In Japan, back to school in the second semester is marked by tragedies: according to the Japanese government, September 1 is historically the day of the year when the highest number of young people under 18 commit suicide. From 1972 to 2013, more than 18,000 children committed suicide.
On an annual average, there were 92 on August 31st, 131 on September 1st and another 94 on September 2nd. Last year, Japan recorded for the first time suicide as the first cause of death for people between 10 and 19 years old. The return to school in April also marks a spike in the number of child deaths.
Startled by the statistics, a Kamakura City librarian caused controversy when he recently tweeted, “Semester 2 is almost upon us. If you're thinking about killing yourself, why do you hate school so much? Why don't you come here? We have comics and light novels. Nobody will fight you if you spend the whole day here. Remember us as a refuge if you are considering choosing death over school.”
In just 24 hours, Maho Kawai's note was retweeted over 60,000 times. The initiative was criticized, since in practice it is a municipal employee encouraging children not to go to school. But for many, it may have helped save lives. “My school uniform felt as heavy as armor.
could not bear the school climate, my heart was racing. I thought about killing myself, because it would have been easier,” wrote student Masa, whose real name cannot be published to protect his identity. He claims that, had it not been for his understanding mother, who let him stay at home “skipping class”, he would have committed suicide on September 1st. Masa's statement was given to a newspaper for children who decide not to go to school.
“We started this non-governmental organization 17 years ago because in 1997, we had three shocking incidents involving schoolchildren just before classes started,” said the publication's editor, Shikoh Ishi.
Two of the children cited by Ishi killed themselves on August 31. At about the same time, three other students set fire to the school they attended because they didn't want to go back to school. “That's when we realized how desperate children were and we wanted to send the message that there is no such choice between school or death,” said Ishi.
For many Japanese children, the competitiveness of Japanese society is unbearable. The Japanese government has also launched a series of initiatives – between telephone lines and other services – to support potential suicides of all ages.
Yet last week, a 13-year-old killed himself on the day of the second semester opening ceremony. Ishi himself came very close to killing himself at this age. “I felt helpless, because I hated all the rules, not only those at school, but also those between children.
For example, you need to carefully observe the power structure to avoid bullying", said. “Still, if you decide not to join them, you risk becoming the next victim.”
For him, however, the biggest problem is the competitiveness of Japanese society. He himself started thinking about suicide when he failed to get into an elite school. “Worst of all is a competitive society where you have to beat your friends.” Ishi adds that in Japanese, the term used for entrance exams includes the word "war".
What saved him from death was that his parents found the suicide note and didn't force him to go to school. “I want the kids to know that you can escape school, and that things will get better.”
To understand more about suicide in Japan, we recommend reading our article a truth about suicide in japan.