Sunday, June 03, 2012

Remembering Toshi Tatara

I have on my desk a lovely little gold-leaf box for business cards that Toshi Tatara gave me when I visited him in Japan a couple of years ago. It’s filled with irregular cards from other countries in various sizes, shapes, and languages that don’t fit into the US-centric card file that sits beside it.  Toshi too was of a different cut—distinctive and larger than average in his thinking, his commitment to the field of elder abuse prevention, and in his generosity toward those he mentored and championed. 

I first met Toshi in  the mid-1980s at a meeting for Administration on Aging grantees. He worked at the American Public Welfare Association and was doing some of the earliest research on elder abuse; I had a grant to replicate our fledgling San Francisco elder abuse multidisciplinary team in other communities. A few years later, when AoA solicited proposals for the first National Center on Elder Abuse, I collaborated with Rosalie Wolf on a proposal. We competed against Toshi and his partners, the National Association of State Units on Aging and the University of Delaware. Toshio’s team got the grant, but he invited us in as a partner.

During his frequent visits to San Francisco, we often met for dinner in Japan Town, or J-Town as he called it. In the 80s he was working on a project to explore risk factors in child abuse, work that he later adapted to elder abuse. “You don’t prioritize cases that are the most serious or even the most urgent,” I remember him explaining. “You go for the ones you’re most likely to fix.” It was a simple lesson that stuck.

A true internationalist, he encouraged the many Japanese students he mentored to meet colleagues from around the world. San Francisco became a stopping place for his students and colleagues visiting the States. Among the first I met was Yoshihiko Kaneko, who, a few years later, sent me a copy of his book on elder abuse. A bookmark held the page where my name appears, the lone English script on a page of Japanese, the letters stacked one on top of each other.  

The National Center thrived under Toshi’s leadership. He leveraged grants and brokered partnerships to carry out cutting-edge work. Working with the Archstone Foundation, he assembled a team of researchers that included Georgia Anetzberger, Donna Benton, Ailee Moon, Yolanda Sanchez, and Arnold Brown, to explore cultural variations in elder abuse. The project included a terrific conference that brought together not only leading figures in elder abuse, but in ethnic aging as well, including Percil Stanford and Fernando Torres-Gil. Toshi went on to edit the seminal Understanding Elder Abuse in Minority Populations. Later, he finessed funding for the first national incidence study on elder abuse.  

After moving back to Japan in 1998, he continued to promote exchange between the two counties and was particularly proud of translating the iconic National Research Council’s Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation into Japanese. It was no small feat. The hefty 570- page English version translates to over 662 pages in Japanese and required the help of three professional translators and two years to complete. He stayed abreast of developments in the U.S. too and was thrilled when Bob Blancato called him personally to let him know that the Elder Justice Act had passed. 

A few years ago, I introduced Toshi to John Dussich, professor of Victimology at Cal State Fresno who also directs the International Victimology Institute (TIVI) at the Tokiwa University in Mito, Japan. Toshi visited the Institute, which he raved about, and he and John were soon dreaming up joint ventures.

In recent years, our paths crossed around the globe. In the summer of 2009, we both attended the Japanese/Korean international roundtable on elder abuse in Busan, Korea that was organized by Donghee Han. With him on the trip were Akiko Sasaki from the Tokyo Medical and Dental University and Noriko Tsukada from the Nihon University Graduate School of Business. He and Noriko worked on many projects together, including a study to explore public policy approaches to meet Japan’s shortage of health care workers by encouraging foreign workers to come to Japan. They also conducted a survey of domestic violence researchers to find out why there haven’t been more studies of secondary victimization of victims during investigation and treatment. 
It was clear that theirs was a relationship of deep affection and respect.

After the Busan event, I accompanied him back to Chiba to talk to his graduate class in aging at Shukutoku University. He’d assigned the students to come up with questions about social work in the States. Although they came to class meticulously prepared, it soon was clear that they didn’t understand my answers, so Toshi stepped in to translate. I’ve worked with translators enough to know that the length of time it takes to say something in one language may be quite different in another. Still, Toshio seemed to be taking an awfully long time with my responses. And it wasn’t just the length that differed; his tone became increasingly more inspired and intense. His face lit up, and he gestured with finger and fist. The students were totally engaged. I like to think that he gave one of his most personal and impassioned lectures that night, and feel honored to have played a role, if only as a gambit. After class, over sushi, I tried to get him to tell me what “I” had said, but all I got was one his enigmatic smiles.

The following year, we were both guests at an international workshop on caregiving sponsored by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth in Berlin. Toshi was asked to give the closing remarks. Rather than offering up the standard, congratulatory fare, his wrap-up struck a somewhat discordant and feisty tone. He challenged the organizers to ask themselves tough questions--what were their goals and had they achieved them? It wasn’t the first time I witnessed his candor discomfort a room. He nudged us all to probe deeper.

The last time I saw Toshio was when he visited California’s three forensics centers. Over dinner in J-Town, he expressed his admiration for how American professionals were able to get past professional status and hierarchy to work together on cases. He was dubious as to whether the model could be replicated in Japan but was game to try.
Our field benefited enormously from Toshi. His legacy lives on in his many publications and in friends’ and colleagues’ fond memories of his inimitable style.  I’ll miss those J-Town dinners and hearing his expansive and insightful take on matters both personal and professional. He was a true original.   

Toshi's  Opus Magnum


Anonymous said...

Lisa, what a wonderful tribute to Toshi and what great pictures of a truly unique individual. I know that you admired him tremendously and he will, indeed, be missed by many.

Mary Ellen Kullman said...

Dear Lisa,

Thank you for such a lovely remembrance of Toshi. I first worked with him in the 1990's on Elder Abuse in Minority Communities when he chaired our planning committee for the national conference and for the special issue of the Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect. I too remember that enigmatic smile and wise counsel. He did so much to advance our efforts in elder abuse and neglect. We will all miss him deeply.

Mary Ellen Kullman
Archtone Foundation