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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

WORDS TO LIVE BY

Gouki Kojima


Gouki Kojima, 18, is a third-year high school student in Tokyo. Last year, he was one of the two elected leaders of the 800 teenagers who comprise the volunteer group Shibuya Wakamono Circle, established 10 years ago to organize social activities for adolescents. Their twice-yearly afternoon events, called D1, attract 4,000 or 5,000 young people, and they believe that the mix of music and inspirational speeches turn them into more responsible citizens, not to mention better dancers. They worked for Gouki, who had a rough start but turned himself around.

Gouki Kojima
Gouki Kojima

I demand more from myself than what others expect. This is the only way I can live with myself and because of this attitude, people have developed respect for me. Now many kids know me so I feel even more responsibility to act wisely.

Every kid sitting on the street in Shibuya has potential. I want to help them find their hidden talents so they don't end up like I used to be.

Most parents fall into two categories: the first mistakenly think that love means forgiving their children's bad behavior. These are the ones who want to be like friends to their offspring. Who are they kidding? We have plenty of friends. What we need are adults who are guiding us and preventing us from hurting ourselves and others. The other kind of parents don't seem to care about their children and assume that kids grow up on their own or that training them is the school's responsibility. Both are wrong.

Girls are scary. I was eating lunch at school when I overheard two girls discussing boys: "Hairy guys are so gross." "He's gotta have a good car." "B blood types are the worst." "Moustaches are ugly." I felt so happy when they finally listed something that was true about me. It only happened once.

Violence is a form of self-expression. Kids communicate through fights. Crime is a dialogue and parents and teachers should participate in it by helping the child find other means of conveying his or her ideas. Parents must talk to their children and eat meals with them.

Leaders must sacrifice themselves. At our weekly circle meetings, we had a few kids who were always late. We announced that if anyone was tardy again, the leaders would resign to take responsibility for them. From our next meeting on, everyone was on time.

Crime pays, but it costs even more. I used to get a kick out of intimidating other guys. When we were around the age of 13, we would stop older boys, around 18 or 20 -- never girls or adults. "Hey, whatcha looking at?" we'd ask. "Nothing," they'd answer. "Give me all your money!" They always did. We would share the cash and spend it on food. We would pick fights, too. We stole motorbikes and rode around like wild men. I am so ashamed now of what I did.

I want to make a better Japan, and that begins with myself. I am conscious of my past every second and try to do as much good as I can to make amends for it.

Every time I eat miso soup I feel happy that I was born Japanese. My mom makes the best one, with tofu and crab. I eat it at least three times a day.

My favorite book is the dictionary. Mobile phones and computers convert hiragana into kanji, but I can learn much more from thumbing through an old-fashioned book.

We won the fight, but in the end, we were losers. I was 15. I got a call from a friend that a girl we knew was raped. He asked me to go and find the kid who did it. I knew this was going to be trouble, but I couldn't refuse. There were seven of us and the rapist got seven of his buddies, too. We met in the park at 11 p.m. and started beating each other to a pulp. Five from the other group escaped, but we all stayed. Luckily nobody died, but seven of us were arrested for causing injury and I was sentenced to 11 months.

I can't change my past, but I can give it new meaning. In the detention center my mentors said that there was nothing I could do about the past but learn from it. It's water under the bridge now, but I knew that if I straightened out and worked hard and stayed honest, I could find ways to cope with the guilt and also help others.

I want to look wilder and thinner. Dark skin is cool because it makes me look thinner and also like I am Mr. Outdoors. I do climb mountains, but I get this color in a tanning salon. I go once or twice a week.

I am responsible for everything. My parents loved me and treated me with respect. They never hit me yet I became a violent thug. I could make excuses for myself, but at the end of the day I must accept that I was bad.

I always wanted to be No. 1. I couldn't stand the idea of playing second fiddle to others. I didn't have enough confidence so I had to be the boss and act bigger because I felt small and vulnerable. Now I still want to excel, but only in positive things.

Movies put me to sleep. I go to the movies with my girlfriend, but once the lights go out, so do I. She gets mad at me but I can't help it.

Japanese law is criminal. I benefited from the legal system that protects the bad guys, but even then I thought I got off too easily. I should have gotten at least two or three years, but I was given 11 months and was out in 8.

My mother's tears triggered my transformation. When I was arrested, I kept denying the charges and lied even to my mother. She cried and asked me to tell the truth, at least to her. It was then that I realized how much she loved me and how deep her sorrow was. I decided that I would never hurt her or anyone else again.

Words build character. Eight years have passed since my father's death and just recently I had the nerve to go through some of his stuff. I found a notebook full of names and I asked my mother who those guys were. She said they were the names that my dad had considered for me. When I saw all those character compounds, I knew I got the best one. I felt so proud of my name, Gouki, which means "strong tree." I'm growing into it.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK's "Weekend Japanology" www.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/japanology_e.html


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