total. I am not saying that any of what I am sharing is the reason for this statistic; however, I can't help but wonder if there are any cultural reasons behind the numbers.
Living between two worlds is not an easy undertaking — and for me, living as a young female in Japan was just that. We were taught to be free; however, the freedom to exist was not granted. The stark contrast between the glaring images of imported freedom while being taught to be modest as if my life depends on it, is confusing to the psyche to say the least.
Escaping to the U.S. did not bring the freedom in a real sense as you can imagine; however, I was given the space and opportunities to speak my mind. It was up to me to learn how to convey my ideas and desires, and the pressure of NOT to speak flipped to a pressure to speak. Now I am continuing to live between two worlds, yet, there are less words that accumulate to give me headaches and strange illnesses (actually it took me years of healing to get rid of them; it’s never too late to start living fully!).
Living between spaces is what life might be for most of us; how funny that now I lean so much on the lessons of my grandmothers' tradition — the humility, modesty, courtesy, the way in which I care for the collective. Looking back, being strangled by the rigidity of the tradition for the sake of keeping the tradition did not allow me to see the importance and beauty of their teachings. The lessons I continue to uncover and learn come from 7,000 miles away; yet I could not see them when I was sitting inside of them.
Thank you, ancestors, for giving me this strange level of fortitude to move across 7,000 miles without speaking the language or knowing much of anything. Stumble, I did; but I learned to swear in a newly found tongue as I stumbled, loud and proud, while appreciating the deep wisdom of the old much more than I could have ever imagined.
Healing is a journey that takes surprising routes. Each step on the path adds a different perspective, lesson, connection, and realization, and I am forever grateful for all the unfortunate fortunes of my youth to usher me onto this journey.
Aki Hirata Baker is a multi-modality healing facilitator, teacher, and speaker, whose work is based on the anti-racist spiritual liberation principle. An immigrant from Japan who's currently based in Brooklyn, New York, Aki has devoted her life to studies of mysticism, philosophy, healing modalities, and liberation principles. She is a space holder, healing practitioner and teacher, community organizer, and mother to many. She is a founder of MINKA Brooklyn, a collectively run healing space that centers the work of undoing all forms of social oppression through healing and an un-capitalistic approach to business. She is a dreamer of the beautiful future we dare to dream for ourselves.