Sheila Asato: Dream Worker in Japan
When a life-upending earthquake hit Japan last March, reverberations were felt in Edina, sending one resident into action.
Sheila Asato, who previously lived in a Tokyo suburb for about 15 years, knew she had to return home, but not to aid with traditional humanitarian efforts such as building shelters or providing potable water or food. Asato set out to help the Japanese recover from nightmares in the wake of the natural disaster. Asato’s expertise is as a dream specialist who tries to help people heal from traumatic experiences through creative engagement and discussion.
The ex-pat’s destination was Urayasu, her former adopted hometown 500 miles south of the epicenter. But since the city was built on a landfill, it sank when the earthquake hit, disrupting water and sewer lines and other aspects of daily life.
As attention and aid raced to the devastated areas of northern Japan, Asato set aside three weeks to visit Urayasu. When Asato arrived in May, more than 1,000 aftershocks had spooked the town. Prior to the trip, she had just one meeting lined up. After the first day, the rest of her trip was booked with groups and schools.
Given her understandings of dreams, she knew she would be needed.
“The thing about dreaming is it’s a super emotional state of consciousness,” Asato said. “That’s where we integrate our emotions. When we have a really intense, scary experience, the dreams are where that takes place and where that healing takes place.”
At one school, she worked with 120 second-grade children.
“I knew the kids would be dreaming about it,” Asato said. “Every day they [had] to walk out of the building and go to a grade school where [portable bathrooms] are set up or the moms are having to cart water and then go to their job in Tokyo. Life is very different for them.”
Asato had the children draw pictures of their dreams. One boy drew an older man who kept shaking; another drew a picture of falling from a waterfall; another drew a candy house which had a menace inside. Teachers, Asato said, were shocked to realize that about 85 percent of the 120 students had experienced nightmares in the week prior.
“If you are talking about your dreams, you are talking about your feelings,” Asato said.
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