Workers sent to disaster areas committed suicide after questioning own usefulness
On Jan. 3 this year, a local government worker who had been dispatched from western Japan to the tsunami-hit town of Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture was found hanged in a temporary housing unit in the neighboring city of Miyako, along with what appeared to be a suicide note.
"Thank you everyone. Otsuchi is a wonderful town. Do your best, Otsuchi," the note read.
The death followed the July 2012 suicide of another worker from the Iwate Prefecture capital of Morioka who came to assist the prefectural city of Rikuzentakata in its recovery from the massive tsunami that struck northeastern Japan following a magnitude-9.0 quake on March 11, 2011.
Both workers had been placed in positions outside their field of expertise, and had apparently doubted how useful they were.
Officials at the Otsuchi Municipal Government said that the 45-year-old worker from Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, was supposed to have worked in Otsuchi for six months from October last year. He lived in a temporary unit about 30 kilometers away from the city, and was employed as the chief engineer for land demarcation in the city's urban development division. He also handled negotiations to obtain land on high ground where people could build new homes, and land that was being readjusted in the wake of the tsunami.
Though he had not volunteered to go to Otsuchi, he did not resist being dispatched there. In a feature in the "Koho Takarazuka" city magazine published on Dec. 1 last year, he was quoted as saying, "I've only just been dispatched, and I don't know how useful I'll be, but I want to do my best for Otsuchi." In Otsuchi, he had a reputation for being a diligent worker.
After his death, one of the worker's colleagues commented, "I didn't know that he was worried at all." But it emerged that when he was back home in Takarazuka for Christmas, he had feebly told family members, "I don't want to go back."
At the end of last year, Takarazuka Mayor Tomoko Nakagawa phoned the worker to encourage him, upon which he reportedly confided, "I'm doing my best, but I don't know how useful I am."
On Jan. 29, soon after the worker committed suicide, Otsuchi Mayor Yutaka Ikarigawa announced mental health measures for town employees.
The other worker, aged 35, dispatched from Morioka to Rikuzentakata was found dead in a vehicle at the side of a road on July 22 last year. A suicide note in the vehicle said, "I willingly applied to go to Rikuzentakata, but I feel bad about not being of any use."
The worker had been a design engineer in Morioka's road management division, but when he was dispatched to Rikuzentakata in April 2012, he was assigned to the town's fisheries division, where he was in charge of restoring its damaged fishing port, including work on a seawall.
Sources close to the worker said that when he returned home to see his family each weekend, he would go to bookstores looking for books on the fisheries industry. Though he bore the job title "engineer," the fields of road infrastructure, with which he was familiar, and the fisheries industry were worlds apart. In landlocked Morioka, the worker had not been able to gain any experience in fisheries industry work, and he confided to his parents and colleagues that he was worried.
When the man's parents met with the major of Rikuzentakata, they said their son had done his best to help with restoration in the area, but things hadn't gone as he had hoped, and he ended up blaming himself.
An official from a labor union representing local government workers commented, "Engineers working in construction, civil engineering and other such fields are in short supply at every local government. They are welcomed even in areas they haven't specialized in, so they come under a lot of pressure. Doing unfamiliar work in an unfamiliar place causes a great deal of stress."
March 05, 2013(Mainichi Japan)