About This Book
So Can You is the English version of a poignant Japanese bestseller (over two million copies sold). People of all ages, especially the younger generation, are encouraged to read the author's story, wipe away the tears, and confront their difficulties. Today, in many countries--not least the U.S.--bullying in schools has become a serious problem, and this inspiring book is a message from someone who experienced ijime (lit., bullying, teasing) firsthand, and the resulting suicidal despair, and managed to create a life for herself as a lawyer.
Read An Excerpt
On My Own
I Refuse to Go
2. Suicide Attempt
Stabbed in the Back
The Only Thing to Do Is Die
On the Way Down
4. Rock Bottom
No Faith in Anybody
The Death of My Grandmother
5. The Turning Point
A Chance Encounter
Visit to a Shrine
6. A Fresh Start
Judicial Scrivener's Test
7. The Law Beckons
My Second Secondary Education
Credit for a Correspondence Education
My Father's Illness
Studying Like Crazy
8. Breaking Through
The Ultimate Challenge
The Essay Test from ####
Long Wait for a Short Telegram
The Death of My Father
Afterword by John Brennan
[From Chapter 2.]
The Only Thing to Do Is Die
Ever since coming to this school, I had been treated cruelly. Now I had been betrayed by people I had thought of as close friends. As I walked home, bleak thoughts ran through my mind.
If I tell my parents what happened today, they'll tell the people at school. Then I'll be a "rat" again and even worse things will happen. I've reached the limit. I can't take any more.... The only thing to do is die.
I went home and went upstairs to my room. I sat at my desk and thought about different ways of dying. I could jump off the roof, or throw myself in front of a train, or slit my wrists....
But if I die in some ordinary way, the rest of them will be able to just go right on as if nothing had happened. I couldn't bear that. I want to pay them back for all my pain.
I decided to commit seppuku: suicide by disembowelment. I didn't know exactly how it was done, I only knew it involved stabbing yourself in the guts, and that's what I decided to do.
I sliced open a cut on my left wrist with a razor blade and let it bleed. Then I wrote a farewell message in my own blood.
I will not let them do this.
I have named everyone who was there. Above all, I will never forgive the three girls who pretended to be my friends while stabbing me in the back. I curse them. May they go to ####.
Papa, Mama, Obaachan--forgive me.
I put the note in the drawer of my desk and left the house.
Obaachan wasn't home. For five years or so, she had been undergoing daily treatment for rheumatism, so she was probably at the hospital.
There was a supermarket about five minutes from our house. I went in and bought a paring knife. From there I walked a little ways and then caught a taxi to the Mukogawa riverbed. I had no special reason for choosing that location. Anywhere would have been good enough.
The river known as the Mukogawa runs between two suburban cities called Amagasaki and Nishinomiya. I got out of the taxi on the Amagasaki side and walked around, but there were too many people out walking on the riverbed. I didn't see any secluded areas where a person could commit suicide, so I walked over to the Nishinomiya side.
I walked until I found a spot that, although muddy, was covered with tall grass. Here, I thought. If I knelt down, I would be able to do what I had come to do without being seen. I would meet death here.
Still dressed in my school uniform, I knelt in the mud, assuming the seiza position. A damp chill took hold as water soaked through my skirt and underclothes.
They're so sure they'll get away with it. Well, I won't let them. I'll have my revenge. I'll make them pay for what they did to me.
I removed the paring knife from its sheath, took the handle in my right hand, and aimed the point of the blade at my stomach. Then I brought my left hand around and grasped the handle with both hands.
My hands were shaking too much to drive the blade home. I was scared, scared after all. But after a while I was ready.
I can still turn back. I can turn back right now.
I relaxed my grip on the knife and was about to lower it, and just then, one after another, the faces of the kids who had humiliated and abused me appeared before me. Those smug, sneering faces. I could hear their cruel laughter.
They stabbed me in the back and I won't let them get away with it.
All at once my hatred for them welled up in me, and I stabbed myself three times in rapid succession. Instantly, blood came pouring out.
Soon I could no longer stay upright. I lay down on my side in the mud. The leering faces of my tormentors were still burned into my vision. It was horrible.
They won't get away with it. I won't let them.
Somehow, darkness still hadn't descended on me. I had thought that stab wounds to the stomach would kill me immediately, but death wouldn't come. Hoping to hasten death, and the relief it would bring, I stabbed myself twice more as I lay there on my side. But the darkness still wouldn't come.
It hurts ... hurts. I can't stand it. Somebody ... somebody help me!
No one came to my rescue.
It was a very cold day, and I was lying on my side in the mud, bleeding profusely. I no longer had the strength to get up.
Why was I even born? How did it come to this? This isn't the way it was supposed to be, not like this.
I could not have been more wretched.
In my anguish, I found my mind wandering. Suddenly I saw my grandmother's smiling face, full of kindness, and I thought I heard her calling my name.
I want to see Obaachan. I want to go home.
A boy passed by on his bicycle. I could see that he was looking over in my direction, and I cried out without thinking.
He stopped and looked at me for a while, then rode off on his bike. He never came back, and he didn't call an ambulance either. Probably didn't want to get involved.
That's how it is. People don't care about anybody else, they only care about themselves. I'm better off dead after all. I do want to die.
But amid these dark thoughts, I could still see my grandmother's smiling face.
Obaachan! I have to get home. I have to see Obaachan once more, just once more. I have to get home....
These two thoughts chased one another around and around inside my head, interrupted now and then by pangs of bitter regret:
If I could just go back two hours....
Afterword [slightly abridged]
The story told here will interest readers of all ages, but it was written with young people in mind. Young people--the hopeful, fearful, fragile, sometimes desperately troubled young--are Mitsuyo Ohira's particular concern, and it is above all for their benefit that she tells her story.
Some painful, even disturbing, experiences are related in these pages; glorious triumphs are recounted as well. The story is all the more astonishing when you consider the source. Ms. Ohira is a lawyer, and lawyers command such enormous prestige in Japan they might as well be considered a notch above the merely mortal. This is generally attributed to the fact that the legal profession in Japan is notoriously (and deliberately) exclusive, but I think it's also because, in a society where organizations tend to hold all the power, Japanese lawyers enjoy a rare sense of independence and the distinction of wielding power as individuals. Ms. Ohira's account of her own shattered youth may seem incompatible with her exalted profession, but it's her hard-earned status as a lawyer, and her independence from the organizational obligations that control so much of life in Japan, that give her the freedom to relate her experiences here with such unflinching candor.
Since many of the early scenes in this book take place in a school, it will help to know a few things about education in Japan. The educational system is structured by law to provide six years of elementary school, three years of junior high school (middle school), three years of high school, and four years of university. Only the first nine years are compulsory, but a very high percentage of the population complete the entire process. Great importance is attached to competitive entrance examinations, especially those governing admission to public and private high schools and universities. The fierce competition to qualify for the most prestigious schools long ago gave rise to a shadow education industry exemplified by Japan's ubiquitous juku, private tutoring establishments designed to augment the instruction students receive at school.
The homeroom teacher plays an important role in primary and secondary education in Japan, acting as a guidance counselor and academic adviser to all forty or so students in a typical homeroom and, at least theoretically, maintaining a hospitable atmosphere there. A conscientious homeroom teacher would be expected to watch out for and put a stop to the sort of mistreatment that Ms. Ohira was made to endure in junior high school.
Conscientious or not, teachers in Japan are accorded the honorific title sensei. A different honorific term, senpai, is used by a junior member of a group to refer to or address a senior member--someone who plays the role of an older brother or older sister, in a sense. Respect for one's elders is a cherished value in traditional Japanese society, and it's interesting that the word senpai is used in this book by people who seem otherwise to have rejected that society's values.
Actually, a number of cherished notions associated with Japanese society are called into question as this story unfolds: pervasive social harmony and group solidarity, the superiority of the educational system, the efficacy of "nonconfrontational" approaches to resolving conflicts, and conformity as a beneficent force in the society. The author never pretends that her experiences have any broad implications, but her account does illuminate certain unwholesome aspects of life in contemporary Japan, offering us a rare glimpse of cracks in the surface of the society, and of people falling through the cracks.
In the end, though, Mitsuyo Ohira's story is not about succumbing to misfortune but about triumphing over it. The theme is universal. English-language readers, particularly those in the United States, where the problem of bullying in schools has received a lot of attention lately, should have no trouble perceiving the relevance of Ms. Ohira's early experiences. If they do, it can only be because something's been lost in translation, and I'll have to answer for that....
"... an imperfect but engaging book written from one woman's hard-won experience. Those who have suffered from bullying or teasing will find comfort in Ohira's words; those who have not will gain a better understanding of the far-reaching effects of this insidious social malady."--Margaret Stawowy, The Japan Times
About The Author
Mitsuyo Ohira was born in 1965. While still in junior high school, she tried to take her own life after enduring cruelty and humiliation at the hands of her classmates. She survived, but her life rapidly deteriorated into delinquency and chaos. After years of dissipation that included a failed marriage to a gangster, Ms.Ohira turned her life around with the help of a family friend. Now, as a lawyer in private practice, she works to give troubled young people a fresh start in life.