ruancy NewspapTer is a website overflowing with confessions and messages of support and encouragement. Its target audience is Japanese high school students.
For millions of them (and their families), 1 September – the first day of the new school semester in Japan – is considered the deadliest day of the year.
Japan has one of the highest rates of teen suicide in the world. In 2014, the most common cause of death of those aged between 10 and 19 years was suicide. According to the Japanese Ministry of Education Research, 1 September is when many of these tragic deaths occur, because young people feel bullied and isolated at school.
Truancy Newspaper invites young people to join an online support community. Other institutions like public libraries now also offer children who cannot face school a place of refuge. They are called truants and are breaking the law by not going to school, but say they are exercising a civil right that includes the name ‘school refusers’.
Editor of Truancy Newspaper, Shikoh Ishi, says that 1 September is a dark day for teachers too, as they anticipate trouble.
“We started this non-profit organisation 17 years ago because, in 1997, we had three shocking incidents involving high school children,” says Ishi.
One school refuser said on the Truancy Newspaper website: “I couldn’t bear the school’s ambience and my heart was pounding. I thought about killing myself, because that would have been easier.” The Japanese government has set up variously helplines for school refusers, but this year, many felt too overwhelmed to seek help. One of the casualties was a 13-year-old boy, who took his own life during the first school assembly.
Ishi knows first-hand how desperate school refusers can feel – he failed to get into an elite high school. The Japanese term for the entrance examination race includes the word ‘war’ – it is a fierce battle for many Japanese children.
Once there, 90% of enrolled students say they have either bullied someone or been bullied themselves. “You have to observe the power structure carefully not to get bullied. Even then, if you choose not to join the bullies, you can become their next target,” says Ishi.
Category: Summer 2015