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Sept 1 sees more teen suicides than any other day

30 Comments

September 1 is a terrifying day, if you’re a parent. At least it should be.

How many parents know that more children kill themselves on that day than on any other?

The fact is better known now than it was, thanks to a government study analyzing the suicides of 18,048 young people over a four-decade span, from 1972 to 2013.

Adults think of childhood as a time of happy innocence. That startlingly high figure – 18,048 – shows adults to be the happy innocents, while children – defined here as people 18 and under – suffer torments their parents and teachers may be blind and deaf to. Something of that emerged clearly in July with the much-publicized suicide of 13-year-old Ryo Muramatsu of Yahaba, Iwate Prefecture. Shortly before the boy threw himself in front of a moving train, he seems to have tried to communicate his anguish over being bullied to a teacher. The signals were missed.

The government study, breaking down the suicides by date, finds 131 occurred on Sept 1, as against 99 on April 11, 95 on April 8, 94 on Sept 2, and 92 on Aug 31.

What’s special about Sept 1? Back to school, say Shukan Josei (Sept 8). School schedules vary from region to region, but Sept 1 is on average the nearest single day to the end of the long summer holiday – as April 11 is of the spring holiday. School is a breeze for some, a waking nightmare for others, a nest of bullies and uncomprehending (or willfully blind) teachers, a pit of relentless competition for marks and other tangible results that stimulates some but overwhelms others.

Journalist Tetsuya Shibui, who wrote Shukan Josei’s report, notes a gradual decline in the national suicide rate over the past few years – it’s been below 30,000 for three years in a row now. Young people’s suicides are down too, but less markedly than those of other generations. And adult depression peaks in different seasons – particularly around New Year, a time of celebration, and early spring, a time of new life. Sept 1? It hardly figures on the adult suicide calendar, ranking sixth.

While older children typically express something of their feelings via social media, those under 15, being less wired, are more likely to keep their feelings to themselves. Many, Shibui hears from counselor Ayaka Ishii of the NPO Light Ring, which deals with troubled children, don’t want others to know, least of all their parents. The children tend to be more ashamed of their own failings than angry at their tormentors or the adults who fail to protect them. That makes things difficult for even the most attentive parents. “The kids will put on a happy act,” says Ishii. You have to know the signs.

What are they? Any marked change in behavior or character may be significant, but watch out in particular, Ishii warns, for indications of indifference to appearance or bodily care. A child who neglects to brush his or her teeth, for example, may have things on his or her mind that a parent should – tactfully, of course – look into.

© Japan Today

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A child who neglects to brush his or her teeth, for example, may have things on his or her mind that a parent should – tactfully, of course – look into.

Why tactfully? What's wrong with just saying "go brush your teeth!" That's a parent's job, surely.

-19 ( +11 / -30 )

So what is the government, the education board, the local schools, and the parents going to do about these statistics? In an aging society and dwindling child birth rate of all the people in society who is Japan's future, we should be caring more for the children. And yet we have an outdated education system, no viable safety net for under achievers and special needs, poor laws regarding negligence and abuse, and an increasing division between those who can afford higher education and those who cannot. The children are crying out in pain and anguish and yet we still (figuratively) leave them locked in the car while we go play pachinko. So again, what is the government, the education board, the local schools and the parents going to do about these statistics?

13 ( +18 / -5 )

When the kids have enough of the pre-and after-school clubs, bullying and rote-learning at the left-brain salaryman factories for the day, we reward them with a lovely, reviving evening of juku.

20 ( +22 / -2 )

@dbsaiya

In my opinion, you summed that up perfectly ! It's one of the reasons I sent my son to an International school - less bullying, more "freedom" (no special clubs or "Juku" after school...) I am by no means a "wealthy" person (as a single mother) but being so proud of the results means it was REALLY worth every yen !

14 ( +17 / -3 )

The children tend to be more ashamed of their own failings than angry at their tormentors or the adults who fail to protect them.

Although peer relationships are a major catalyst for teen suicides, from my first-hand experience in Japan, parents, teachers and coaches are also a major source of the shame and inadequacy children feel regarding their own failings. I know personally of teen suicides that from what I have been told resulted from this sort of pressure and abuse.

For instance, teachers post student grade rankings on bulletin boards for all to see and attempt to shame students into getting better grades, parents continually goad their children, relentlessly comparing them negatively against their friends in terms of grades/abilities/physical attributes, and coaches persistently demean young athletes with verbal attacks on them personally (ie. "You're stupid!").

10 ( +13 / -3 )

Sept 1 sees more teen suicides than any other day

Why would you want to advertise that in time for some poor kid to use it as an excuse

-4 ( +5 / -9 )

Why tactfully? What's wrong with just saying "go brush your teeth!" That's a parent's job, surely.

I think they meant the "have some things on their mind" part.

Was there any kind of campaign for this? Doraemon singing "Don't Try Suicide" by Queen?

How inspiring can J-POP be with a bunch of muppets flailing around in unison? Some of the female lyrics I've translated are downright depressing! "The children stared at me with cold eyes, it appears to me that I should go while drowning in memories". UHG!

What a great opportunity to raise awareness of the issue. Wait...that didn't come out the right way.

So sad. What a waste. J government gets a big "F" from me today.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

That's too bad. I have 3 sons and always ask the oldest one if everything is okay,,, I was lucky going to junior high and high school in a beach town in the US. My Dad only said don't bring home any D's on the report card. It was a fun time.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

As a child, I hated September first because it meant summer was pretty much over and school was set to begin. As an adult, I still hate it and have even taken paid leave days a few times but never thought of suicide.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Everyone thinking of suicide ought to be shown the video about how Haitian eat mud cookies just to survive. People ought to be more grateful of what they have. Millions of people in poor countries would do anything with what these kids have.

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

@Sensei25

Why would you want to advertise that in time for some poor kid to use it as an excuse

If you are a 'sensei', how do you think it should be handled? What's your alternative to 'advertising' the problem? It seems to me the problem is so serious that it needs to be faced directly and that would start by first acknowledging - advertising - the problem. The suggestions I read in the article encourage people to 'watch out' for signs. I think that's good 'advertising.'

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Everyone thinking of suicide ought to be shown the video about how Haitian eat mud cookies just to survive.

Hmmm. Survive on next to nothing in a land where I am loved and cherished, or be made to feel like a piece of Sugar Honey Iced Tea every day by the people who SHOULD love me?

3 ( +5 / -2 )

It was on TV the other day, biggest reason is "not doing well academically", second biggest reason is "family problem". Bullying is like 1.8% which is far at the bottom of the list. I can see the pattern here, inattentive parents who demand kids to be "smart", so parents can have "face". Looks like a good recipe for success.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I seem to remember the first conversation I had with the old biddy who lives over the road going something like this... HER "My grandson goes to The University of Tokyo" ME "eeerrrr yeah, nice to meet you too"

So there's definitely something in what you're saying Kibousha.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My friend's children (Japanese aged 8, and 6) told me last week just how much fun they are looking forward to going to school. Japanese kids saying school is fun? Yes, I asked why and they said they get to do all sorts of interesting activities. Each day has a theme.One day will be green day where everyone wears green and learns things that are green. Another day will be yellow. Drawings of paintings on the classroom wall were all designed very differently and creatively.

What is the difference?

Well these Japanese kids go to school in Vancouver Canada where the school curriculum follows the constructionist view of learning- which says humans learn through experiences and sharing ideas. While in Japan, the (old) idea is that teachers have the knowledge and it is transferred to the student. Educational reform movements in Western countries (especially Europe, America, Australia/NZ) have followed the social constructionist theory . Kids today need to know how to think and analyse the data more than retrieving it since we have developed computers for that.

The same problems will occur until Japan until the country (and parents) start to change their idea that education is not simply transferring knowledge from the teacher to the student.

PS - it is possible for kids aged 6 and above (and accompanying parents) to get students visas to attend elementary school in Canada as long as the parents don't work. My friend has a business in Japan and uses technology.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

@OsakaDoug

Kids today need to know how to think and analyse the data more than retrieving it since we have developed computers for that.

Well said!

It's unfortunate that the current government school curriculum continues to prepare students for the bubble years that finished in the 1980's.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

@Osaka_Doug you make excellent points but the educational system here is as antiquated as the legal system and there is no impetus to change. I have two sons in school here and they seem to like it, however, the study is clearly geared towards memorization. When I have spoken to Japanese over the 15 years I live here they simply would not feel comfortable in a touchy feely teaching way in the US or Canada where results are difficult to measure. I have also heard it said how Americans are lazy and stupid based on our lax standards. The real competition is with China and Korea, which also focus on memorization.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Truly sad, all I can say is thank goodness I DIDNT grow up in Japan & thank goodness we have no kids, the system is really CRAP, lots of massive problems & most of the country heads are collectively in the sand all year long!

I like to hear about the successes of kids here on jt but I cringe at the thought of so so many KIDS who have utterly miserable lives here & almost no one gives a damn! Shame on Japan!

1 ( +4 / -3 )

People: Cultures are difficult things to change. Most of you above have great thoughts, ideas and opinions, but can any of you actually change a culture? I do not think so, but we can dream. One day that nail will not be pounded down.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I like living in Japan and all that, but I gotta say, you Japanese have a fragile mentality like no other.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Every child's suicide is a tragedy, but are Japan's statistics any worse than those of other countries? I wish the article had given a wider perspective on this.

As to how to tackle this, I would suggest that parents make sure their children know that they are loved and that this love is irrespective of their scholastic achievements, given that worrying over grades is the main reason for children to feel depressed. Of course children should be encouraged to do well at school, but they should also know that this is not the be all and end all of life.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

As to how to tackle this, I would suggest that parents make sure their children know that they are loved and that this love is irrespective of their scholastic achievements, given that worrying over grades is the main reason for children to feel depressed. Of course children should be encouraged to do well at school, but they should also know that this is not the be all and end all of life.

Bill I agree whole heartedly BUT most in Japan cant comprehend what you are saying sadly!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

@Reckless There is an alternative education system developing here in Japan through the "free school" network. For kids and parents who do not like the current education system, the free school offers a very good alternative. I know a few kids who were considered to be "trouble" but after attending free school, they decided to go on to university. Basically a free school is a correspondence school. I know one junior high school girl who decided to study English and do her high school in the free school system. She now a very confident relaxed young woman who has a network of friends around the world.

Regarding China and Korea - My Japanese friends at a language school in Canada told me they are wondering where the students from Japan are. They have a lot coming from China, Korea, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

listen a child, love them, be friend with them and give them time then they will definitely listen you, in fact they will ask you papa /mama can i help you?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Although it can be challenging at times (kids thinking it's uncool to talk or hang around with Mum and Dad), parents need to communicate as much as possible with their kids. Whether it be the evenings or mornings on school days or the weekends, communication is vital. Seeing families of three, four, or five people at restaurants all using their 'smart' phones and not talking to one another is very sad. We need to ask kids how their day was, what they're looking forward to tomorrow or the next day, and who/what they like/don't like at school. It can take a lot of effort and energy sometimes but if it prevents a family disaster then it has to be worth it.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I wouldn't care whose child it was. If he or she wanted to talk...I would drop everything and listen.

They never suffer in complete silence.

All those kids must have at some point reached out to someone and where just brushed aside.

So sad it results in suicide.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Compare to the West, the Japanese education system's focus on collective thinking is at the root cause of the problem. In Japan, you have to fall in line with other people. And if you cannot do that, you're either ignored or bullied. You are required to have a unified opinion, and it crushes the uniqueness every person has. But that uniqueness is not something to destroy. Schools prioritize on collective action. Children who do not get along in a group will suffer.The Japanese school system in still in the 1960's mentality. Don't expect Japan to change.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

From what I have seen and heard both living in Japan and not. They is a serious for counslers in Japan and I have been told there really is not much. Have also learned that many students get told to go talk to a gaijin to tell their problems. To me that is very wrong and I would not have any problems in helping these kids.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Very sad statistics, but I have to wonder if the somewhat lower rates are more indicative of the overall declining population figures. I can relate to those kids as I too was not one of the popular kids throughout school and even into college. Another important thing for parents to watch for is a child that starts to isolate themselves from friends and others - especially if they say they are studying but their grades either do not change or decline.

The signs of depression can be very hard to spot as those of us that suffer from it become experts at showing a false face to those around us, and it is one of the most difficult things to do when it comes to reaching out to someone, no matter how close you are to them. There are experiences from my life that no one in my family is aware of even now, and I had my first diagnosis of extreme depression 30 years ago, and it went untreated for many years both before and after that.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It is a terrible thing to give in to hopelessness.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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