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Japanese NGO teaching children life lessons

Japanese teacher Takamori Takuya is worried about his country’s students, as well as about South Korean kids.

“In the last seven years the suicide rate of children in Japan has been steadily increasing,” said Takamori, who founded Japanese children’s NGO Futokoro to help tackle the problem.

“The reason the crime rate and suicide rate is so high is because these students don’t value the meaning of life.”
Takamori Takuya gives a talk to Korea University students on his recent visit to Seoul.
Takamori Takuya gives a talk to Korea University students on his recent visit to Seoul.
Student volunteers with Futokoro prepare crab soup to disaster victims in Japan’s tsunami-stricken Miyagi prefecture in December last year. (Futokoro)
Student volunteers with Futokoro prepare crab soup to disaster victims in Japan’s tsunami-stricken Miyagi prefecture in December last year. (Futokoro)

According to Japan’s National Police Agency, there were 30,651 deaths from suicide in the country in 2011.

Among those taking their own lives, were hundreds of children under 19, and thousands of people under 29, Takamori said.

“According to the news from Japanese TV and newspapers, I think it is not only a serious problem in Japan but also in Korea,” said Takamori. “I feel that the children don’t understand the importance of life.”

For this reason, he founded Futokoro to help give kids in his country a different perspective on human values.

“The education of the children should not be only for going to a better university and for getting a better job, the education must connect to get a better life, for the better society and for saving someone, for giving happiness to someone,” he said.

“I think that perhaps it is same in Korea, which is still remaining an education-conscious society and only strives to acquire precious knowledge.”

He was prompted to start taking Japanese students on trips to experience less developed countries after hearing about one particularly shocking child suicide case in his country.

“Twelve years ago, a 12-year-old female Japanese student committed suicide, and this news wasn’t a shock in society,” he said. “She left a short note. In it there wasn’t anything concerning who she was bullied by. It said: ‘Sorry for being so ugly. It would have been great if I wasn’t born.’”

And he said this sense of “Kiomow” ― which roughly translates as “to feel bad about oneself” ― is a growing trend among students there.

“Although there are no physical conflicts in Japan, there are still words and practices that can amount to physical casualties in Japan,” he said.

“In Japan, going to a decent school and getting a decent job is the most important thing. But rather than focusing only on study and academic activities they should also focus on teaching people to value and respect others.

“As a teacher, I also want to applaud my students’ academic activities but I also want to teach the importance of human life to the students around the world. And that is why I have gone on these journeys.”

Middle school students on one trip to Vietnam were moved to tears by the sight of deformed babies preserved in glass jars, the victims of exposure to dioxins after the Vietnam War.

Other children visiting a Mongolian orphanage saw the process of preparing a lamb from slaughter to plate. And another trip to a Bangladeshi home for women horrifically scarred from acid attacks was screened on Japanese TV.

“I started this work because for the last 10 years the child crime rate has been increasing,” he said.

“The crime and suicide rate in Japan is steadily increasing and this is a big problem. As a solution to this problem we have taken some Japanese students around Asia to teach them the true value of life,” he said.

While these trips were made about a decade ago, Takamori is still carrying out his life-changing work. Most recently, he took Japanese middle school students to help with recovery efforts following the earthquake and tsunami in their country.

And last week, Takamori visited Korea to give talks to Korean school kids and students at Korea University ― showing them footage of his trips.

Takamori who hails from the town of Shinonsen-cho, some 600 kilometers from Tokyo, is now organizing a concert to be held in Myanmar toward the end of this year. The show will feature Japanese and local acts to raise money to provide medical care for people living with HIV/AIDS there.

By Kirsty Taylor (kirstyt@heraldcorp.com)
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