It’s a beautiful spot, spectacular jutting rocks overlooking a wide blue sea. It’s popular with tourists, as the sightseeing boat making its leisurely way among the rocks attests.
Two public telephone booths nearby bear a handwritten message: “Value your life!” It’s a strange admonition -- why should it be necessary? Below it is a phone number, that of the local police station. And next to the phone is a small pile of 10-yen coins, so you can make the call even if you’re flat broke.
Tojinbo in Fukui Prefecture is a famous suicide venue, rather like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, only more so -- on average, 25 people a year jump to their death off those beautiful 25-meter-highTojinbo rocks, as against 20 who jump from the Golden Gate.
Yukio Shige is a retired local police officer who in 2004 founded a non-profit organization that seeks to head off those suicides. He and 15 volunteers -- Buddhist priests, college students and others -- patrol the beach, their eyes peeled for wanderers who somehow don’t look like tourists.
“We watch for people who aren’t carrying cameras or souvenirs, who walk with eyes lowered, who seem out of place,” Shige tells The Big Issue (Sept 1), the biweekly magazine sold exclusively by homeless people. “We approach them and say hello. Last year we came to the assistance of 41 would-be suicides.”
Shige’s NPO is perhaps the only organization of its kind in the world, its mission not merely to head off a desperate action but to follow up, seeing people through the personal crises that led them to these cliffs. It was a harrowing personal encounter that spurred Shige to action.
It happened in September 2003, six months before his retirement. He met an elderly couple at a rest area at a local forest park, and spotted cuts on their wrists that suggested failed suicide. He took them to a hospital, and later introduced them to prefectural welfare authorities.
His intervention proved futile. The couple later hanged themselves at a shrine in Niigata Prefecture. They sent Shige a kind of suicide note, expressing gratitude for his help and frustration at how the welfare bureaucracy gave them the runaround, shunting them from one branch to another.
“It was like they’d been counting on me and I let them down,” Shige tells The Big Issue. “I felt they were sending me a message: ‘You can do something in Tojinbo.’ It was a kind of fate.”
Retiring in March 2004, he opened at his own expense a place at the foot of Tojinbo Tower where people in trouble could go for help. That expanded into his NPO, known in Japanese as Kokoro ni Hibuku Bunshu Henshukyoku (literally, Editorial Bureau for Anthologies that Touch the Heart -- a reference to the group’s publication of essays by people who have contemplated suicide.)
Shige speaks of one woman his group helped recently. She’s 37 years old, unemployed, a single mother, with infirm parents to care for. She contacted him by phone: “I want to die.” Shigegot her settled in a temporary shelter, talked her landlord into writing off what she owes in unpaid rent, and is now helping her file for personal bankruptcy.
Since 17,076 Japanese committed suicide during the first six months of this year, The Big Issue points out, Shige has his work cut out for him.© Japan Today