Text by Vosot Ikeida
Translated by Finch
What Is Tojisha Speech, By The Way?
*1. tojisha (当事者): Japanese term whose abstract meaning makes translation difficult and complex. It generally refers to a person who identifies themselves as belonging to a given group or condition, or simply a person with a certain characteristic or attribute. Therefore, it almost always requires the presence of a complement of specification that determines the “category” of belonging (e.g., “tojisha of hikikomori”). Usually opposed to “third parties”, “observers”, etc.
We call tojisha speech （当事者発信）the act of raising one's voice as a tojisha, which includes what we are doing here at Hikipos. This expression can also be summarized as a "communication about tojisha's condition, by tojisha, for other tojisha". Giving it another round of thinking, what does this term exactly describe?
It seems to me that tojisha speech is also an attempt to accomplish what is, originally, an impossible thing. First of all, there's this principle that "Tojisha can't represent other tojisha and speak on their behalf".
Tojisha are tojisha because they all face their respective, individual conditions. A situation where some other party is speaking as they were the person themselves may sound like this speaker is being obsessed by another tojisha, and thus stealing their voice, which can ultimately be thought as some kind of human rights abuse on the person. This situation is sometimes called "当事者憑依 (tôjisha hyôi)" in Japanese. As a matter of fact, it would be preferable that a tojisha speaks about their condition by themselves.
There's also the thesis that "Tojisha can't speak out" or, more strictly speaking, that "a party in trouble can not talk about their problem while they’re facing it". In the case of the hikikomori condition, those who are suffering from it without being able to make a single step out of their home (trivially said: "hardcore hikikomori") can't appear in society to describe their pain as a hikikomori to others. Because it would mean they've overcome their distress of being unable to interact with others as soon as they actually had some interaction with people, out of the feeling they had to express this pain to someone.
In lots of cases, though, hardcore hikikomori don't have the words to express their suffering in the first place. We can guess that being able to speak out means you've already escaped the deepest stage of this condition.
Witnesses Finally Starting to Speak
I once heard from a case reporter that people who witnessed a certain incident hardly talk about it immediately after the facts: even though interviewed, words just don't come out. However, after a few days, they start to talk a whole lot.
This may be an universal phenomenon: we have to go through a certain cerebral task called "verbalization". Speaking, with words, is basically a process of “making the unconscious conscious”. Our internal state while the incident is happening is almost entirely an unconscious thing. If people could so easily put their unconsciousness on top of their consciousness and verbalize it, maybe the world would not have further need of numerous professions such as psychoanalysts, counselors, writers or critics.
As they can't catch up with the ability to verbalize, tojisha can't talk about their experience in the eye of the storm. I feel like the mystery of this paradoxical thesis about their inability to speak out lies in this point.
No One Will Ever Be Able To Speak About Tojisha
So, what happens when you combine the fact “tojisha can't represent other tojisha” with the fact they “can't speak out”? This: “no one will ever be able to speak about tojisha”. And also that: “tojisha speech is an impossibility”. There's no other option left, then, than letting supporters and experts looking down on tojisha in a condescending way talk about them, which is nothing else than reducing every tojisha to silence. Haven't we gone round, back to our starting point?
Some sense of crisis arose among us, concerned parties, about experts and supporters who say half-baked things about tojisha even though they're not concerned themselves, then make money out of these statements while these become fixed opinions about tojisha. So we decided to open our mouths and start to speak: this is what we call “tojisha communication”. It would be highly regrettable that this communication falls into such paradoxes that we have to shut our mouths again.
Who Are We Speaking To?
Some other day, at an editorial meeting of tojisha media, one question became a hot topic of conversation: "who are we addressing, exactly?". Perhaps the person who abruptly threw this question at us was anticipating answers such as "people in the general society" or "parents". However, all tojisha attending this meeting — including myself — collegially responded, as if they had concerted themselves: "I'm actually speaking to my past self".
For a personal example, in my twenties and thirties, I was suffering from depression and social withdrawal in a much harder environment than today. At that time, I had no words to describe my condition to others. I needed a word that would make others get what my situation was, even just a bit. It did not have to be an original term I'd have crafted myself, even a borrowed one would do the trick. If my past self had the words I'm using now to speak out, what a relief it would have been!
"Hey, this is what you want to say, right? My present self can verbalize it. Receive these words from me, and hold them against those who don't understand you. Throw them at those who're oppressing you!"
And here I am now, talking in such a spirit. Yes, that's some sort of speech by proxy: I know I've just said "tojisha can't speak for other tojisha", but I think you can make an exception to this statement when the person speaking on your behalf is your past self, whose personality is closely connected to you through time, because this “past self” is consenting to your own proxy. However, it backs up the thesis that "a party in trouble can not talk about their problem while they’re facing it": since my past self was a tojisha in the eye of the storm, I naturally couldn't talk. Such a proxy, then, may not be socially worthless, not at all, because it makes no doubt that the kind of person you were in the past still exists today, in the present society.
On the other hand, if you're putting too much faith in that proxy function of tojisha speech, you may be criticized on the basis that “tojisha who have the skills to speak out to the masses actually try to address themselves to society”. I actually admit that an initiative like Hikipos falls into this kind of communication. It often happens that we get criticized as “not being tojisha” by other parties presenting a higher degree of social difficulty than us — the speakers. For instance, here's what I hear when I appear on television as a tojisha of hikikomori:
“Why the heck is a hikikomori on television? This is not hikikomori. Hikikomori are people like me, who can't make a single step out of their room. That's not a tojisha talkin' there.”
Maybe those making such criticism don't have much people around them they can address themselves to (and therefore can't speak out to the society at large), but they do have this ability to raise their voices: they can have a Twitter account, for example. Still more peripheral to these people, there also are tojisha who can't speak out at all, tojisha in more difficult situations. Far from using Twitter, the latter eventually don't even have an Internet connection.
I tried to schematize the situation. (*2)
Tojisha who can speak out to the masses are trying to say to “ordinary people” who don't seem to have any problem: “We're like this”, “Please understand us”, sometimes with mixed criticism and envy. There, tojisha in a more external position (those who can't speak out to the masses) start to criticize the former's speech: “These are not tojisha”, “Tojisha can't move around like that, nor raise their voices”, “People like me are the ones in real pain”, and so on. Again, there may be some mixed jealousy in those comments. But there also are tojisha who can't speak out at all, and they're looking at those who just can't speak out at large with a rather cold eye, too. If we tried to give some shape to their “voiceless voices”, wouldn't they be saying something like this?
“What the heck? You say insider tojisha aren't tojisha... but from my point of view, you're not a tojisha either! Proof is there: you can speak out and say all the things I'd like to say but can't!”
Those trying to speak out, then, always seem to be accepting tojisha in more external positions while complaining about those more “privileged” than they are — the insiders. Those on the outside, however, start to criticize the former type of tojisha, those able to speak out for them, whereas they asked nothing. Such an outer loop could go on endlessly. And since this is a diagram, I drew it as being divided into clear layers, whereas each ring actually has no boundary: everything is like a gradient, fuzzily spreading out. As you get criticized by tojisha in more external positions on the basis your voice isn’t their voice, there seems to be an impossibility to speak out as a tojisha.
“Tojisha” Can't Be a Social Class
I can't imagine the notion of “tojisha” as a social class such as “labourers” — what I'd be thinking as a “class” would be one that has formed a political party (i.e. “Labour Party”) and sent representatives to the National Assembly. But since tojisha are so different from one another, there's no way representatives could be elected among them. Tojisha are just hardly compatible with indirect democracy.
On the other hand, people may think: “aren't politics originally like that?”. Well, maybe the "labouring class" — a class comprised, after all, of very distinct individuals — has been made up as an ephemeral mechanism gathering the same thoughts and demands while conditions of life and employment were very different from one individual to the other. But many political parties see light, and although they're supposed to share the same interests and ideas, they eventually split into inner factions, making war on one another so as soon enough, the party has been dissolved. Here we are, back to our the starting point: “everyone is different”.
Political parties and indirect democracy may be seen as a kind of transitional situation in which one entrusts someone (who can't be 100% the same person as they are, like everyone else) to be their representative. In that sense, a world such as tojisha's, who do not accept any representative or proxy, seems more genuine and advanced.
If every tojisha could get to raise their voice and speak out, having someone to speak on their behalf wouldn't be a problem anymore. By that time, though, the role of tojisha speech in itself would have already come to an end. If so, we can consider the act of speaking out today like we do as some preliminary stage, so as every tojisha might eventually be able to speak out by themselves. In a word, we testify as tojisha so as sooner or later, there will be no further need to do it.
...To the original text in Japanese.