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Group publishes book sending positive messages ahead of back-to-school suicide peak

Futoko Shimbun (Newspaper for children not attending school) Chief Editor Shiko Ishii holds a copy of "Gakko ni Ikitakunai Kimi e" (To you who don't want to go to school) at the non-profit organization "Zenkoku Futoko Shimbun Sha" in Tokyo's Kita Ward, on Aug. 22, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A non-profit organization here that puts out a newspaper for children who have become unable to go to school has published a book dedicated to all children facing worries as the second term of the Japanese school year is set to begin on Sept. 1.

The title "Gakko ni Ikitakunai Kimi e" (To you who don't want to go to school) contains interviews done by reporters from the Tokyo's Kita Ward-based non-profit group "Zenkoku Futoko Shimbun Sha" (National newspaper company for children not attending school). They have been doing stories on the lives of social recluses, called "hikikomori" in Japanese, and children who do not attend school for various reasons. The book was published by Poplar Publishing Co. in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward.

The interviewees are 20 celebrities from various creative fields, who carefully answer the questions of the reporters with experience of not attending school. Chief Editor Shiko Ishii, 36, said, "I hope the messages contained in the interviews can reach people who are struggling and unable to attend school."

There is a trend in Japan for the child suicide rate to spike around the end of summer vacation, clustered around Sept. 1. In a 2015 survey released by the Cabinet Office, of the suicides that occurred in the 42 years between 1972 and 2013, 131 people aged 18 or younger took their lives on Sept. 1 alone.

This year, the Futoko Shimbun celebrates 20 years since it began being published. During that time, the paper has continued to both send the message to children at the end of long breaks from school such as summer vacation that "it is fine to not go to school if it is painful," and sound the alarm about rising suicide rates among children.

The Futoko Shimbun received a request from Poplar Publishing to do something ahead of the most difficult Sept. 1 period, and the paper retouched and revised interviews that had been carried to create the book. After three years of work, it was finally published this year.

The interviewers were children and young adults who are reporters with the paper, aged in their teens to 30s with all having experienced not, or not being able to, attend school. They ask the celebrities for advice about how to move forward with their own lives, such as, "I haven't been attending school, and I am worried about how I am going to be able to live from here on out," or, "They say, 'It's all right to escape if it's painful,' but there isn't anywhere to go."

To one reporter who confides, "I am prone to being dependent, and I am just wandering around," writer Karin Amamiya answers, "Wandering is a way to enrich yourself. That's because by experiencing different expressions and stories, you are already studying." In response to being asked what he considers the most important when creating his work, graphic designer Tadanori Yokoo says, "You can't be afraid of diving head first into your own world and being isolated. It's when you are alone that you have the biggest chance to grow."

"Right now, if you have a lot of time to think about things, shouldn't you let your imagination run free?" illustrator and actor Lily Franky asks children who do not attend school and their parents. "It's fine if the people around you say things like you are 'avoiding reality.' If we only thought about reality, then nothing new would be created. That's what I believe."

"The celebrities gave honest answers to the questions that the reporters were struggling with. In that, there is a hint about how to live," said Ishii. "In the title of the book, I would like to keep conveying the message, 'It's fine. You are still living.'"

(Japanese original by Sooryeon Kim, City News Department)

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