The end of August and the beginning of September sees a peak in suicides. The first day of September is the deadliest of the year: almost three times the average. "Futoko" are the kids who refuse to go back to school out of fear. The problem is widespread. For Fr Villa, listening is the most important thing, but establishing a bond of trust is the most difficult. Kids are deeply wounded by bullying.
Tokyo (AsiaNews) – For some Japanese youth, victims of bullies and unable to form ties with others, death is better than going back to school.
"Everyone gets apprehensive at the start of September,” said Fr Marco Villa, a veteran missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Japan, “because suicides reach a peak when school restarts.” *
"Japan has always had many suicides,” said Fr Villa. “There is perhaps a cultural aspect in this. In recent years, the overall numbers have dropped, but not among boys. There are still too many youths between 10 and 20 who take their lives and that number is not decreasing."
According to a 2015 government study, between 1972 and 2013, 131 children under the age of 18 took their lives on 1st September, almost three times the average of 49. In general, the number of suicides tends to rise every year towards the end of August.
Fr Villa remembers a case that affected him deeply. A sixth-grade girl took her life because she was bullied. The little girl, daughter of a Japanese father and a Filipino mother, was born in the Philippines. That is why she did not speak like the other girls born and raised in Japan. “That was why she was bullied in class, and eventually decided to commit suicide."
To prevent suicide among the young, some grassroots groups like Futoko wa Fuko Janai (The futoko are not unhappy) organised a series of events held two days ago across the country to support young people coming back to school.
In Japan, futoko refers to kids who have developed a phobia that prevents them from going to school. "It is very commonplace for children to opt out of school,” the clergyman said. “It is not skipping class. They do not go to school because they cannot establish relationships with classmates. In general, after cutting ties with schools, they gradually do the same with the rest of the world.”
These kids “live at home, with their family. Going out becomes a problem, finding someone to talk to even more. Futoku are only a part of a group called hikikomori, people who withdraw from society and live with the help of their parents. There are too many of them."
For Fr Villa, who worked at the Mizu Ippai (Glass of Water), the outreach centre in Tokyo, activities like Futoko wa Fuko Janai are fundamental. "Companionship, friendship, are the most important support. These kids have a lot of things they want to say and tell, and talking helps them get rid of the deep fear that underlies bullying. If someone tells you 'you're ugly', 'you're not worth anything', why do you exist', do you have to heed them? A girl told me once: 'In the end I believed that my life was worthless'."
The importance of listening is evidenced by the story of a young woman who came to the outreach centre encouraged by her mother. She was a "futoko" for four years.
"At first for her, coming to the centre, was hard. She stayed mostly at home and did not go out. We began meeting at shopping centres, at a Starbuck, for 45 minutes, an hour. After we had established a bond she began coming to the centre, got used to talking with other people, other than her family and me.”
"Several times she told me that she thought about suicide. ‘Inside I felt hungry, I wanted to eat and this made me think that part of me wanted to live', she said laughing. She was able to graduate and now is studying languages at university."
Listening is "the most important thing", but it is not an easy task. "The hardest thing is to create a bond of trust because young people can be deeply insulted and instinctively do not trust.” What is more, "In a society like Japan’s which seems to have everything, personal weaknesses are more visible.”
Social media are partly responsible because they make it easier to "point the finger" anonymously at others and hurt them on Facebook or in text messages.
* School in Japan starts in April and is divided into semesters.