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5-yr-old girl's sorrowful pleas before death from neglect shake Japan

A man prays in front of a spontaneous memorial to Yua Funato, who died of suspected neglect in March this year, on June 8, 2018 in Tokyo's Meguro Ward. (Mainichi)
This picture taken from Facebook shows Yua Funato, 5, who police say died from neglect by her parents.

TOKYO -- "Please forgive me, forgive me. Please. I really won't do the same things again. Forgive me."

This is one line from a notebook kept by Yua Funato, a 5-year-old girl who died from suspected parental neglect -- a notebook filled with page after page of similarly pained apologies to her parents laid out in handwritten hiragana phonetic script. Yua died in hospital on March 2 of sepsis caused by pneumonia. She weighed just 12 kilograms.

It is June 8, two days after Yua's mother Yuri, 25, and father Yudai, 33, were arrested on suspicion of neglect resulting in death, and the curb outside the apartment building in Tokyo's Meguro Ward where they lived has been transformed into a memorial. Teddy bears and flowers line the pavement, left by the many people who have come here to grieve, hands pressed together in prayer for a fragile life lost.

"My eldest daughter is 10," says a 49-year-old man from Kamagaya, Chiba Prefecture, who has brought some orange juice to add to the spontaneous memorial display. "Thinking of little Yua waking up early and writing those apologies is just unbearable. I wonder what we adults could have done (to help her)."

One 34-year-old woman from the Tokyo suburban city of Nishitokyo, who has a 1-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Playing is a child's job, so I was shocked to see Yua had written she would never play. I wish she had been able to live as a child."

But just censuring Yua's parents won't erase what happened, and some visitors to the spot frankly talked about stress stemming from childrearing.

"If you raise a child, you can get lonely and lose emotional leeway," said a 42-year-old mother of two from Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward. "Sometimes you raise your hand against a child who just won't listen."

Twitter is overflowing with comments on Yua's death. Entertainer Takeshi Tsuruno, himself a father of five children, tweeted, "Why did she have to spell out such sorrowful feelings in the hiragana she had just learned? To her parents, who are supposed to be the safest place she could be?" He went on, "I'm very sorry on behalf of all of us who could not protect her. I'm overwhelmed with this feeling. It's so heart-breaking."

Essayist Kamiko Inuyama, herself the mother of a 1-year, 5-month-old daughter, took to Twitter to coin a Japanese-language hashtag meaning, "I won't support any elected assembly member who does not tackle the child abuse problem," which has since been used more than 50,000 times.

"I want politicians to address this," she told the Mainichi. "Only adults can protect children. I want many people to get moving on this issue."

Apparently spurred by comments like these, Metropolitan Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told a June 8 news conference that the operations of the capital's child welfare consultation centers would be strengthened. Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Katsunobu Kato also announced plans to have an expert committee consider the consultation centers' responses to cases like Yua's.

"I'll try so hard to do better tomorrow than today ... Please forgive me, forgive me."

These are desperate words, and they have jolted us from our complacency.

* * * * *

Undated entries from Yua Funato's notebook:

Mommy, I'll try so hard to do better tomorrow than today without being told by daddy and mommy. Please forgive me, forgive me. Please. I really won't do the same things again. Forgive me.

* * *

I'll fix what I couldn't do yesterday and things I have done up to now. Until now, I've just been playing like an idiot. Playing is for idiots, so I will absolutely, absolutely never do it again. You understand, right? I absolutely promise.

Tomorrow morning, I won't just do things like I did today. Tomorrow, I'll think 'I will definitely do it' and try with all my effort. I will think, "I will show daddy and mommy," and I will do it.

* * *

(Japanese original by Shota Harumashi, Yoshitaka Yamamoto, and Hironori Tsuchie, City News Department)

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