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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: The importance of giving children a place to start over

Rika Kayama

I recently went to a photo exhibition in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward titled "Ima o Ikiru: Kodomotachi no Saisei to Kibo no Hikari" (Living in the present: The light of children's rehabilitation and hope). At the display, there were roughly 50 works centering around those of photographer Yuji Tozawa available for viewing.

Many of you are probably thinking, what is "children's rehabilitation?" The photos taken are of the students of Hokusei Yoichi High School, which accepted those students who became unable to attend high school for reasons varying from psychological problems, becoming shut-ins, bullying, misconduct and developmental disorders and gave them a second chance surrounded by support from the school and the community. As the name of the school suggests, it is located in the Hokkaido town of Yoichi.

There are some that refer to the high school's policy as "mishmash education," but no matter what issues the student may be dealing with, regardless if they are in their teens or 20s, the school tries to have all of them take classes together. As far as academic level, health and motivation, it varies across the students, and on top of that, the school accepts applicants from all around Japan, so even the class is mixed right down to the level of hometowns.

Around 70 percent of the students come from outside the school district, and they are divided up among roughly 20 dorms within the town. The majority of these accommodations are run by couples who take care of the students as if they are their own children, preparing them three homemade meals a day and even occasionally scolding the students about things like lifestyle habits.

Some new students say that they are shy when it comes to talking, but through classes, club activities, public speaking contests, school festivals and other events, group life at the dorms and additional efforts made by the members of the Yoichi community, the students come to realize that "people really can be trusted."

Among the photos exhibited, there is one in particular featuring a girl at an event with her arm wrapped around the shoulders of another girl who appears to be from a lower grade with a downcast expression. Another shows a bunch of boys living in one of the dorms outside the accommodation for what looks like a commemorative photo, and I couldn't help but smile at the sight of a weak-looking boy, a boy with his hair dyed blond and all the others striking the same pose together.

People can change, and they can have second chances. No matter the timing, it is possible for anyone to start over whenever they want. It can be said that Hokusei Yoichi High School is a concrete example of that fact; in some ways the very cutting edge of a classroom to learn about living.

However, the location of that classroom is Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost prefecture. Currently, both children and parents who wish to get a new start in their own hometowns is growing, and for several years now the number of students applying for Hokusei Yoichi is falling, and it has been reported that the school is in danger of closing. I also went to visit the high school and the dorms last year for myself, and I felt once again that there were many children and parents who needed a place like Hokusei Yoichi.

I can only hope the opportunity for a second chance at an education, the "mishmash education" offered by the high school which probably cannot be found anywhere else in Japan, will continue to shine in that northern town steeped in nature and culture for years to come. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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