( Photo by E.V.Zemcov )
Heroes – that’s what you novelists are looking for…. Let me tell you a little story: once upon a time, a good while ago now, during the reign of the late emperor, there lived a government official who served first in St. Petersburg and then in Kiev, I think, where he died… The humble and quiet little fellow all his life suffered such inner torments over serfdom, over the fact that in Russia a man created in the likeness and image of God could be so slavishly dependent on a man such as himself, that he began to scrape and save out of his own meager salary, denying his wife and children almost the necessities of life; and when he managed to accumulate enough, he would buy some serf’s freedom from his landowner. Of course, it would take him ten years to free one man. In the course of his whole life he managed in this way to redeem about three or four people, and when he died he left nothing to his family. This all happened without publicity, quietly, unknown to everyone. What sort of hero can he be, of course! He’s ‘an idealist of the forties’ and nothing more; perhaps even ridiculous and not very skillful, because he thought that he could struggle against all this evil with only his own petty, individual effort… Yet these are the sort of people we need! I am terribly fond of this ridiculous type of petty official who seriously imagines that he, with his microscopic efforts and stubborn persistence, is capable of aiding the common cause without waiting for some widespread campaign and general initiative.
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Retired Japanese policeman
on a mission to prevent suicides
(Yukio Shige on patrol)
Retired policeman Yukio Shige is still on patrol, walking daily along the Tojinbo cliff, one of the best-known suicide spots in Japan where he pursues a private mission to prevent people leaping.
Shige’s method of persuading someone to stay alive is quite simple, he said.
When he spots a person standing on the edge of the cliff, he talks to them gently and brings them back to his cafe, where he serves them warm rice cake.
“You can see what the person is here for just by looking at the way they stand on the edge,” he said. “Most of them look relieved and soon break down in tears when I just say hi.”
Shige, 64, said he had no idea until just before his retirement in 2004 how many people jump to their deaths from the sheer rocky cliff of Tojinbo, which faces the crashing waves of the Sea of Japan (East Sea).
“I’ve seen as many as 10 dead bodies being recovered in one month,” he said.
“I was just stunned by this, but what struck me even more was that people here said it was normal for this place.”
Upon retiring, he opened a small cafe near the cliff edge and established a non-profit group to support people coming to Tojinbo in distress.
Since then he has patrolled along some 1.4 kilometres (0.87 miles) of the rocky cliff almost every day, scouring the precipice with binoculars.
He and his supporters say they have prevented 167 people from leaping in the past four years and eight months…
Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, with more than 30,000 people killing themselves every year since 1998…
In Tojinbo alone, 257 people leapt to their deaths in the decade to 2007, with many others attempting but failing to die, Shige said…
Before retiring to Tojinbo, Shige spent most of his 42-year career as a detective, chasing crimes such as underground gambling and drug violations.
Five years ago, the last before his retirement, he was assigned to a police station covering Tojinbo cliff in central Fukui prefecture…
Shige and Kawagoe often travel home with the people they talk out of suicide. And when people have no home to go to, the pair find them somewhere to live and give them money until they can get by on their own.
While Shige is the frontman in the operation, Kawagoe has her own reasons to help people on the edge.
“I myself lost my parents in suicides when I was 15,” said Kawagoe. “My father hanged himself and my mother later swallowed pesticide to follow him. Both times I found their bodies.
“I had never disclosed this to anyone. But when Mr Shige asked me to join his work, I thought I had to face it,” she said.
“I learned many people have their own problems. I just cannot let them go alone,” she said…
( from the Free Library )