Table of Contents:
An Introduction …. 7
Chapter 1 – Maejima Yuusaku [13 years old] …. 11
Chapter 2 – Itou Daisuke [25 years old] …. 59
Chapter 3 – Itou Jun [13 years old] …. 107
Chapter 4 – Suzuki Yoshiyuki [14 years old] …. 145
Chapter 5 – Akimoto Shuuta [19 years old] …. 189
In Conclusion …. 230
This book came about due to one incident.
February 1998 – a young man jumped to his death from the building of the school he had been attending at that time. One book was left behind in the place from where he jumped. In the white margins of this book which bore the stains of tears, was a farewell note. On that page was etched the cries of a nineteen year old youth who wavered in the threshold between life and death. He wanted to live, but he couldn’t any longer. He wrote his feelings down in the book that he treasured at that time, and he left his mark in this world as a record that he had lived.
It was only later that we found out the book in question was: “CROSSROAD -The Bible to Live Your Twenties to the Fullest-” (released by Sanctuary Publications).
This was a collection of writings from such celebrities as Ayrton Senna, Madonna, Bill Gates, Dennis Rodman, and Ozaki Yutaka in which they shared in their own words what kind of beliefs they held to achieve the level of success that they did. Ever since the first publication, it won over the hearts of troubled youth, and it gave them courage. Even now, it continues to be widely read.
It was a book that was put together with an emphasis on the themes “twenties,” “oneself,” and “independence” as a calling for youth to live their lives with more passion. The fact that a suicide note was written in such a book came as a shock to Sanctuary Publications.
What was running through his mind as he read the book and as he wrote his last words in the pages before his death?
Kaneko and his friend Umenaka, who belonged to this very publication company, took the farewell note left behind by this youth as an important message to Sanctuary Publications, and they cemented their decision to put together this project. This book was developed by the editing production company “verb” which was formed by young men and women who were brought together by the two to work on this project. Their goal was to tackle the societal issue of youngsters committing suicide through the eyes of young men and women who are of the same age as them.
In 1999 alone, over thirty thousand people took their own lives in Japan. This figure included many young men and women. Despite so many having lost their lives, there is very little opportunity to directly ask those left behind of their sorrow and anguish. What happens when one person commits suicide? And how do the families left behind continue to live on after such a tragedy?
What we would most like you to think and feel as you read this book, is the true nature of the suicides that we covered. What we discovered was a reality that was rarely revealed in reports — the suffering of the family and friends who were left behind, and the deep pain that will never be fully healed.
Those left behind blamed themselves for not realizing that someone so close to them had been contemplating suicide. Did these youths have to commit suicide even at the price of having the surviving members of their families carry this burden for the rest of their lives?
This book interviewed the family members, and along with having them share their feelings on the matter, we published the actual suicide letters as well as diaries with their permission. We also included the letters the families wrote in response to these suicide letters.
We would feel blessed if readers can find some kind of hope for tomorrow from the various emotions that are reflected in this book.
Editing Production Company verb – Umenaka Shinsuke.
Chapter 1 – Maejima Yuusaku [13 years old]
It wasn’t violence,
but it was something
more painful than that.
I heard everything.
bullied by those four.
I’m going to die.
[ The Day of the Suicide ]
=How many different types of insurance does he have?=
How long does it take for someone to decide on suicide before they actually put their plans into action?
Suzaka City, Nagano Prefecture. In the case of Maejima Yuusaku-kun (13 years old), it was thirteen days.
It happened on a day approximately two weeks after he left a message insinuating suicide on December 26th, 1996. In the eyes of the general public, for a junior high school student who had yet to graduate the stage of childhood, it must have seemed like a long struggle.
And it must have seemed a life that was cut much too short.
Just past midnight on January 7, 1997 when there were still traces of the New Year’s festivities, Yuusaku-kun draped a jumping rope across the porch of his home, and ended his own life.
On that tragic day before the third school term began, he spent a day in which he gave no indication of his impending suicide to those around him.
Since it was the last day of winter break, he had been making preparations for school that would be starting the next day when his mother noticed that his indoor school shoes had holes. She offered to take Yuusaku-kun into town so he could buy a new pair.
“I’m fine with these ones.”
He modestly refused, but because his indoor shoes were overly dirty, she got Yuusaku-kun and his older sister in the car, and took them shopping to a store near the train station.
“Since you put in an effort to help around the house during New Years‘, you can have that PlayStation that you’ve been wanting so much.”
He was told this by his mother during the car ride. Yuusaku-kun, who loved playing video games, had been saving his allowance since a while back in order to buy a PlayStation.
A video game shop called “FamiCom Land” was right across from the shoe store, and after buying his indoor shoes, they dropped by that store.
“This is fine.”
For some reason, it wasn’t the PlayStation that Yuusaku-kun had been wanting, but rather a 1900 yen used game for the Super FamiCom system. After buying this, they headed home.
After some time spent playing the game that his mother had purchased for him, he got a ride from his father, who was home surprisingly early that day, and at around 6:30pm, he went back once again to the train station in order to study at the cram school he had been attending. When they arrived in front of the cram school, he wordlessly opened the door to the car, and disappeared up the stairs.
He came back from the cram school around 8:30pm. Yuusaku-kun spent his time watching TV and playing video games, like he always did.
Later, his parents, his older sister, his grandparents and him had hot pot for dinner.
“I have to get up early for school tomorrow, so I’m going to get some sleep.”
At around 10pm, he went back to his room on the second floor.
Yuusaku-kun hadn’t been acting any different from usual, but it might just be that his older sister had sensed that something unusual was going on. After a short while, his older sister peered into Yuusaku-kun’s room. However, he was not there.
“Maybe he’s taking a bath…”
His older sister went down the stairs, and peered into the bathroom. He wasn’t there either. When she checked the front entrance, Yuusaku-kun’s shoes, which had been there earlier, had disappeared. He had never left the house to go out so late at night. Not only that, but it was January in Nagano. Along with the low temperature, there was quite a bit of snow. This was the instant that she realized something was terribly amiss.
“Mom, Yuusaku’s gone!”
The family members, who’d been informed of his disappearance, came together to search for Yuusaku-kun. It was immediately after that the screams of the mother, who had gone outside to search for him, were heard.
Yuusaku-kun had arranged a jumping rope over the veranda, kicked aside a small pedestal, and hung himself in the backyard.
His parents focused fully on supporting him as they lowered the 170 centimetre tall Yuusaku-kun. The unresponsive Yuusaku-kun still had warmth left in his body. His father frantically performed CPR until the ambulance arrived. However, it had no effect, and Yuusaku-kun, who was brought to the local Suzaka Hospital,’s brief thirteen years came to an end.
In his pocket were approximately 35,000 yen, the money that he had in all likelihood been saving from his allowance to save up for the PlayStation, along with his suicide letter.
“I was bullied by those four. I’m going to die.”
These words were written in the suicide letter, and on the back page, it was clearly written:
“It wasn’t violence, but it was something more painful than that. I suffered. I heard everything.”
Up until then, he had given no indication of having being been bullied, so it was only from the suicide letter that his family first heard of the bullying.
“Mom, why would Yuusaku–”
His father, who was still in shock over what had happened, asked the mother.
However, she shared his shock. Why did Yuusaku, who was always so kind, have to suffer so much alone? Why couldn’t he have opened up about this to his family? Didn’t the school notice what was happening? Couldn’t they have taken some form of action?
They were seized by endless questions and an anger which had no outlet.
Every year on New Year’s Eve, Yuusaku-kun and his older sister stayed up until late at night sharing with each other their goals for the new year and all the things that had happened during the past year. Afterwards, they had a tradition of going to visit the Zenkouji temple in Nagano city to celebrate the beginning of a new year. His older sister deeply regretted going with her friends to the temple that year.
“I should have spent that time with Yuusaku-kun, like I always did. If only I’d done that, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”
If only she had spent the start of New Year’s with her brother, perhaps he might have opened up to her about his troubles, and she could have alleviated the pain he must have been feeling to have decided to take his own life.
After being informed of the heavy news, his relatives, the school personnel and the local police gathered at the Suzaka hospital. The first words out of the mouths of the police towards his parents who were still in shock over the sudden state of events were:
“How many types of insurance does he have?”
The words were cold and heartless. The parents were at a loss of words. If the police who would be assigned the role of getting to the bottom of what had happened were like this, who could they possibly rely on to ensure that justice would be met? Would these people truly unravel the reasons behind their son’s suicide? The father couldn’t help but feel unease towards the words of the police.
The police took with them the suicide letter which read “I was bullied by those four…,” along with other corroborative material.
From the actual spot of the suicide, it became clear Yuusaku-kun had no doubts about his actions. Just in front of the garden in which he committed suicide, there was a large stepping stone. He had placed the chair beside it, draped the jumping rope over the veranda, and kicked the chair aside.
If there was even a hint of a hesitation, he would have placed his feet on the stepping stones which were of a higher height than the chair. However, there was no evidence of such movement in the snow that had piled up in the garden.
Who could have possibly been “those four” that he had referred to in his suicide letter? Would the school be able to come up with a clear answer as to the reasons behind Yuusaku-kun’s suicide? At that time, his father, Akiyoshi, couldn’t have foreseen the complexity of the problem that lay ahead.
[ A Life Cut Short ]
= It was something more painful than violence. =
His father named his son “Yuusaku” after Matsuda Yuusaku, whom he was a big fan of, and also because he wished for his son to grow up to be a kind person.
Yuusaku-kun grew up being a boy with a kind heart befitting his name. He grew up in an environment surrounded by girls from his cousins to older sister to the girl friends in his neighbourhood, and it was well known in the neighbourhood how close he and his older sister were. Looking back on it now, his mother comments that he was a son who was very easy to manage. At that time, it wasn’t uncommon for the parents of his girl friends to come up to her and comment:
“Yuusaku-kun is always taking such good care of my children…”
“You have such a kind-hearted child.”
The impression that those around him had of him was that he was a “caring, kind-hearted young boy.”
During that time, Yuusaku-kun was engrossed in playing soccer, and his parents comment that he had expressed to them that he wanted to become a soccer player when he grew up.
Even after entering elementary school, his kind-hearted nature did not change. When he was in grade two, a close friend of his that lived next door transferred schools, and right before he left, Yuusaku-kun had given him his most treasured item at that time as a present.
Not only that, but right around the same time, O-kun, who would later become Yuusaku-kun’s closet friend, transferred to Suzaka City from Hong Kong. O-kun, who had spent most of his life overseas, had a wild and uninhibited personality, and he was someone who was always jumping about in class. The children around O-kun found him hard to become acquainted with, and as a result, he was gradually becoming ostracized. Even then, Yuusaku-kun did not give O-kun the cold shoulder, and he reached out to O-kun, who was always alone.
Yuusaku-kun, who was nimble with his fingers and who had interests in many things, was passionate about constructing plastic models since he was back in elementary school. Whenever his mother offered to buy him a toy, he would request a plastic model construction kit without fail. He was especially fond of robot types, and he would love constructing ones from the Gundam series. One can perceive from his wish of attending a technical high school with O-kun that he had wanted to put that dexterity to good use.
He was also a big fan of video games, and he also expressed a wish to become a game creator in the future. The notebooks and notepads that Yuusaku-kun left behind were filled to the brim with ideas for stories and scenarios of original role-playing games.
With regards to sports, it may have been the influence of his father, Akiyoshi-san who had gone to the Nationals in basketball back when he was a student, but Yuusaku-kun joined a mini-basketball team. Thanks partly due to his growing height, he steadily began to stand out from the others.
It was no surprise then that Yuusaku-kun, with his kind and caring manner, would be deeply trusted by everyone around him. In the sixth grade, he served a post as vice-president for the PE committee in the first term, and in the second term, the role of the president of the library committee.
Yuusaku-kun, who was outgoing and popular, was always surrounded by his many friends. He was also popular with the girls.
He also loved school. There were times he went to school despite having a high fever. Impressively, he had a perfect attendance for the six years of elementary school.
Yuusaku-kun was very much looking forward to moving onto Tokiwa Junior High, which was that area’s mammoth school when it came to basketball. On the day of the entrance ceremony, he put on his brand new school uniform two hours before he left for school, and he had already finished all his preparations as he waited impatiently to leave.
Even after starting junior high, he put to good use his outgoing nature, and he was chosen as the role of the representative which ranked right after class president in the student council that was dubbed the “alumni association.”
He was also very successful when it came to his club activities. In his diary, he established achievement goals for each day’s basketball practice, and he meticulously recorded down whether he had met that day’s goals. To raise endurance, he also went on training runs around his neighbourhood. Partly due to being blessed with a physique that was almost 170 cm in height in grade 7, he steadily honed his skills.
In particular, he stood above the rest of the grade sevens when it came to recovering rebounds. Even the upperclassmen were impressed with him. And although it was unheard of to become a regular player from grade seven at a top-notch school like Tokiwa Junior High, by the time the grade nines were thinking of stepping down from their positions at the end of the first term, there were even people that were suggesting that Yuusaku-kun be given a regular position.
Around June, halfway through the first term when the students had entered junior high and were becoming familiar with one another, something strange began to occur in the classroom. There began to appear some who were jealous of Yuusaku-kun, who was not only tall, but popular and good at sports.
In Yuusaku-kun’s class was a particular boy. Let us refer to him as A. Compared to Yuusaku-kun, A was not very tall, and it was not as if he was particularly strong, but he was a notorious figure since back in elementary school. There were numerous children who, after being bullied by him, had gained special permission to transfer to a school outside of their school district, or had stopped coming to school altogether. It may just be that A-kun, who had that kind of history to him, became annoyed with Yuusaku-kun, who stood out from the rest. It didn’t take long before A-kun had set his eyes on him.
First, he recruited three students from the same class who were also members of the basketball club. He probably figured that if they were students who belonged to the same sports club as Yuusaku-kun, they would probably felt antipathy towards Yuusaku-kun, who was the only one in talks to become a regular player despite being in grade seven. As a result, this group, which had A as its head along with the three basketball players, became the direct perpetrators of the bullying whom Yuusaku-kun referred to as “those four” in the suicide letter that he left behind.
From the results of the investigation that the school conducted after Yuusaku-kun’s suicide, many things were uncovered. From the desk drawers at his home, they came upon several magnet sheets with “gopher” and “lackey” written in felt pen. These magnet sheets were used on the blackboards in the classroom to indicate the person on day duty. To have something like “lackey” written on such an object, may have been a clue that there may have been at least a few students in the class who knew Yuusaku-kun was being bullied.
It was also discovered that Yuusaku-kun, who actively participated in class to answer the teacher’s questions in the first term, had gradually stopped participating in class by the second term.
In addition, it was confirmed that Yuusaku-kun, who was always so outgoing and popular, was increasingly seen walking by himself when it came time to switch classes for Music and Home Economics. This may have been indication that the bullying instigated by “those four” had gotten the entire class involved, and drove Yuusaku-kun into further solitude.
This may have been the “it wasn’t violence, but it was more painful than that” that he referred to in the suicide letter that he left behind.
On January 11th, three days after Yuusaku-kun’s death, an article was published in the newspaper:
“It was discovered on the 9th that a grade seven student (thirteen years old) from Tokiwa Junior High (Principal ____, 449 students) in Suzaka city, Nagano prefecture hanged himself at his home on the night of the 7th a day before the start of the third term after leaving behind a note that read that he was “being bullied.” The Chief of police at Suzaka and the Suzaka City Educational Board are currently looking into this as a case possibly involving troubles over bullying.
According to sources, at approximately 10:50pm on the seventh, the mother discovered the student hanging from the jumping rope that he had draped over the edge of the eaves behind the house. He was taken to the hospital, however, he passed away shortly after due to the effects of asphyxiation.
In one of his pockets was a note in which it was hastily written: “I was being bullied by those four. I did not suffer from violence.”
The principal, _____, has commented: “We have yet to grasp a full understanding of the bullying. We do not have any leads as to who ‘those four’ could be referring to.”
The parents have commented: “He hadn’t been acting any different from usual, and we have no idea who they could be.”
According to the school, the student left for home on the seventh at approximately 8:30pm. After dinner, the student told his family when he would be getting up the next morning, and went to his room to prepare for the new term that started the next day. The family, however, after becoming suspicious when they could not find him in his room, went to search for him, and he was discovered shortly after. The student was a member of the basketball club. He had a bright personality, and he held the post of the class representative.”
(Source: Kyodo News [The “____” indicated the actual names of those referred to])
Yuusaku-kun’s funeral was held at a local funeral center on the same day that the newspaper article was published.
His parents had requested: “We would appreciate it if the class president and club representative could read messages of condolence.” However, the school appointed a male student whom Yuusaku-kun had been good friends with since back in elementary school, and a female basketball club member to read the messages of condolence.
Ever since Yuusaku-kun’s suicide was reported, the parents received various information from sources outside of the school such as the press, friends, students, and the Parent-Teacher Association.
“Tokiwa Junior High,” “the students,” “the various incidents that happened at school” — these were things that the parents had never heard from Yuusaku-kun, and along with their shock, a growing sense of unease began to spread in their hearts.
No matter how many times they asked the teachers whom they visited everyday: “Have you found out any new information?” The answer was always: “We are taking this investigation seriously, however, we have yet to uncover anything.”
When they went to ask the school directly, they single-mindedly persisted: “No comment.”
The parents could not help but feel that the teachers, whom refused to receive them one-on-one, were reminiscent of sneaky, conniving politicians. They were beginning to feel doubts that the truth behind the bullying, which led Yuusaku-kun to leave a suicide letter leaving an expression such as “those four…,” would ever be made clear.
The relatives of Yuusaku-kun expressed their concerns to “Shinshuu’s Education and Independent Research Institute” due to the school’s uncooperative attitude, and for the sake of the parents, who had been feeling unsatisfied at the lack of progress made in the investigation. This was seven days after Yuusaku-kun’s death.
With help from the research institute, the parents were able to recover the notebook in which the student and teacher reported to each other on their daily school life titled “Record of Day’s Events” that the school had custody of. The cover was in tatters, and there was a hole in the middle. For someone who was always so meticulous, it was in a condition that made it hard to believe that it was really his.
From the contents of that notebook, they uncovered numerous pieces of information that hinted at Yuusaku-kun being driven over the edge.
In the pages from September 19th to the 23rd, he had written:
“I’ve been having difficulties sleeping. I’m sleepy during the afternoon, but I can’t sleep at night.”
They also found out that the day that the notebook became reduced to tatters was around December 20th.
On that day, his teacher commented:
“I’ve temporarily patched up the cover. Please fix this properly when you get the chance.”
The teacher’s response to Yuusaku-kun, who had written: “I was spacing out, and when I’d realized it, the day had passed” was as written above. Was it not possible for the teacher to pick up on the unstable psychological state that was expressed in the abnormally conditioned notebook?
“My? Big News:
I joined the basketball club.
During Japanese class on December 26th, the class content was such that the students were asked about their “Biggest News of The Year.” Perhaps the instructor who taught the class was the one teacher whom Yuusaku-kun trusted, because this was when his message that hinted at suicide was written.
The only thing Yuusaku-kun wrote on the paper was: “My? Big News: I joined the basketball club,” and in the lower right corner, he lined up small numbers in a row:
“32. 53. 25. 45. 32. 41”
These numbers were the biggest message that Yuusaku-kun left behind. This message was one that was converted into numbers that coded the Japanese alphabet for pagers. When the numbers were converted back into hiragana, they read:
Unfortunately, this message didn’t reach the instructor. Furthermore, on that same day during fifth block when they played soccer during PE, Yuusaku-kun was seen reluctantly stepping into the back when he was told by A: “You stay in the back” even though he was usually one who actively pushed forward in a game. After class, a classmate asked Yuusaku-kun “What’s wrong?” when he saw Yuusaku-kun looking down.
He apparently replied: “I’m tired of life. Life’s pretty hard, huh?”
As they continued to investigate further, they began to learn such things like how there was a time when Yuusaku-kun was seen staring at his shoe-laces mumbling “Death…”
However, this was not the last of the evidence that was left behind. Several pieces of scrap paper were discovered in which he had written “solitude.” In addition, in the column of the survey for the school newspaper which asked the students “Who will you be spending Christmas with next year?” he had written “Alone.” Similarly, in the column that asked “What about Christmas ten years from now?” he had written “Alone by myself.”
In his notebook in which he practiced writing kanji, in the beginning, he had written down kanji as does every other student, but by the last page, he had written down words relating to death such as “electrocution,” “death by fire,” and “drowning.” According to the investigation and resulting analysis conducted by a psychologist, it was deemed highly abnormal for a junior high school student to be writing out such words, and that there was no mistaking that this was expression of the student’s definite consciousness of death.
Despite many signals and proof of Yuusaku-kun crying out for help, there was no one who could save him.
Is it really the true state of things that no one around him had realized what was happening?
Thinking back to Yuusaku-kun, there were several things that came to mind for his family.
From the end of the year on, Yuusaku-kun, who had always returned home from school with a large group of friends, was increasingly seen coming home by himself. In addition, although he had set aside thirty New Year’s greeting postcards for himself, he didn’t try to send out a single one, and when his mother had asked why he wasn’t writing any New Year’s greetings, he had answered dispiritedly: “I’m only going to send out ones to those who send me one.”
In fact, the number of New Year’s greetings that he’d received from his classmates that year was only one. It was a noticeable difference from previous years when he was always surrounded by a large group of friends, and had received many New Year’s greetings.
He also didn’t attempt to spend any of the money he had received for New Year’s, and when his parents offered to buy him the basketball shoes and PlayStation he had been wanting so much before, he turned them down.
Because Yuusaku-kun was always a child who was very easy to manage, his family thought he was just being modest.
In addition, when they did their end-of-the-year house cleaning, for some reason he did not put in much effort into cleaning his own room, but he was seen putting in all his might into cleaning the living room. Looking back on it now, his family thinks that perhaps his actions was a way of cleaning up the place before he left, because he did not wish to cause trouble for his parents in this last moment.
Because of the lack of progress in unravelling the truth, Yuusaku-kun’s father publicly released Yuusaku-kun’s real name on March 2nd, 1997 in order to appeal to the city for more information.
He had published his son’s real name from an earnest feeling of being compelled by a need to learn the truth. However, this led to various repercussions.
Publicly releasing his son’s real name was viewed as an act of hostility by the administration. The Educational Guidance Chief of Nagano prefecture’s Educational Committee stated:
“Although we were cooperative in the beginning, it is unfortunate that we must take an adversarial stance as of March 2nd. They have created a sheugh between them and the school.”
What is more, the father was told by the president of the ceremonial occasions company at which he worked as a general manager: “This company has received support from Suzaka city since its foundation. Your actions are such that it will have significant consequences on this company. You must decide whether to give up this movement of yours or your post. Don’t make us have to dismiss you.”
This came as a shock to the father, who had done such things as suggested new styles of weddings, who had increased earnings for the company, and who had been informed he would soon be promoted to the role as an executive. Even then, because he wanted to get to the heart of the truth of his son’s death, and because he wanted to ensure that something like this never happened to any other child, he made up his mind to send in a letter of resignation.
This was how he was able to dedicate his time fully into bringing to light the truth of his son’s suicide, and even currently, he has continued push hard in order to ensure justice is met.
[ The Day of the Interview ]
= All I want is for them to apologize =
At the Fujioka junction, we entered the Joushinetsu highway and headed North. The weather that day was looking bleak. Every time the car came out of a tunnel, the cold rain turned into snow. Four hours after setting off from Tokyo, we finally saw the interchange indicating the destination of Suzaka Nagao – East.
Suzaka city, Nagano prefecture. It is a rural industrial town adjacent to Nagano city that prospered before the war as a silk manufacturing town. Throughout town, there are still storehouses from during that period still left standing, and it is also known as “The Town of Storehouses.” In addition, due to the place being a flourishing cultivating ground for apples and grapes, one can see fruit fields spread along the outskirts of the town. In front of Maejima-san’s house, which is located near the central area of town that can be reached in a short ride by car, is a large apple field. The picking season had long gone, and the trees devoid of fruit that lined in an orderly manner in the apple field formed a bleak scenery.
The first thing that caught our eye when we entered the living room was Yuusaku-kun’s portrait. There was a rice omelette placed as an offering in front of the portrait. When we asked the family about this, they replied that this was their son’s favourite food. By a strange twist of fate, today was the same month of the anniversary of Yuusaku-kun’s death. Very shortly, it would be three years since he ended his short life.
Once we exchanged greetings with the parents, we began the interview at once. After we confirmed that the tape recorder had begun to record, the father began to open up to us.
There is no denying that to accept an interview would mean to dig up painful memories. It is like ripping off the scab over their hearts, and aggravating the wound. Even then, the parents answered our questions without once showing an expression of frustration or disgust.
The circumstances of the suicide. The heartless correspondence of the school. We then moved our topic onto “those four” that Yuusaku-kun had written about in his suicide letter. Yuusaku-kun did not write down the names of his perpetrators. Perhaps he thought he would be going too far by doing so. Or it may just be that he thought that others would understand who he was referring to by writing “those four.” Looking back today, we are unable to gauge his true intentions.
The only thing that was clear was that because he did not write down their names, the situation lapsed into an ugly one in which everyone tried to thrust the blame on the other. If the parents had known the names of his bullies, they could have stormed into their houses in a rage. Of course, this would not have resolved anything. However, there is no doubt that they’d have felt a bit better. When one thinks of it like that, one can’t help but feel slightly vexed.
Do they still have no idea who “those four” could be?
“Of course, since this was something that happened at school, at first we had no idea who it could be. However, as we investigated further, we did find out. We did not receive a word of information regarding the four from the school, but we were able to gather together information from those around the school. And although this person did not tell us anything while the school was conducting the investigation, one teacher from the school let us know after he had retired that at that time, there is only one group whom “those four” could have been referring to.”
This did not come as a surprise. It’s unthinkable that the school would have no inkling of an idea as to who the perpetrators of the bullying could be when it happened on school grounds. Even if the teacher hadn’t realized what was happening, his classmates must have noticed. Junior high school students spend over half of their day at school. Not only that, but it is a group life. It’s just not possible for no one to notice as a young boy was being bullied over a long period of time. This is the case even if it is a form of bullying that is invisible such as ostracization. It would not be unreasonable to assert this. Despite this, the school did not try to acknowledge even the fact that Yuusaku-kun was being bullied.
“Perhaps it is because they are public servants—they follow the principle of ‘let sleeping dogs lie,’ so they never once admitted to any wrong doing. Whether it be his teacher, or the principal, they never once tried to step up to the plate to discuss anything one-on-one. And although we requested for them to not reassign anyone while his classmates were still attending the school, as soon as they had graduated, all the teachers involved in the case were transferred elsewhere.”
If the teachers who knew about that time were now gone, it becomes impossible for them to investigate what could have possibly happened to Yuusaku-kun. Not only that, it becomes increasingly difficult to give satisfactory guidance for those students who had experienced something shocking such as a classmate committing suicide. This was how their trying feelings of wanting to know the truth were trampled upon.
What about “those four”? Did the parents ever try to pursue any action to have them assume responsibility for their actions?
“Yes, of course, but it was never in our minds to torment the four and pass judgement on them. Since this was something kids did, we just wanted them to acknowledge that they had done wrong, and apologize. However, they have continued to assert that they didn’t do anything to him. And their parents, being parents, of course defended their children, and so we have never received a formal apology from them. There are times when I run into the perpetrators or their parents at the local convenience store or super market, but once they see me, they run away. If they didn’t do anything, why would they run away from me? All I want is for them to apologize.”
The father, Akiyoshi-san, mentioned “apologizing” numerous times. He knows that just because they apologized does not mean Yuusaku-kun would come back. However—no, perhaps because of it, he wanted them to apologize. He was even denied the chance to lower his raised fist.
The parents’ expressions, which had been serious until now, softened when we asked them regarding Yuusaku-kun’s childhood.
“Since he had nimble fingers, he was saying that when he grew up, he wanted to have a job in which he created things. He also said he wanted to attend a technical high school. He also told us that he wanted to become a basketball player. If he’d continued to play basketball as he had been doing, we heard later from teachers that he most likely would have been invited to attend the prefecture’s basketball powerhouse schools such as Sakuchousei or Matsushou Academy.”
It was easy to imagine how tall he must have been from seeing his wide shoulders in his portrait. Basketball is a game in which height gives you can advantage. This is especially so for inexperienced junior high school students, so it is perhaps no surprise that Yuusaku-kun, with his nimble fingers and tall height, would stand a head above the rest. “The nail that sticks out will be hammered down.” Yuusaku-kun, with his tall height, was hammered down.
“He was a very earnest child. He was one of those people who could not let a wrongdoing slide. As a result, that may have been what harmed him. I think those thirteen years that he lived must’ve weight as heavy as my life. At any rate, he was a boy who was very easy to manage. Now that I look back on it, I wish he had inconvenienced us more. No matter what kind of parent you may be, you could forgive your child for whatever he may have done, and you can accept him, since to accept your child as he is is the role of the family.”
Akiyoshi-san shared with us his regrets. He is a father who confronted the school, who did not try to acknowledge the bullying that had happened, with an undaunted attitude. Never would he allow his son’s death to go to waste. In the figure of the man who took this stance, one could feel a sense of strength emanating from him. However, in the shadows, there was also the figure of the father who continued to blame himself for not realizing his son’s suffering. This was the first time that we felt we had a real glimpse of the extent of Akiyoshi-san’s mental anguish.
Four hours had already passed since we commenced the interview just after lunch, and when we had realized it, the sun was getting ready to go down. They must need to get started on preparations for dinner. We decided to draw the interview to a close for the time being. Before the sunset, we wanted to catch a glimpse of Tokiwa Junior High, the school that Yuusaku-kun had been attending at the time of his death. When we informed the father of our intentions, he offered to drive us over to the junior high school, commenting that it might be difficult for us to find the place on our own.
When we arrived at the school, it was right around the time students were leaving school. One after another, students poured out of the school gates. From the school grounds, we could hear the lively sounds of the students. If we only took this scenery into consideration, this junior high school was like any other. However, this was the place where Yuusaku-kun was bullied, which led him to decide to take his own life.
After watching the fading figures of the students for a short while, we decided to take pictures of the school grounds before the sun fell. That was when one teacher came hastily running up to us. However, this teacher, who had quickly noticed Akiyoshi-san’s presence, did not so much as glance at us as he stepped up to Akiyoshi-san.
“What brings you to the school today?”
“Oh, they’re gathering materials for an article.”
That was the extent of their conversation. The teacher made a sour expression, but at the same time, he had a look of confusion.
“We’d like to hear the nature of that article.”
After saying this, the teacher turned and disappeared into the school as if attempting to shake off our presence.
The father who wanted to bring the truth to light. The school which vehemently refused to do so. We wondered what Yuusaku-kun would think if he saw this situation? At that moment, we couldn’t help but want to ask that.
[ Thereafter ]
= Until the day when bullying exists no longer =
The next time we saw the father, Akiyoshi-san was at a symposium held at the Tomiyama district on the issue on suicide due to bullying. At this gathering, which we happened to be attending, Akiyoshi-san was taking part as one of the panellist members.
After it ended, we went over to talk to him, and although he seemed surprised asking us: “What are you doing here?” he seemed delighted at this unexpected reunion. We also had many things we wanted to discuss with him. However, because he was pressed for time, we were only able to exchange brief greetings before we parted ways.
We considered visiting him in Nagano again, but we had difficulties setting a date. Akiyoshi-san worked until late at night on weekdays, and on his days off, he was often flying to various cities in the country in order to respond to lectures and consultations by distressed parents.
In 2000, Akiyoshi-san, along with four other surviving members of a deceased person’s family, formed the “Association for Parents Who Have Lost their Children Due to Bullying or Classroom Violence.” They accept consultation phone calls from parents who are distressed over how they should deal with their child being bullied, and provide support for them.
Although their intentions were only to get to the heart of the truth, the school refused to cooperate. Not only that, but despite the parents being victims of the tragedy in which they lost their son due to a bullying-related suicide, they had to face malicious slander that treated them as if they were the perpetrators. He explained the reason for forming this association was because of their bitter experiences. If there is another family out there who are in a similar predicament, they want to support them in any way they can. That is their wish. He explains that currently, the phone rings constantly from distressed parents and children all over Japan.
We were able to see Akiyoshi-san, who leads such a busy life, about one month after the unexpected reunion. We met at the Suzaka train station, and after a short bout of reminiscing over old times, we decided to ask him regarding the state of the situation since we last interviewed him.
Akiyoshi-san was currently in the process of filing a suit for damages against the city in order to have the supervisory committee assume responsibility for their faults. The reason why he decided to pursue a lawsuit, he explained, was not because he wanted to condemn the school. It came about due to the strong wish of the family who had lost their beloved son to never have such a tragedy be repeated. For that to happen, he thought that it was first necessary to uncover the whole story of the incident. However, ever since right after the incident, Akiyoshi-san and the city of Suzaka have been on opposing ends.
After Yuusaku-kun’s death, the city of Suzaka founded a committee to look into the cause of the suicide. However, the conclusion that this committee made from their investigation with regards to the reason for the suicide was: “There was no concrete evidence to suggest it was due to bullying.” It is no surprise that the parents were not satisfied with such a conclusion. This was because accepting such results would mean that the last words Yuusaku-kun left behind in his suicide letter were a complete lie. There was no way that could be true. What kind of investigation did they conduct in the first place?
That was when the parents placed a request to the city of Suzaka to have the results of the investigation made public. Shortly after, the written report was released to the public, but the parents were once again left flabbergasted when they read the contents of the report. The majority of the report was kept private, and it was impossible to understand the contents from what was released. The full contents were not released even to the parents.
The frustrated parents brought a case against the Suzaka City Board of Education in order to force them to disclose the data materials. However, their suit was thrown out of court on the grounds that it breached “personally-identifying information.” Once again, they lost an opportunity to know the truth. Due to these course of events, Akiyoshi-san came to the decision that he wanted to change the school into becoming a more open place by first distinguishing where the heart of the responsibility lies.
It was February of 2004 that one action stirred up the city. The Nagano City Governor Tanaka Yasuo, who had firmly established his decision to nominate Akiyoshi-san for the open position in the Prefectural Board of Education, presented his choice for the post to the prefectural assembly.
This brought about an uproar. Opposing opinion that argued that someone who was filing a suit of damages against the City of Suzaka should not be allowed to serve on the Board of Education arose, and although his nomination was rejected by the assembly, Governor Tanaka once again filed his nomination request for Akiyoshi-san in May.
When the governor was asked regarding the reasons behind his firm stance on his nomination of Maejima-san, he replied:
“We need someone who will hold the children’s right to education above all, and who can draw on the issues and problems of children and their parents and apply that to the education system.”
He wanted to put Akiyoshi-san’s experience to use for education in the Nagano prefecture.
Looking back on the uproar that had gone on during this time, Akiyoshi-san commented:
“I explained to the governor that I only had junior high school education, I’m not a specialist on education, and even if I was nominated, I wouldn’t be able to do anything. However, he argued that that was the very reason he thought I would be a good fit for the position.”
In the end, that nomination submission was rejected as well, but in July of 2003, he was appointed by the Board of education to a post for the part-time position of “Educational Consulation Advisor.” He commutes to work once a week to do such things as assist elementary school counselors who listens to the children’s troubles and participate in the training held at the schools.
Yuusaku-kun, who chose the path of suicide as if to remonstrate against bullying. Almost seven years had passed since his death. During that time, his father, Akiyoshi-san worked tirelessly to clear up his son’s regrets. As a result of his tenacity, at long last, he was able to move the administration. However, it is ironic that the primary reason that this change came about was not because of the suicide letter that Yuusaku-kun had left behind.
Next, the topic moved onto that of other surviving members of deceased people whom Akiyoshi-san had encountered during his work, as well as the state of affairs of the parents who had come to him seeking help. He talked about these various topics with us, at times showing open anger. Suddenly, I remembered back to the words Akiyoshi-san had said back at the symposium held at Tomiyama.
“There is no end to this battle. If there is such a thing, it would be when my son comes back to us. Either that, or when my life comes to an end. That is what I think of as the end.”
Akiyoshi-san thus expressed the frame of mind of the surviving members of the deceased who continue to fight. Even though he realized there was no end to this battle, when he thought of his son’s regrets, he couldn’t stop continuing with his work, even if it meant having to give up the rest of what is left of his life to do so. That is why Akiyoshi-san’s battle will continue on for some time yet—even if Yuusaku-kun’s trial ended, as long as there are still children or parents of children out there in Japan somewhere who continue to be troubled by bullying.
[ A Response to the Suicide Letter from the Family ]
To my son, Yuusaku:
It was finally decided on January 6th 2000 that the suit for damages would go to trial.
Yuusaku, what happened to you is inexcusable. These last three years, I have trusted others, and I have continued to pray that people would acknowledge the weight of your feelings and thoughts, but your teacher, Mr. ____, never once talked to me in a genuine, honest manner, and he has now gone to a different school in Kiso. The principal has also continued to insist that “Yuusaku-kun’s death cannot be declared as one that came about as a result of bullying,” and he has ignored your last words.
You trusted all your teachers and friends when you left out the names of your perpetrators in your letter, but because you did not write their names down, they will not admit to doing any wrong doing, nor have they apologized. The four have persisted that they never bullied you, and they have continued to bully others. I cannot forgive such people. Trial is the only path left to take.
Yuusaku-kun, no matter how much you were hurting and suffering on the inside, you always treated us family with kindness and a smile. There is not a day in these past three years that I have forgotten about you. Furthermore, there is not a day that I have rested.
Yuu-chan, a trial is a very trying process, but no matter how many years it takes, I will fight my hardest for the clearing of your name, and for the many children who continue to suffer from bullying, so please cheer me on.
On January 7th, the anniversary of your death, fifteen of your friends came to visit. Everyone had grown so much, and I look forward to seeing their further growth. Yuu-chan, please enjoy yourself in the other world. I’ll write to you again.
Well then, goodbye for now…
TO BE CONTINUED…
[UP NEXT: pg 59-106 ]