‘I couldn’t tell my parents I had started a business’

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Shoko Takahashi is a rare example of a female boss in the Japanese bio-tech sector.

The founder and owner of Gene Quest, she says her parents would not have approved of her starting her own business, so she didn’t tell them for six months.

As part of the BBC’s Jumpstarting Japan series – meeting the Asian giant’s young entrepreneurs – Ms Takahashi explains how her firm analyses DNA to test for future diseases.

Iwas heading to Gloucestershire last year to gatecrash my new boyfriend’s Christmas.And I was anxious. I mean, I didn’t have a father waiting in the car for me at the station or a mother in a panic about running out of brandy butter. Neither did I have siblings sitting round the table, confiding details of their relationships over steaming mulled cider. I am estranged from my family. But at least I was trying to embrace the season.

That’s what I thought as I saw Ed, my boyfriend, waiting for me on the station platform. But Ed didn’t know about my situation. He had invited me to his own Christmas assuming that my parents were living in Melbourne. That was my story. I hadn’t exactly said my situation was happy. He knew a rather edited summary of my not-very-close family, but I never could get my tongue around that word “estranged”.

Being the outsider isn’t as troublesome as you might think. For some, the idea of not having a family Christmas of their own seems alien, yet I was ready. Really, I saw myself as the lucky one: I could take a back seat as tensions unfolded, be there with a ready quote or cigarette when the going got tough.

My excuses, in my mind, were delivered to amuse: my family don’t do family; they left to get away from me; I never was very good at buying the right presents. I mean every home needs a jester, right? I never did pull that role off.

But a thought nagged on the drive to Ed’s family home. Why couldn’t I just tell people that I was estranged? Why did the word seem so loaded?

When a family breaks down, people seem flummoxed and more so when the word “estranged” is used. I’ve never had a positive response from people I’ve told about my situation. The news that I don’t see my parents any more is most likely to elicit an awkward chat about the weather.

Dr Joshua Coleman – a psychologist who specialises in family estrangement and the author of When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along – has much to say on the matter. “Society has a prejudice towards forgiving and healing … therefore there is a huge amount of shame involved in estrangement,” he says.