Tokyo: Suicides are on the rise among Japanese teens and that worries 21-year-old Koki Ozora, who grew up depressed and lonely. His nonprofit “Anata no Ibasho,” or “A Place for You,” is run entirely by volunteers. It offers a 24-hour text-messaging service for those seeking a sympathetic ear, promising to answer every request — within five seconds for urgent ones.
The online Japanese-language chat service has grown since March to 500 volunteers, many living abroad in different time zones to provide counseling during those hours when the need for suicide prevention runs highest, between 10 p.m. and the break of dawn. What makes Ozora’s idea work during the pandemic is that it’s all virtual, including training for volunteers. Online volunteer services are rare in Japan.
“This really gives me hope,” Ozora said of the flood of volunteers. “They tell me they just had to do something.” A Keio University student, Ozora designed the site setup, which allows more experienced staff to supervise the counseling. Anonymity is protected. Anata no Ibasho has received more than 15,000 online messages asking for help, or about 130 a day.
The most common ones are about suicide, at about 32%, while 12% deal with stress over raising children. The goal is to offer a solution within 40 minutes, including referrals to shelters and police. The messages speak of deep pain. They confess to fears about killing own children. Another talks about self-hate after being sexually abused by a parent.
Contrary to the stereotype of Japan as harmonious, families are increasingly splintered. A recent OECD study found Japan ranks among the highest in the world in suffering isolation, when measuring the contact individuals have with other people.