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Longtime anti-suicide crusader patrols cliffs of Tojinbo

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Tojinbo in Fukui Prefecture is famous less for beauty, though its towering seaside cliffs are very beautiful, than for suicide. In the worst of times, some 25 people a year come here to end their lives. Lately the number has declined – it was 14 in 2013. Maybe that owes something to a reviving economy. Certainly it owes something – much – to a 70-year-old retired police officer named Yukio Shige, who says of himself, “I’m the chotto matte man.” “Chotto matte” means, “Hold on, wait.” Don’t jump yet. Talk to me first.

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. The World Health Organization (WHO) counts 800,000 to 1 million suicides a year. It’s the 10th leading cause of death. Japan’s suicide numbers, below 30,000 for three years running, still rank very high – 7th worldwide (21.4 per 100,000 population), according to WHO.

In honor of the occasion, Shukan Shincho (Sept 18) profiles Shige, whose peculiar mission had a fittingly peculiar beginning.

It was in the fall of 2003. He’d joined the police force in 1962 and was on one of his last patrols before retirement. An elderly couple on a bench caught his attention. They ran an izakaya pub, they told him, whose business had declined: they were hopelessly in debt. At sunset they would plunge off the cliff into the sea.

“Chotto matte,” Shige said to them. He called for a patrol car, took the couple to the public welfare bureau, and helped with the formalities. Five days later, he received a letter. It was from the couple. They’d been refused welfare and had gone to Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture – where, after sending the letter, they hanged themselves.

Shige knew then what he would do following retirement. His life since then has basically been an extended patrol of the Tojinbo cliffs, together with some 20 volunteers recruited by the NPO he founded. Over the years, he figures they’ve saved some 500 lives.

You can tell, generally, when a solitary wanderer is no mere sightseer. If someone looks troubled, Shige or one of the others approaches and starts a casual conversation: “Hi, where’re you from?” “Leave me alone, I’ve had enough!” “Chotto matte…”

There are ways to do this, and ways not to do it. As an example of the latter Shige cites a recent incident that occurred while he happened to be out of town. A young woman was at the top of the cliff looking down. Her intention seemed pretty clear, and so it was. To one of Shige’s volunteers she said, “Don’t talk to me for 10 minutes.” Fine – she needed to think. Meanwhil, the police gathered, an ambulance came, the Coast Guard was ready. The 10 minutes passed and a group of policewomen began trying to talk her down. They talked for five hours. “Sayonara,” said the woman, and jumped.

“What did the policewomen say to her?” demanded Shige.

“They said, ‘Think how your mother and father must be worrying,’” said the volunteer.

Shige saw red. “The worst thing possible!”

There’s only one way to deal with this, Shige emphasizes to Shukan Shincho. “You yourself must help them get back on their feet, work with them to solve their problems. If they’re in debt, I take them to legal aid people; if they’re out of work I take them to the Hello Work employment agency; if they’re homeless, I take them home with me.” If it’s trouble at work, he goes to the person’s work place and tries to sort things out.

It’s a tough, emotionally draining assignment he gave himself 11 years ago. If fewer suicides occur lately at Tojinbo, he can take a good share of the credit. But he’s a realist, and not given to easy satisfaction. “I know of seven people,” he says, “who walked away from Tojinbo – only to take their lives somewhere else.”

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

14 Comments
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Thank you.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Some people (like me) just post opinions on forums such as JT.

Others, like this guy, go out and do something good.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Heard about this guy a lot. Amazing work.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day.

I find that date an quite saddening as it was the day before the day that changed a lot of lives by a group of nutters hell bent on their suicide attack to 'further their BS war' and get their '70 virgins'. As if there ever was a more stupid reason to take your own life and 3000 plus more with you.

At least this retired cop has found how to keep himself busy after 'the job' which is good and better even by helping others.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Huge kudos to this guy. Huge kudos. What he shows is selflessness and care and compassion for people who are at their lowest ebb.

I get rather incensed when I read very casual and callous posts on this site that label people who commit suicide as 'selfish' and 'thoughtless'. It angers me that people are so cold towards people who are struggling and need help. Because you really don't understand someone's story until you have walked a mile in this shoes. You don't know what they are going through, you don't know what is contributing to their final act of helplessness and desperation.

People like this deserve National recognition. 500 lives?

That's extraordinary.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

The world is very lucky to have people like this around. I have also read about others who walk around the suicide areas and cafes near the forests of Mount Fuji looking for would-be suicides and trying to help.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Thank you, Yukio Shige.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Have to say I read a previous article in 2009 about Shige where it mentioned that some locals opposed his patrols. Seems they were trying to capitalize on the cliff's reputation for suicides. Let's hope that sentiment has changed.

"Mr. Shige’s efforts have stirred local resentment, particularly from a local tourist association that says his activities are bad for business. But Mr. Shige is not easily deterred."

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/18/world/asia/18japan.html?_r=0

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What a decent, kind man. He seems to have a good grasp on how to help and not just make things worse for those desperate people he is trying to save.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I lived in Fukui Prefecture 11 years ago and Tojinbo was one of the first sightseeing places I visited. To my dismay, I learned about the other side of Tojinbo. I'm so glad to hear of Shige's tireless efforts. I imagine that they're more people like him here in Japan than we hear about. My ex suffered from depression(ups/downs) and like Shige suggests sometimes the worst thing you can say is "think about the others you'll affect. " Instead, I tried my best to help my ex by improving her situation. Thankfully, she's doing much better now and has actually been able to lend an ear to others. Good Luck with your efforts, Shige!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This reminds me of Beachy Head on the south coast of England. Sadly, a few years ago a Japanese-English couple jumped with their disabled son. There's a special phone box there run by the Samaritans, a volunteer counselling organisation. Is it active in Japan?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@paulinusa

Have to say I read a previous article in 2009 about Shige where it mentioned that some locals opposed his patrols. Seems they were trying to capitalize on the cliff's reputation for suicides. Let's hope that sentiment has changed.

Who said they are trying to capitalize on the suicides? Isn't that a bit of a stretch? If anything, they would want to draw the attention away from the suicides and not have 70 (at the time of that article) volunteers heckling people that visit.

The intentions of this guy are good, but its no solution to the suicide problem. People need to get help well before they climb up to a cliff.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Big props to this guy. A selfless task indeed.

As someone else mentioned though, what Japan is really yearning for is a place or channels for these people to seek help in the first place. That and better education of the topic. To get the suicide problem under control, people really need to made aware that suicide is not a viable option at all. Sadly there are some here who think that it's an honorable thing to do. Then there's the copycat suicides that happen also. All in all, these attitudes need to be addressed in Japan if they're really gonna get the problem under control. What's the number now? Something like 30 odd thousand a year? Too many!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Yukio Shige can be seen in the 2013 documentary "Saving 10,000". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oo0SHLxc2d0

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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