Japan’s heartache over schoolyard bullying intensified Monday when a 13-year-old boy hanged himself from a basketball hoop, in a gesture he apparently thought could save other children from the kind of torment he endured.
“I’ve been bullied. They’ve taken my money. I will sacrifice myself. Please save other children,” said a note left by Hisachi Ito, whose death came on the first anniversary of another bullying-related suicide that focused national anguish on this long-standing youth problem.
In a country where people spend their lives trying to fit in, bullying is especially painful to children because it involves groups ostracizing one who is somehow different.
Nine children have killed themselves because of bullying in the last 12 months, according to a survey released Monday by the Mainichi newspaper.
Nationally, more than 20,000 cases of bullying are reported to education authorities each year.
Children who are too fat, short, quiet or even too beautiful have been the targets of bullies in this land where an extraordinarily high value is placed on conformity.
It is unclear why Ito was habitually tormented by the five classmates he named in his suicide note, but he wrote that those boys robbed him of $50, stripped him naked in the bathroom and then poured cold water on him. He also received what he said were “silent phone calls” at home.
Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama established a Cabinet-level panel last year to look into the bullying problem. Six months ago, the Education Ministry set up a hotline that children who are being verbally or physically abused by classmates can use to talk anonymously to counselors. More than 380 children have already called, many of them saying they felt they could not discuss the problem with their teachers.
Ito’s body was found at 3:30 a.m. by a man delivering the newspaper to his house in Joetsu, a small city in northern Japan. Hours later someone had left a bouquet of chrysanthemums under the basketball hoop, where he often shot baskets after returning from school.
His stunned classmates cried in disbelief, the five boys named in the suicide note were being interviewed by school authorities, and exams scheduled for Tuesday were halted as the school tried to sort out what happened.
Two hours after Ito’s body was found, the body of another 13-year-old boy who hanged himself was found in western Japan. That boy left no note. Police and his parents said they believed he was distraught over his grades.
The suicides of two 13-year-old boys on the same day grabbed national attention on a day when many schools throughout the country were holding memorial services to mark the anniversary of last year’s suicide. On Nov. 27, 1994, Kiyo Okochi, 13, killed himself in his Nagoya.
He left a four-page suicide note, titled “Last Words,” that detailed how four students had extorted more than $11,000 from him over three years. He said when he could not come up with cash, his tormentors held his head under water in a river.