This guest post is by Keiko Shirokawa, a Tokyo-based senior producer for the German television network Zweites Deutches Fernsehen, who has long focused on anti-authoritarian and environmental justice initiatives. She wrote this letter to help persuade a Japanese publisher to acquire the rights. It worked. I just accepted an offer from Korocolor Publishers, which has hired Keiko to be the translator. Thank you, and hooray!.
In Japan – as in many other parts of the world – tackling issues affecting the aging population, improving public health, bolstering the medical system, and raising citizen’s awareness of health issues are critical, yet daunting, tasks. Concurrently, the elderly are barraged by advertising of commodities aimed at elderly consumers. And when the Japanese government recommended that their citizens not rely on the public pension system, they made it clear that they had abandoned means to address this issue of financial security properly.
The absence of a culture in which one feels comfortable can be tormenting to those who look ahead at an extended life expectancy in this super aging society. Contemporary culture – plays, music, literature – fail to speak to their hearts. In Japan, you can find a few who claim the necessity of studying gerontology, which is something, but these studies remain the subject of academia and scientific research.
In my case, I suddenly re-entered the world of broadcast television news when I was contacted to join a news crew covering the areas hit by the earthquake, tsunami on March 11, 2011, followed by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. I was 63 years old. On that day, I headed to the affected areas where dead bodies could still be found everywhere among the debris. Since that day, I haven’t stopped working for the foreign news agency that hired me then as a news producer. Ten years have passed since I started leading my life in a way so unexpected in Japanese society, and even unexpected to myself. I have been very healthy and competent enough to still keep this demanding job. However, my mind has been full of questions and fears for the many others who are not enjoying such a fulfilling life. And, in my heart, I feel a sense of alienation and isolation in Japanese society because of my age.
Under these circumstances, I came across This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite. Every point in this book seemed to brush away the cobwebs in my mind. I read it in one sitting. I was wondering how to convey these thoughts to Japanese society, which remains sexist as well as ageist. In other words, I was automatically translating it. Anti-ageism should penetrate Japanese society. I decided that the first thing I had to do was to publish a Japanese version of the book. I was unable to find a translated version of it on the market, so I approached a publisher, Korocolor first, whose reaction was very positive. I then sent an e-mail to Ashton Applewhite directly to ask for permission, which she enthusiastically granted.
In the meantime, the #MeToo movement had spread all around the world, and in Japan as well. A man of my generation and an old acquaintance was condemned because of sexual harassment. That led me back to the writings of the 1970s activists such as Betty Friedan. It was while reading her important book, The Fountain of Age, that I found Ashton Applewhite. Her work addressed so many questions that were filling my mind. I returned to the writings of Simone de Beauvoir as well.
I consider this book as a work that could spark an anti-ageism movement literally. At the same time, I see it as being on the vanguard, conveying a new culture for the elderly. I would like a translation of this book to be a first step in the creation of a new culture for the elderly in Japan and to be ready to make a declaration of anti-ageism to Japanese society. Therefore, it would be good to work with the publisher, Korocolor, which has published several in-depth books on the subject of the racism in Japan and has succeeded in reprinting many of them.
Also, in order to fill the inevitable gap existing between two different cultures, I asked Carol Baldwin, who is my best friend and a film producer and runs a community farm in Connecticut, to help fill in the gaps which might otherwise be lost in translation. She kindly accepted my request. The title, “This Chair Rocks,” is a good example to show the difficulty in translation, as a rocking chair is not associated in Japan with the elderly! Our elderly do not use rocking chairs when they rest; ours is not a chair culture.
I am 100% certain that the sexism I have been experiencing since I was born into Japanese society, the discrimination against Asians I was exposed to while living in the UK, and the ageism I am feeling deeply internally and externally these days should function as an ideological foundation to translate Ashton’s words into accurate and strong Japanese words.