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Friday, Aug. 17, 2012
Daughter tormented into suicide, mom on truth quest
By MIZUHO AOKI
Fifteen years after her only child, Kasumi, killed herself at age 15, Midori Komori still hasn't received any apologies from the people who bullied her daughter and the high school she attended said no such abuse occurred.
When a child commits suicide as a result of being bullied, what the family desperately wants to know is the truth about what happened. They also want a sincere apology from the perpetrators, Komori said.
But this is usually just wishful thinking because schools and boards of education often refuse to disclose any information to the victims' families, she said.
"We're not asking to disclose information to the public. We are asking them to share information about what happened to our own child. . . . While total strangers at the boards of education know everything about what happened to our children, we parents are pushed away from the truth and told the information is private," Komori, 55, told The Japan Times in a recent interview.
Komori asked the school many times to let her see the results of a student survey it conducted about her daughter's death. Her requests were repeatedly declined. After years of trying, all Komori received was a partial list of the results.
Kasumi started becoming truant soon after she entered a school in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1998. Although she told her mother she was being bullied, she didn't reveal details until the last days of her life, Komori said.
From what she learned, her daughter was being verbally abused by three classmates who were in her brass band. The girls would ignore her, or tell her that she was ugly and order her to come back to school after she improved her looks, and slap her on the back and shoulders, Komori said.
Seeing her daughter in pain, Komori consulted her homeroom teacher and the school several times, but neither the teacher nor the school did anything to help her daughter.
Komori took Kasumi to a youth consultation center and a mental clinic. She even visited one of the alleged bullies' homes to ask her if she knew what was happening to Kasumi.
Despite Komori's desperate efforts, Kasumi hanged herself at home in the bathroom. She died two days later, on July 27.
"She was lively, really lively. She became passionate when her friends had problems, but couldn't talk about (her own suffering) easily," Komori said in tears.
About a week before she died, "Kasumi told me that the most important thing is a kind heart. That girls who don't have kind hearts are the ones (we should feel) sorry for."
After her death, the school asked some 30 members of the band to write an essay about their relations with Kasumi.
But the school refused to disclose the essays, and today, Komori says she knows only part of the whole story.
Reflecting on the recent bullying-related suicide of a boy last October in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, that has recently gained national attention, Komori said nothing has changed in the past decade: Children are still suffering and taking their lives in despair after being ignored by teachers and classmates.
In the Otsu case, the boy's father finally was able to get a grudging mayor and school to admit what they had repeatedly denied: Bullying caused the suicide.
"The coverup in Otsu isn't the only one. Families all over Japan are experiencing the same thing," said Komori, who founded the Gentle Heart Project to tell children and adults about the importance of life. The nonprofit organization has visited more than 800 schools to talk and think together about bullying.
"We want the school and board of education to thoroughly examine" bullying cases and teachers, students and parents to face the reality of what happened and reflect on the problem, Komori said. "Then we must think of a way together to prevent any further tragedy from happening again."
According to a survey the NPO conducted in 2010 of 51 families who either lost children in accidents or incidents at school or whose kids are still suffering, 14 said they didn't get any explanation from the schools. And almost all said they were dissatisfied with the explanations received from schools or boards of education.
"I hope for a world without bullying. I don't think it's impossible. But if people think it is, then I want us to think together about a way to reduce bullying," Komori said.