The Gentle Heart Interviews

Gentle Heart of Kawasaki, Japan is a non-profit support group for grieving parents who have lost children due to bullycide (a suicide that is a direct result of bullying). The organization maintains a website, publishes a newsletter, conducts meetings for its members, and provides outreach services to schools and the media on the subject of bullying.

On May 10, 2010, I interviewed two of the directors of Gentle Heart at the Human Rights Library in Tokyo, Japan. The interviews were conducted in Japanese with Ms. Kyoko Hikata acting as interpreter. Each interview lasted for about one hour.

The first interview was with Ms. Midori Komori whose daughter committed suicide after being bullied by three of her classmates from April to July 1998. Four months was a relatively short amount of time to succumb to this type of bullying but since the girl was in the same club (brass band – she played the trombone) and the same homeroom with the three girls who were bullying her and lived close to one of them, the bullying was a seven-day-a-week phenomenon. The girls called her names and made derogatory comments about the dark blotches on her face. They did this at school, at band practice, on the way to and from school, and in the neighborhood. There was no break and no escape.

The mother tried to stop the bullying. She went to her daughter’s teacher, the principal, and even to the home of one of the girls who was doing the bullying but she couldn’t stop it. Her daughter killed herself.

The second interview was with Mr. Tadashi Ohnuki. Mr. Ohnuki’s son committed suicide after being told by his teacher that he would have to make an apology in front of all of the second year junior high school students the following day. He was one of twenty-one students who had eaten candy in class and the teacher had decided that eleven of them would be made to make a formal apology. The boy went home and killed himself.

In addition to the candy incident, there were two notable events that led up to the suicide of Mr. Ohnuki’s son. The first happened some sixteen months earlier when the coach of the baseball team had asked him to identify the whistleblower among them who had complained that the coach had bullied some of the team members during practice. The report was aired on the local radio station and the coach wanted to know who had been the source of the report. Placed in the difficult position of having to betray one of his classmates, Ohnuki quit the baseball club and joined the broadcasting club.

The other thing that happened was that the boy was admonished, with three others, for bringing a cigarette lighter to school. On that occasion, he had been made to apologize in front of the entire group of second year students of the junior high school.

Although the exact circumstances are still unclear – the teacher and the boy’s classmates have refused to speak with Mr. Ohnuki – the boy seems to have committed suicide rather than be made to accept blame again for something in front of his classmates.

According to Mr. Ohnuki, it was the actions of two adults – the baseball coach and the boy’s homeroom teacher – that directly led to his son’s suicide. Since joining Gentle Heart, Mr. Ohnuki has discovered that there are other cases of bullycides in Japan in which the teachers and not the students were to blame for the bullying. He is now forming a chapter within Gentle Heart for parents who have lost children due to bullying by teachers.

For both Ms. Komori and Mr. Ohnuki, the most exasperating thing about what has happened has been the inability of getting any form of resolution or closure. In spite of repeated inquiries regarding the circumstances surrounding the deaths of their children, Ms. Komori and Mr. Ohnuki have been stonewalled by authorities. Documents tended at the time of the initial investigations have not been returned, other evidence has either gone missing, been tampered with or censored.

Ms. Komori noted that the Privacy Act has been used to justify not allowing her to contact either the three girls who bullied her daughter or their families. Mr. Ohnuki, to this day, has not been allowed to meet his son’s teacher to discuss what happened ten years ago.

Listening to the two of them is a frustrating experience. You ask question after question in the hope that you will be able to make some sense of the needless deaths of the two youths only to run up against the same obstructions that the parents faced. They were there ahead of you and they tried what your line of questioning is suggesting. It didn’t work then nor will it work now. So you look at again from another angle.

© 2010 Charlie Canning. All rights reserved.

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