According to a local resident, it was 9 o’clock in the morning when Totsuka Yacht School students were looking out the window at the girl who lay dead on the pavement in a pool of blood.
During the evening of the wake held for the 18-year-old who had committed suicide, sad ocarina tunes were heard from the dormitory as though to mourn the loss of her life.
Police investigators explain that the young woman from Yokohama had just been admitted to the school located in Aichi Prefecture. Repeated self-injury such as wrist cutting, domestic violence and acute social withdrawal made her parents desperate for help and enrolled her in the school. It was only three days later, on the morning of Oct 19, that the girl, while hanging washed laundry with a school superviser, leapt from the rooftop of the building. The attending supervisor had let her out of sight briefly to straighten one of the bed sheets when the incident occurred.
The school stated that there were no signs of suicidal tendencies, and the student had jumped before the superviser could take any action.
Totsuka Yacht School, known for the death of four students in 1983, became notorious for its excessively strict education program and corporal punishment. The 1983 case resulted in the 6-year sentencing of school representative Hiroshi Totsuka, now 69, for illegal confinement and injury resulting in death.
Aichi police initially looked into the school’s “educational policies” as a possible cause of the latest death, but seem to have concluded that the incident was a suicide in view of the fact that the deceased, who was taking mood stabilizers, had said to her roommate that she wanted to die.
The school was founded in 1976 to teach yachting, but became a boot camp for problematic children at a time when school violence was rampant. School founder Totsuka’s educational philosophy was to teach such youngsters the concept of shame and modify their behavior in a disciplined environment where students were required to live in a dormitory and train in the skills of yachting.
Trends had changed by the time Totsuka completed his prison sentence in 2006. Accordingly, the school began taking in students with problems such as social withdrawal and refusal to attend school. What remains questionable is whether Totsuka’s disciplinary approach meets the current needs.
Shukan Post asked to interview Totsuka at the dormitory on how he felt about his student’s suicide. From a window on the third floor, the headmaster only shouted, “What do you know about education? Can you define it? Can you? Go away!”
Journalist Ken Ko, who had reviewed and reported extensively on the school, comments that many parents are incapable of reprimanding their children. Raised without any notion on the difference between right and wrong, these children have no understanding of what is considered shameful. In that sense, Totsuka’s philosophy may be effective to some extent.
He adds, however, “In the case of children with issues like self-injury and withdrawal, who have never been subjected to being shamed in public, an adverse reaction can be expected.”
While parents continue to consult this school about their problematic children, the death of the 18-year-old only 3 days after her enrollment seems too tragic.