Floating on Air: Fulfillment and Self-in-Context for Distressed Japanese Women

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This research was part of a larger mixed-methods study examining culture, distress, and help seeking. We surveyed 209 Japanese women living in the United States recruited from clinic and community-based sites, and carried out semi-structured ethnographic interviews with a highly distressed subsample of 25 Japanese. Analytic Ethnography revealed that women described themselves as a “self-in-context,” negotiating situations using protective resources or experiencing risk exposure. Women experienced quality of life (QOL) when they were successful. However, a related goal of achieving Ikigai (or purpose in life) was differentiated from QOL, and was defined as an ongoing process of searching for balance between achieving social and individual fulfillment. Our resulting hypothetical model suggested that symptom level would be related to risk and protective factors (tested for the full sample) and to specific risk and protective phenomenon (tested in the distressed subsample). The t tests in the full sample found that women who were above threshold for depressive symptoms (n = 26) had higher social stressor and lower social support means. Women who were above the threshold for physical symptoms (n = 99) had higher social stressor means. Analysis of the interviewed subsample found that low self-validation and excessive responsibilities were related to high physical symptoms. We conclude that perceived lack of balance between culturally defined, and potentially opposing, markers of success can create a stressful dilemma for first-generation immigrant Japanese women, requiring new skills to achieve balance. Perceptions of health, as well as illness, are part of complex culturally based interpretations that have implications for intervention for immigrant Japanese women living in the United States.

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