Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 7, March 2002

Chinseki Aoki,
'I still have an ambition: to become a scholar'

Yongmei Wu

  1. With a Japanese-language dictionary, several notebooks, and a box of pastels arranged in meticulous order on a table in the reading room, Mr. Aoki started to do his lessons for the day: classical Japanese, mathematics and civic studies for the middle school second-year students, and painting. He was a seventy-eight year old resident of Akashia. Except for going out to see his doctor and going shopping, Mr. Aoki spent most of his time studying. He wanted to realise his dream of becoming a scholar.
  2. Born as the eldest son in a politician's family in Tokorozawa City, Mr. Aoki was called a 'grandmother's child' [obâsanko] by his relatives in his childhood. He was so timid that he was often ill-treated by his two younger sisters and brothers. 'Maybe I was too mild and my sisters were stronger in character; my mother always said that I should change places with my sisters,' Mr. Aoki recalled his childhood. His father was the mayor of the city so he was too busy to care about his son. And since Mr. Aoki was raised by his grandmother and all his other siblings were raised by his mother, he felt somehow that his mother had alienated him.
  3. Mr. Aoki had long known that he was not a strong-minded person. When he was in primary school, he had good grades but he was said to be incapable of leading his classmates. When he was in middle school, he was very eager to become a soldier. But his uncle said 'A serviceman needs the ability to rule over others. You are not suitable to enter the army. You are the type of a scholar.'
  4. Eventually he was unable to go to the army, because he contracted tuberculosis when he was about to graduate from middle school. He was hospitalised for three months in 1943 and later stayed at home for convalescence. Since he had nothing to do at home and his ears were ringing severely, he became irritated and offensive. He did not obey his mother and lay in his bed all the time. Maybe it was because of this unstable psychological state that his mother decided to send him to a mental hospital in 1946, to which he stayed connected for nearly thirty years.
  5. After he was discharged from the hospital in 1949, he was admitted to the high school of his alma mater. He had planned to go to university. However he was forced to enter the mental hospital again because he was unable to find a job during the period after he was discharged. He said that if he had not been hospitalised for the second time, his life would have been different. He commented,

      In Japan, especially a long time ago, people had prejudice against mental patients. One's future ended if one was diagnosed as a mental patient. So no one would like to employ a person like me who had been discharged from a mental hospital. Even if such a person was employed he could not work for long since he was forced to quit because of the intolerance of others. I couldn't understand why my family, especially my mother, wanted to put me into the hospital again. Apart from not looking for a job and occasionally opposing my mother, I did nothing wrong and I had never thought I was a mental patient. I was just weak in mind [shinkei ga yowai]! She cared much more about appearances [sekentei] than about the future of her son.

  6. Mr. Aoki became a real patient during his second stay in the hospital. The continuous treatment with electro-shocks destroyed his body so badly that he finally became a schizophrenic. He was disgusted with the electro-shock treatment, but he had no power to refuse. He thought he must have been very sick at that time.
  7. Normally one lives a life without contact with culture and characters if one enters a mental hospital. Mr. Aoki felt strong sympathy with the saying, 'Free time without literature is death [bungaku-naki kanka-wa shi-nari],' because there was nothing to do during the day. Fortunately he was able to share a room with a former university student who suggested that he write and read without wasting time. He borrowed middle school textbooks from the student and began to learn algebra, geography, history and English, to write essays and keep a diary. Also he took part in clubs, wrote for the bulletin of the hospital and opened a personal exhibition of watercolour paintings. The books he read were mostly borrowed from the hospital library or bought from the visiting book stall. He did his best to study hard. He took people who had refined hobbies and whose lives inspired him—such as Winston Churchill and Douglas MacArthur as his models, and he encouraged himself to study hard with proverbs such as: 'Study is just like pushing a car on a slope, the car will go back again if you are careless [gakumon-wa saka-ni kuruma-wo osu-gotoshi, yudan-sureba ato-ni modoruzo],' 'Piling up small particles of dust will eventually create a mountain [chiri-mo tsumoreba yama-tonaru],' and 'Rome was not built in a day [Rôma wa ichinichi-ni shite narazu].'
  8. During the twenty-one years of his second hospitalisation, he learned algebra for middle school second grade twice, English for the first and second grade several times. He had finished reading Makuranosôshi and The Analects of Confucius [Rongo], kept seventy notebooks and read more than three hundred books. He studied the textbooks all by himself, so he had his own theories. Besides he had spent six months getting a distance learning certificate in proofreading while working outside the hospital. He had a good time in distance learning. And he had long had an aspiration to become a scholar—one indifferent to riches and honours [meiri-ni utoi].
  9. Around the age of forty-nine, Mr. Aoki was discharged for the purpose of 'outside participation [gaibu sanka]'.[1] Before that, in his forties, the hospital suggested to those who had almost recovered that they should live and work in the community by themselves. Mr. Aoki wanted to get married as well as to live in his own home, so he tried to persuade his mother to let him out, but she disagreed and said that he was unable to get a wife. So he gave up. Later he was discharged and began to work in a printing company in Higashimurayama City. But without his mother's permission, he was unable to live in his home, which had already been succeeded to by his elder brother.
  10. Mr. Aoki's brother rented him a 1DK apartment near Hagiyama Station.[2] At that time, Mr. Aoki wanted to have a family, so he proposed to a woman who had been an inmate in the same hospital, but he was turned down. He also applied to a matchmaking company. This strategy did not work out either and he failed to get married in his life. He recalled the hardships when he lived by himself. He said,

      Can you imagine how difficult it was for a man to start an independent life at the age of about fifty? I had to learn every bit of housework from the very beginning: to go shopping, to cook and to do the laundry, etc. I felt envious when I saw my neighbours sitting around the table eating Japanese hotpot [oden]. I told my father during a family visit that I wanted to go back home for I was not good at cooking and I wanted to eat family dishes. He promised to talk to my mother but it turned out to be in vain. After that I lived in my small apartment alone for nearly sixteen years. And I worked for the company continuously for nine years as a proof-reader. I resigned before the compulsory retirement age because the company moved to a district too far away for me to commute.

  11. Since Mr. Aoki understood that it was impossible for him to live in his own home, he thought that his last refuge might be a home for the elderly. His doctor advised him to apply for a yôgo home when he went to see him after his retirement. Mr. Aoki told his caseworker what the doctor had said, and she later contacted the Welfare Department in Higashimurayama City where he resided. The officials gave him several addresses of keihi homes in the city and his brother also brought him some pamphlets about yôgo homes. Mr. Arai, the one who had told him not to waste time in the mental hospital, was then living in Kotobuki, so Mr. Aoki went to ask him about the conditions of the home. Since it sounded like a nice place, he applied for admission to Akashia a few days later.
  12. But, at that time he was living on the Welfare Pension and a remittance from his brother so that he had no financial problems living alone. In addition he still had a desire to have a social life and freedom, so he turned the offer down when the official called to tell him that he was admitted. Several years later, his brother and a staff member from the hospital who came to visit him suggested again that he start the application procedure again. He followed their suggestion and moved to live in Akashia at the age of sixty-six.
  13. Kotobuki was not unfamiliar to Mr. Aoki because he had commuted to the day care centre for several years before he entered Akashia. Since he had long lived in a mental hospital, he was used to group life, so it was quite easy for him to adapt to the new environment. His mild character and his willingness to offer to do some errands for others helped him to get along well with other residents. He continued subscribing to the Asahi and Yomiuri newspapers and gave them to the matrons after he finished reading them. He also kept on writing essays and painting watercolours and showed them to both the matrons and other residents. By doing so he intended to enhance the mutual familiarity between him and others, because a friend had told him that a resident should develop a relationship with the surrounding environments by his/her own efforts in the home. He was quite satisfied with his cultural life in Kotobuki. As he explained:

    Figure 1: In the middle of the exhibition of works is a haiku that Mr. Chiseki Aoki presented to the city's annual Elderly Handicrafts Exhibition.
    Being a member of the haiku club here, I compose about sixty haiku each month. I bring a notebook with me when I go on overnight trips so that I can write down some impromptu sentences. I have contributed my haiku to the Asahi Haiku Column and the city newspaper. I have also published a small book which is a collection of my essays. It is a really delightful thing to see my own work in print. The matrons said that I was a type of naturalistic writer. I have kept on studying and reading as well. Since I came here I have read about two hundred books and improved my study method. I am happy that I can have a cultural life in the home.

  14. Mr. Aoki thought it was very convenient with many shops, banks and the post office near the home. He liked to keep in touch by letter with his middle school classmates, as well as inmates and staff in the hospital, so it was good to have the post office nearby. The other good points of the home, according to him, included the openness towards people who had psychological disorders and the freedom to spend money. He said,

      A number of residents with illnesses similar to mine and other kinds of disabilities are living with the ordinary elderly here. And I am managing my money on my own. So as a whole, I am satisfied with my life here. My studies are progressing smoothly. I still have the dream of becoming a scholar. Compared to other patients, I think I am successful in leading a social life. I am living a life according to my own will.

  15. The only unsatisfactory thing about living in Akashia was that there was time limitation. A resident has to get up at six o'clock in the morning and go to bed at nine in the evening. As all room lights were turned off at 9:00 p.m., Mr. Aoki stayed in the reading room to study till 9:15 p.m. and then went to sleep around nine thirty. He had used to get up at 10 a.m. and study till 10:30 p.m. when he was in his own apartment. So it was too early for him to get up and to go to bed.
  16. One more thing he was concerned about was that he was unable to stay overnight with his family. In the mental hospital, a patient would get a reward if he/she stayed outside for three consecutive days. However there was no such regulation in Kotobuki. He looked forward to going back home to meet his family, especially on holidays such as the Japanese New Year's, but he was unable to do this. 'I think that the most probable reason is that my mother and my brother don't want me back. Maybe they feel that it is unpleasant [iya] to have me, a former mental patient, near them. You know, my mother is such an exacting person that my brother couldn't get married until he was sixty.' His eyes darkened.

      My brother asked me not to come back home without informing him. He said 'mother is too quarrelsome [sôzôshii] to get along well with my wife. It will become more troublesome if you come.' I know that my mother has treated me differently since I was a child. I feel I have never been loved by her. She didn't inform me when my father died or when my brother got married. I learned from the newspaper that my father died in a traffic accident. Since my family didn't tell me I was unable to attend his funeral. I have told my mother many times on the phone that I wanted to stay overnight at home, but it seems that she never told my brother about this. Without my brother's permission I can't go back to my home.

      I feel mortified [kuyashii] at the unfairness with which my family has treated me. However I will endure it [gaman shiteiru]. I am very happy every time my brother comes to see me. I also felt delighted when my parents came to visit me in the hospital. You know, love from my family is important to me. Till last year my brother came to give me pocket money every month and I was sending a letter of thanks to my home each month. But he was diagnosed with cancer in the stomach and has been in the hospital for nearly a year. I worry about him. If he dies, what will happen to his wife and their little child who is only a middle school student? My mother is bedridden now. She is ninety years old. I have kept on writing her letters and calling her on Mother's Day ever since I was institutionalised. She is always my mother! I hope I can meet her again while she is still alive.

  17. Despite some discontent with his family, Mr. Aoki was quite satisfied with his achievements and the quality of life in Akashia. He thought of himself as a mental patient who had returned to society successfully [seikô ni shakai fukki-ga dekita]. Sometimes he would think about death and feel dreadful. But in thinking that human beings would remain in existence even if he were dead, he felt at ease. His wish was to keep fit as long as possible and keep on studying. 'My life's desire is to become a scholar. I will continue working to realise my dream,' he said.


    [1] Throughout the 1970s, influenced by the ideas of anti-psychiatry and therapeutic community, psychiatrists began to open up the wards and try social living therapy and community psychiatry to treat mental patients. See Harding, Schneider, Visotsky and Graves, Human Rights and Mental Patients in Japan, Geneva: The International Commission of Jurists and the International Commission of Health Professionals, 1984, pp. 11-14.

    [2] 1DK is an apartment that has one bedroom and a dining room kitchen.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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