Natural Family Planning: Nature's Way - God's Way

20. Will Japan Follow the Natural Way?

Many of Japan's 116,000,000 people have heard of Dr. Kyusaku Ogino's discoveries about the cycle, which were published in 1923. Very many couples also use the so-called Ogino system of rhythm to some extent. Doctors are quick to say that the natural way of family planning would be better for families than artificial ways. Yet there is no systematic teaching of the newer natural ways on a large scale. Before NFP can be widely accepted, certain difficulties and ambivalent attitudes must be dealt with, and the dynamism to make this a national movement must be generated and set into motion. Perhaps the Catholic Church has a unique opportunity in Japan to launch an NFP take-off there, if only the Church itself can generate enough energies within her own ranks.

One of the difficulties in Japan about practicing NFP is that it requires frank communication between husband and wife about the menstrual cycle and sex. They are not accustomed to such conversation. In Japanese society talk about sex is practically prurient; it is equivalent to interest in pornography.

One energetic midwife helps wives get around this difficulty. She coaches them to ask their husbands to explain the meaning of the charts which she has been keeping, saying that they are too deep for her to understand. The ensuing dialogue opens communications in the area of the cycle and their sex life. The midwife coaches the wives to remind their husbands that neither of them likes the condom, which is a nuisance and costs money, that condom failures mean abortion, which also costs money and causes pain.

Because the mention of sex in serious conversation is considered in bad taste, priests also are reluctant to discuss the subject. Like the priest and Levite of St. Luke's Gospel (10, 31) who hurried past the injured man who had fallen prey to robbers, priests tend to neglect helping those who have serious problems in regard to family planning.

In one large church where marriage instructions are given from a manual, priests skip the four pages devoted to contraception, abortion and NFP. One retreat master told seminarians there are loftier matters for priests to preach about than abortion and contraception, and urged them to avoid such mundane matters.

Some superiors do not consider promotion of NFP to be a suitable apostolate for priests. The Bishops of Japan, however, are supporting the work of the Family Life Association, and the situation among the clergy appears to be changing.

Will abstinence pose a special difficulty in Japan? Some observers claim it will, saying that Japanese will not abstain, hence NFP will never become widespread. It will be confined to Catholics, who "must obey the Church," according to this view. One young doctor spoke up on the subject during our International Symposium on NFP in Tokyo, in October of 1979. Most in the audience were gynecologists, and practically all were non-Christians. Dr. Edward Keefe of New York had finished his lecture on monitoring the cervix, and there was time for questions.

"Unless you can perfect the system of NFP to such an extent that abstinence is reduced to only three days, NFP will not go over in Japan," said this young doctor. Doctor Keefe replied that you cannot ever expect to reduce abstinence to three days. It is a pipe dream. He continued that even hormonal tests at home - if invented - would reflect the erratic nature of the progress of the cycle, and be of little more help than the observations women can carry out well right now without such gadgets. Dr. Keefe pointed out that human beings, when they have a compelling reason, get used to scheduling things. Men arise early to go to work, and get there rain or shine; they arrange their work to fit in with mealtimes; they wait for their pay checks; they stand in line for taxies; they arrange payments according to income and don't buy what they can't afford. Drivers stop at red lights, and keep speed laws. When men make up their minds to abstain during the fertile time, this becomes a routine problem, not an anguishing problem. Abstinence is a matter of scheduling intercourse.

In comparison with other nations, the medical world in Japan is definitely favorable towards NFP. But doctors, midwives and nurses look for leadership, for a movement to inspire the people to accept the natural method, especially since it involves abstinence. The problem is more in the area of education than of medicine.

Yet Dr. Shigeru Murayama, in a paper at the IXth World Congress of Gynecology and Obstetrics in Tokyo, October 25-31, 1979, stated that Japanese have little use for the pill and the IUD; the condom and the Ogino method are the staple here. He proceeded to opt for scientific NFP for all Japan:

"The way to promote birth control effectively in Japan in the future is to deepen the knowledge of NFP and to introduce the notion of abstinence."

Dr. Rihachi Iizuka and Dr. Shigeru Murayama, in an article about NFP in the medical journal The World of Obstetrics and Gynecology (April 1979, pp. 93-106), asked that doctors take a new look at NFP for general application in Japan:

We would like now to recommend this method anew and to make people understand it better .... We hope to promote NFP in Japan and show its value.

The National Society for Fertility and Sterility which has 4,000 gynecologists as members, has associated itself officially with the Family Life Association to work on the scientific aspects of NFP, and to help with teaching. When famous doctors give the lectures to NFP classes, midwives and nurses come gladly to listen.

Infertility specialists may even popularize NFP more readily in Japan, as a means of achieving pregnancies, than those who promote it as a means of avoiding pregnancies. Under the doctor's care infertile couples learn to watch for every clue of a fertile time in the cycle, and schedule intercourse accordingly. Some doctors, and some midwives, are gaining a reputation for successful guidance; clients pass the word along.

Correspondence courses are very popular in Japan. We are ready to test a correspondence course designed exclusively for midwives, public health nurses and other nurses. If we can teach NFP by mail to these we can reach many more of the 16,000 public health nurses and 26,000 midwives than by lectures. Our present priority is to form teachers who can then guide couples. The real test for NFP in Japan will come later. Will couples in significant numbers wish to use it?

One company now sells a million and a half thermometers annually which are specially designed for monitoring the menstrual cycle; other agencies sell an additional half million. This indicates that a vast number of women in Japan are already interested in following the thermal method. If trained midwives and nurses learn to teach the thermal method systematically, adding also training in observing the cervical mucus signs, and a proper application of the modified Ogino "shortest cycle minus 20" rule, then real NFP can finally become available to millions here.

Since the women's thermometer market is so large, competition is also lively. A new thermometer is now being designed which should give an accurate oral temperature reading in one and a half minutes, instead of the usual five to eight minutes now required. This development promises to facilitate temperature taking by NFP users not only in Japan but in the world. it may prove to be a real NFP break-through.

In 1948 a bogus kind of family planning, and an evil one, was promoted via mass media and with social pressures in Japan. It was and unhappily remains-family planning without God, and with little love. It is family planning which divides couples, which wounds mothers, which occasions two million abortions yearly. This keeps the people away from God. Even Buddhist and Shintoist family prayers have gone into hibernation after the infamous birth control law came into existence in 1948. And the healthy postwar interest in becoming Catholic has declined since the mid 1950s. No one has a right to keep the 116 million Japanese people away from knowing and loving God and Christ, because of bogus family planning.

One Catholic midwife, president of a parish's Catholic Women's Guild, said that women feel very much alone when wrestling with their consciences about birth control. "We agonize with this problem day and night. We live with it all the time." She had taken it for granted that priests would not enter this world, that the women must struggle there alone. When priests arranged for NFP courses in her parish, she said that tears of joy came to her eyes.

Mrs. Takako Honma, President of the Catholic Women's Guild of Japan, and Chairman of the Family Life Association, is giving her full energy to promotion of NFP and family life education. This is so very important for Japan, she feels. Above all, we must help women to stop this killing of babies, which ends their little lives, and sears: the hearts of the mothers.

Maybe the Lord is watching and helping the Japanese people in a special way now, as they grope to contend with family problems. Maybe that is part of the explanation for such willingness of so many medical persons - practically all of them non-Christians - to learn NFP and to give a hand in organizing teaching courses. The Hierarchy, and especially the Pro-Nuncio, Archbishop Mario Pio Gaspari, are encouraging us.

Now we hope that the Holy Father will come to Japan too, to bring new spirit into our tiny Catholic body of 400,000, and to open a new horizon to the 116 million Japanese who are waiting to taste deeper joys of human life. NFP will not come automatically to Japan. It will not come without hard work, without much prayer and fasting. But we hope it will take hold here, and that Japanese families will join the fellowship of families everywhere who escape contraception and abortion, and who taste the sweet joys of a harmonious family life which God intends for them.

by Fr. Anthony Zimmerman

Next Page: 21. Storing sexual energies
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