Misako Yokoe (Youth Worker in Kyoto, Japan)
Translated by Kaori Kitagawa
- Conversation with Yuuki
One weekday after 6pm, Yuuki came to the centre saying ‘long time no see!’ He had not been around lately because of his new part-time job, but that day, he was to meet Kenta at the centre. When Yuuki saw me in the office, he walked towards me without hesitation, sat down and started talking about the job, the new shoes he had bought, the tablet he wanted and so on. I was very happy to see him well. Our office has a rule that in entering, everyone has to let the office know. But Yuuki ignores the rule and comes in. Other workers say to him, ‘why don’t you say anything?’, but he answers, ‘no big deal’. The workers who joined recently do not know how to deal with him. As I didn’t want my colleagues to think I was allowing Yuuki too much, I encouraged him to leave the room saying, ‘how come you are talking to me like this? Wait Kenta in the lobby’. But Yuuki responds, ‘I am not disturbing you, am I?’ So I had to say, ‘I am working now’, and touched some documents on my desk. He then looked around and raised his voice slightly. ‘I know. I am not looking at your documents.’ He knows I won’t say to him ‘leave’, and this kind of exchange is a ritual to us. My colleagues who are concerned about Yuuki say to me, ‘why does Yuuki enter the office without saying anything?’ ‘I am not sure. He should have his own reason wanting to do so.’ This dialogue between my colleagues and I has also become a pattern.
This particular day, however, I had an appointment and wanted to leave early. ‘I need to leave early today. I want to finish this work and go. So can you be quiet?’ Yuuki then made nasty comments as usual, ‘I know you don’t have anything to do after work’. I thought he might understand if I tell him the real reason why I wanted to leave soon. ‘I actually have an appointment with my husband.’ ‘Oh, then you should leave soon.’ It was an unexpected response. ‘Yes, we will go for a nice meal.’ Yuuki still wanted to say something – ‘why are you still working (after marriage)?’ I was surprised with the question and asked him, ‘why do you want to know that?’ ‘Well, women usually quit jobs when they get married. Men want them to stop working, don’t they?’ He was quite serious. I felt it was an excellent opportunity to discuss gender roles with him. When I am asked such a question, I explain my own mother is my role model. ‘My mum worked all her life. She is your grandma’s age. So I grew up thinking we all work till retirement.’ ‘Yeah, my mum was working too but quit her job when she got married because my dad asked her to.’ This reminded me of our recent conversation – he grew up watching his dad’s violence towards his mum, and they divorced because of the DV. When Yuuki and I first met, he was 10; he is now 18. He has given me a ‘confession’ in these eight years. ‘Nobody thinks she would get a divorce when getting married. But if she gets a divorce, she has to make a living. So it’s important to continue having a job. That’s why I don’t want to quit.’ I explained my values and belief: ‘we should work for our independence irrespective of genders’. Yuuki nodded, ‘I see’. At that moment, my colleague in the lobby called me. I was annoyed thinking, ‘why now?’ At the same time, I was slightly relieved because I have a habit of wanting to ‘teach’, and I didn’t want myself ending up teaching Yuuki. So I said to him, ‘shall we go to the lobby together?’ He also looked fine that the conversation had ended, so we walked to the lobby. I was certain we would be able to talk about this subject again.
If I reflect on this conversation with Yuuki, his question could be seen as his interest towards the worker’s personal matters. But it seemed to me he was inquiring honestly about the other person’s way of living, which was different from his. That is why I felt it was important for me to tell him my own view. I also hoped he would realise various values and views exist, and ‘if Ms Yokoe says so, that should be fine too’. I have valued and developed such an approach through my engagement with young people in this centre. The tolerance to violence amongst the youths in the area has been bothering me. I am very much aware that violence is a norm in their everyday life, family, relationship, having a huge impact on their thinking and behaviours. I struggle to find a way to approach those who are involved in violence, whether It’s in the family or a relationship. Yuuki has escaped from violence since his parents’ divorce, but the experience of DV still has an impact on him. Yuuki is a cheerful young man, but if things don’t go as he wants, his emotions become out of control. He also shows certain affection towards paternal ‘strength’. Every time I come across them, I realise the hardship he has gone through in his life and upbringing.
I wish to share with young people their ‘culture’, values and viewpoints through engaging with them. It’s about having dialogues asking them, ‘why do you think so? Tell me please’, not about teaching them a lesson or simply listening to them. There are conflictual moments, and if a dialogue is impossible, I need to just listen or to ask other worker’s involvement. I don’t necessarily talk about my personal life or my own views with all young people. In hindsight, I realise I do have a ‘trust relationship’ with Yuuki. It’s a mutual relationship, which is based on not only the young person’s trust towards the worker, but the worker’s trust towards the young person. Through my involvement with Yuuki, I have faced my own emotions, persistency and immaturity. I am also learning through engaging with young people.
- Conversation with Kenta and Yuuki
I returned to my office to finish my work after leaving Yuuki in the lobby. He was chatting with volunteers and other young people, and I could hear their laughing from time to time. Eventually, Kenta showed up. He is three years older than Yuuki, and I have known Kenta longer than Yuuki. When Kenta approached me saying, ‘hey, listen’, Yuuki interrupted him. ‘Ms Yokoe has an appointment with her husband and has to go soon.’ As I was responding, ‘yeah, I have an appointment’, I also wanted to listen to what Kenta wanted to tell me. He had just returned to Kyoto after quitting a job in a provincial city a few months ago. He wanted to become a furniture maker. Receiving an unemployment benefit, he was to look for a job in his hometown. But due to his mother’s sickness, he has had to focus on looking after her and family. ‘Hey, listen’ indicated he had an update to tell me. ‘What’s that?’ Kenta looked unhappy with Yuuki’s interruption, but Yuuki didn’t care about it and said to Kenta, ‘let’s go to Yodobashi (shop)’. I then made a suggestion to them, ‘I would want to have a chat with Kenta. Maybe I will leave with you guys.’ Yuuki responds, ‘OK, we can come with you. Why don’t you tidy up quickly? We also want to go to Aeon (shop)’. ‘Hurry up – Aeon is going to close.’ ‘Hold on – I need to tidy up.’ I got ready quickly and came out of the centre.
They were holding their bikes outside. Looking very happy, Yuuki said, ‘it would havebeen good to ride double, but our bikes cannot’. ‘No, we get caught if you do that. I won’t even if we could.’ I enjoyed the five-minute conversation between us on the way to the bus stop. ‘The job is tough. I didn’t return from Hiroshima for this…’ Kenta started talking. ‘Remind me – what is your new job?’ ‘I told you my mum was sick. So I need to earn. I am at a convenience store until I start the new apprenticeship. Didn’t I tell you this?’ There was a slight irritation in Kenta’s reply. I honestly didn’t remember it. ‘Sorry, did you tell me you had found an apprenticeship?’ ‘It starts in a month. I need to cook for my family. My dad cannot do anything. It’s tough.’ While I was listening to Kenta, I was remembering his family structure; he was the oldest of the three, and the younger two were at the centre as well. ‘Your siblings are still students, aren’t they? You need to help them, don’t you?’ I was also remembering Kenta being a hard-working young person, looking after his brothers, commuting to his high school in the next city by bike for three years. This time too, he must have been feeling responsible and as a result, feeling stressed. ‘Your father is an adult. If it’s too much for you, ask him to buy a bento box for his dinner.’ I wanted to come up with a suggestion that would help his situation. Kenta was nodding and wanted to say something, when Yuuki interrupted, ‘let’s not talk about such a gloomy story’. Kenta apologised, ‘yeah, sorry’. I wondered why they didn’t want to talk about such a thing – it would be helpful to share difficulties with peers. Yuuki does talk to me about his family matters, but he might find it embarrassing to talk about it with someone else. ‘Really? I want to hear Kenta’s story.’ I interrupted Yuuki, but he didn’t say anything pushing the bike. ‘Remind me – what was wrong with your mother?’ Kenta didn’t change his face expression and answered, ‘a cancer’. ‘I now remember. Which cancer?’ I wanted him to express what was tough for him through talking about the fact. ‘It seems to be a blood cancer…’ He started explaining he didn’t know what would going to happen because his mother’s life in the hospital had just begun. I felt his worry was exacerbating because he burdened himself with his responsibility as the first son. I tried to cheer him up. ‘Family members’ lives will be affected by which cancer. Don’t try so hard from the start.’ Kenta then said, ‘if this didn’t happen, I was going to start living on my own. I was preparing for it’. He spoke in a chagrined voice. ‘I see – you were to start living on your own. If you try too hard, you will get stressed. Come to me and say “it’s tough”…’ Yuuki was next to us in silence. When we reached the bus stop, I said, ‘OK, I will say bye here’, Yuuki went, ‘here? I thought you were taking a train’. The train station is another five minutes from the bus stop. He may want to talk more. ‘That is when I go to my parents. Today, I am going back to my own place. Didn’t you listen to what I said?’ Yuuki seemed to understand, and turned to Kenta saying, ‘let’s hurry. Aeon will close soon’. They started pedaling and waving their hands saying bye.
It was a natural flow for me to have a conversation with them on the way to the bus stop because I had told Yuuki the reason I needed to leave soon. However, talking with young people outside of the centre could be seen as ‘an excessive behaviour’. One of my colleagues considered my conversation with them as off-the-job. Was I conversing with them as an individual? The answer is no. I regarded the conversation between us three as part of the youth work. During the five minutes to the bus stop, all my sensors were active. The conversation with Kenta looked like the conversation between he and I, but I was aware Yuuki was listening to us. I was conscious of his being there, and at the same time, speaking to Kenta. Moreover, as I knew it would be a five-minute conversation, I was able to make it look like an ordinary, not special, conversation. The route to the bus stop is part of their everyday life, even if it’s outside of the centre. Continuing the conversation in such a space was a normal thing to do for them. The conversation we had on the way to the bus stop wasn’t anything special.
- Reflecting on the overall story
Responding to now, what has just happened
I have had a number of conversations with Yuuki and Kenta in the past. The topics vary depending on what they want to talk. Unlike other counselling services, they don’t indicate their ‘main complaints’ in advance. I don’t check what their ‘main complaints’ are either. They talk as they wish, and I as a worker respond to how the conversation develops. My response can be seen as spontaneous.
How to select ‘the thing to be conveyed’
At the same time, Yuuki’s story shows I as a worker is responding to him with an intension. The theme I chose in the first story was ‘to broaden the understanding of gender roles’ and ‘to revise the stereotype of women playing the carer role’. In the second story, I was hoping the conversation would be an opportunity to revise the stereotype of men that they mustn’t complain’. I was conscious that such a dialogue can also occur between peers. The route to the bus stop we three walked together was the moment that valued peer learning.
What kind of ‘space’ the centre is
It was only a few months before this story when Yuuki began talking about his family to me. I was aware of his habit to talk bit by bit through my engagement with him for several years. I was confident that I could continue to talk about the same subject again, even if the conversation was interrupted. That was because I was able to think Yuuki had developed a form of trust towards the centre.
With Kenta, I have known him for nearly 10 years, but he didn’t talk much when he was an early teenager. There were many high-risk young people at the time, so the time we workers spent with Kenta was limited. However, Kenta has been involved in the centre at his own pace, and I do feel he also has a form of trust towards the centre. One of the reasons may be he feels comfortable talking to me, who has known him for 10 years. But I also think the meaning of the space for him has been developed within the process of Kenta’s own experiences of spending time at the centre on one hand, and his observations of the experiences between other young people and workers on the other.
The dialogues between Yuuki, Kenta and I may have been trivial for them. But I have realised the meaning of the incident changes when I ‘write the story’ thinking about my involvement as a worker in their everyday life. Moreover, the in-depth reading of the process of the involvement has given me an opportunity to reflect on the process – every behaviour in the story starts to have a new meaning, and the meaning comes to overlap with the practice of ‘now, in this moment’.