Today I’d like to offer up something a little different. A few weeks ago I was talking with my boyfriend about ways to improve my Japanese. Speaking I am ok, although I still make small mistakes and I do not always use the appropriate vocabulary for certain situations, but my largest struggle with the language is reading. Hand me anything in Japanese, and the chances of me being able to read everything on the page are slim to none – that you kanji…Anyway, the two of us decided that just studying from a textbook was not going to help me and that the next step I should take is just to struggle through reading a book. I wanted to pick something that I had not read before, what would be the point of reading something like Harry Potter in Japanese if I already know what is going to happen? So, he recommended I read a book related to education and offered a series of books by a name named Osamu Mizutani (see above picture).
Now, this man is both brilliant and frightening. Essentially what he does is wander the streets at night seeking out young people with problems such as drug abuse, prostitution, gang violence, and suicide. Oh yeah, he has got himself into many a bad situation. However, what he is trying to do is expose Japanese society to the problems that they tend to ignore because of parents who say “my child will never turn out like that.” What he is trying to do is both help those children in trouble and show Japanese society that these children exist and it can happen to anyone.
I bought one of his books called 夜回り先生(yoru mawari sensei) which translates roughly to “The Night Patrol Teacher” and have been translating as I read along. What he does is fascinating (not something I want to try anytime soon though), but what he has been able to do is just amazing. I don’t know many people who are willing to get themselves involved in motorcycle gangs of their own free-will. Apparently, after his first book was published, there was a spark of people wanting to become teachers so they could help students avoid such harsh situations as presented in his books.
Anyway, the translations are a little rough and would have to be edited before going to any publishing company, but here is what I have to offer right now. I will continue to post translations as I finish parts of the book.
Boy: I have stolen.
Mr. Mizutani: It’s ok.
Girl: I have done enjokosai (school girl prostitution).
Mr. Mizutani: It’s ok.
Boy: I have bullied.
Mr. Mizutani: It’s ok.
Girl: I have sniffed paint thinner.
Mr. Mizutani: It’s ok.
Boy: I’m a member of a motorcycle gang.
Mr. Mizutani: It’s ok.
Girl: I’ve cut my wrists.
Mr. Mizutani: It’s ok.
Boy: I’ve started a brawl.
Mr. Mizutani: It’s ok.
Girl: I’ve hidden away in my room and never left my home for a long time.
Mr. Mizutani: It’s ok. Until yesterday, everyone has done nothing wrong.
Boy: I want to die.
Girl: I want to die.
Mr. Mizutani: But, only that is not ok. First and foremost, starting from today let’s think together. Think with Mizutani.
12 years ago I became an evening high school teacher. At the same time, in the dark world of the night, I also became a resident of the dark. Most of the people who are reading this book must come from a much greener world. You all are dwellers of the noon world – a world of light. A world where there are beautiful flowers, birds singing, and, above all else, you are all wrapped in the warmth of the sun. Surely, you all are living in happiness.
But…I am different.
The classes I teach at this high school begin at 5 o’clock in the evening and end at 9 o’clock at night. During any given week for more days than not, I go out into this dark world after my classes have finished. There are pink flyers and signs about manners are put away. It is here on busy street corners that I talk to the children hanging around.
This night underworld which I live in is a black and white world. Even if there is a prism like that of an excited heart, it is a spectrum of falsehoods – dirty and soiled. Exchanging gentle words in this underworld only becomes a food of malice for the children.
The police call me “the teacher who has come the closest to death” in Japan. Among the policemen who speak the most poorly of me, they say, “someday you will either have someone slit your throat or someone will attached something heavy to you and drown you in the sea.”
But…isn’t it true that we would charge into any situation, whether, it be facing a violent gang’s wrath or a motorcycle gang’s gathering, if it meant protecting our children?
As I look back on my 21 years of teaching, there is one thing I need to get off my chest.
That one thing is: I have never, not even once, scolded a student nor have I ever hit a student. I am (the type of person) who simply cannot scold students.
If you ask me why this is, it is because I think children are like “the seed to a flower.” No matter what type of flower’s seed, if the one who planted that seed raises it properly and is patient, it is certain that a flower will bloom from it. This is exactly the same for children, parents, school teachers, and all adults. If adults surrounding the child and those in the area of mass communication show affection, love, and courtesy while rising and teaching children, those children will surely bloom into beautiful flowers in return.
If un-bloomed and withered children exist, it is unmistakably because of the adults who created those children casualties out of neglect.
It is for the same of those child casualties that I have come to live in this night underworld. I do not do it to rescue them, but simply because I feel the need to be by their sides.
No matter how hard they fight, these children of the night are weak on their own. They have eyes filled with sorrow. What these children want is to have their parents and teachers acknowledge their existence. However, in the noontime world where you all live, they live as unacknowledged-invisible beings. Now they take their pain and turn to this night underworld where they are always starving for love. I feel that I am the one who must give it to them.
For these 12 years, I have met thousands of children in this night underworld and all of them have been very lonely beings. Lonely, but wonderful. They had no regrets. Not even one.
Chapter 1: Night Patrol Mizutani
Night Patrol Teacher.
Night Patrol Mizutani.
That’s what the children of the night call me.
Then at some point in time television, newspapers, anywhere the news was written, also began using that name. I began to walk this underworld around 11 o’clock at night where I continued for 12 years to talk with the children who put away all manner posters and hang out on street corners.
The reason I started my night patrolling is simple: 12 years ago I transferred to a night high school in the center of Yokohama.
There, my life style changed to one that began in the heart of night. At this high school, classes ended at 9 o’clock and club activities ended around 10:30. For students, this meant that they began their afterschool life in midnight’s playground and parks. This was a very dangerous thing for this particular night high school was located in near the Yokohama’s China Town district and a large representation of dangerous motorcycle gangs kept their headquarters there.
It was there that in order for students to be encouraged to return home quickly that “the night patrol” was started. If for some reason children refused to go home or circumstances were such that a child could not go home, I would become their companion and talk with them until the following morning. If I could be by their side, they would be safe. If they saw my face, those motorcycle gangs could not even attempt to touch them.
I wonder how much time I have spent in night’s playground. I also wonder how many countless numbers of children I met there. Anytime I felt lonely, it seemed only natural that I would want to meet with these children of the night who I cared so much about. Our seeing eyes may have been different, but the inside of our being had no change at all. I feel that I am an adult who can never completely become an adult.
I have been involved in the lives of close to 5000 children during my 12 years as “the night patrol teacher,” and I have felt both great happiness and sorrow. Of course, these meetings triggered the rebirth of a large number of children’s lives. On the other hand, a few children of the night were never able to find their rebirth. This is why I cannot say for certain if what I am doing is the right thing or if I am mistaken.
However, no matter the child, we had few regrets and properly lived by facing one another.
A few years back, something happened. Back then Yokohama’s most powerful motorcycle gang leader threatened me on the phone.
“It seems that you want to meet me. I don’t fuck around. Do you really dare come alone to see me?”
The truth is that at this time one of the children I had been talking to was being watched by this gang. Therefore, I always sought to find ways to speak with him and was working hard to follow his members.
“Anywhere you want, I will go alone.”
This is how I answered him, he designated our place of meeting and threatened me once again by saying “[i]f you don’t come alone, you know what will happened to you, don’t you you bastard? I’ll personally make sure that starting from tomorrow you won’t be able to walk the night streets ever again,” before promptly hanging up.
It did not really bother me that much. It was each other’s responsibility to talk to each other one-on-one of course.
However, and this is rather unfortunate, he did not come alone but instead came with 10 other members of his gang. But, I suppose it would not have mattered if I had complained. As they silently approached the family restaurant where we were to meet, one after another, its customers jumped from their seats in horror. This is no surprise for their eyes looked savage and blood thirsty. Still, I believed them to be no different from the cute young men I was used to teaching. Once they arrived in their seats and ordered chocolate parfaits and ice cream, they quickly became quiet. While laughing at the situation on the inside, I spoke with their leader.
By nature, what we spoke about was not something one could not understand. Whatever was said, his feelings were clearly shown.
After speaking with them for over an hour, their leader promised me that he would not touch the child I was concerned with and said this to me: “You are different. Your abilities are wasted if all you do is be a teacher.”
Then, one day, I received a desperate phone call from a young girl. Her boyfriend was a member of a famous motorcycle gang. This gang was attacked by a rival gang and he and his fellow members were hurt badly. In order to get revenge, they were assembling in a park and she wanted this to be stopped.
I flew in my car as fast as I could to that very park where there were about 50 motorbikes and cars there and over 60 gang members. Already there were boys with strange and unfamiliar faces among them and many called out to me, “Sensei, don’t try to stop us. Nothing you will do or say can make us change our minds.”
Then, what I saw in their hands made my heart fill with sorrow: metal bats, silver pipes, and bats with nails sticking out of them, all being held in preparation for a brawl.
“What will happen if you hit each other with those things? You will kill each other. Do you all want to become murders? If that’s the case, they start with me. Try hitting me in the head first.”
I said this as I moved closer to them, but they ignored me and moved to get on their bikes. With no other choice, I took one of the silver bats away from a boy and approached a nearby bench. Then, without an ounce of hesitation, swung down upon the bench.
“If this bench was a human’s head, what would happen? Try to explain the answer to me.”
The bench was now broken into many pieces. When the boys saw this situation, they were at a loss for words.
Somehow, I had been able to persuade them and made them disband for the night.
No matter how dangerous the situation, I would never say that I hold a lot of bravery. No matter where the occurrence, I never depend on bravery. I am not brave, nor am I someone who has a strong sense of justice. I just become close to these lost children because I want to understand them. The children sinking into the night underworld are all very precious to me. It is because of insensitive adults that they are drowning. Their injuries and loneliness are beyond imagination. If I were to run away from this, they would come to not trust me. As a teacher, there is nothing worse than this. It is exactly for this reason that I advance into the night underworld and seek out these children. If you tell me it is too dangerous, you may be right. But, this danger surely applies for all people – including the children lost there. Charging into such risks, I just cannot seem to share the same feeling of “too dangerous” that others feel.
Until now, I have done over 1000 lectures across the country. In the morning I lecture, in the afternoon until evening I teach, during the night I consult students through phone calls and e-mails, and if something happens, I hurry to the scene. On weekends, I am always somewhere in Japan doing patrol duty. For 12 years this is how I have stretched my life style to the limit and never took a single vacation. Surely it won’t be this way until I die? But, that doesn’t mean I will ever run away from such a life. Nor does it imply I will betray those children who yearn for and need me. It is my job to express their feelings and loneliness to the world that chooses to ignore them.
Chapter 2: The Fight’s Starting Point
In March of 1991, there was an incident that made me fully realize just how optimistic I am. That was my meeting with a high school student who abused himself for 4 years with paint thinner named Masafumi.
Masafumi was sitting in a park in the shade of a potted plant sniffing an opened can of paint thinner when I first saw him. With an expression like a fat tune fish on his face and with eyes that never focused on one thing, he couldn’t even bring himself to stand. I gathered the cigarette butts that were scattered on the ground around him and quietly sat down beside him.
“Hey, go somewhere else,” he scowled.
I laughed and said, “No thank you.”
Our words were not few, but somehow we blended into the surrounding scenery. We talked until the morning sun rose and then I drove him home in my car. As soon as we arrived at his home, I knew in an instant that his life was not a wealthy one.
His home was a ragged wooden apartment with no bath except for a public toilet where he shared a 6 tatami mat sized room with his mother. After putting him to bed in his futon, I listened to Masafumi’s life story from his mother.
His mother was from Iwaki City in Fukushima prefecture. When she was still young, her father passed away in an accident. After that, in order to take care of her younger brother and sister, she hardly went to school. About the time she should have been graduating from Jr. High School, she became employed in a factory in Kanagawa prefecture. From then on, her path was already chosen for her. Forever enduring a painful existence for the sake of her family, she yearned for a more showy city lifestyle and became a bar girl. It was there that she met a member of a motorcycle gang and soon came the birth of Masafumi. When Masafumi was only 3-years-old his father had a head-on incident with a Yakuza member and lost his life. Despite this and despite being poor, Masafumi and his mother were able to move on in their lives and were happy. Masafumi was talented enough to be a class representative, was gifted, and full of filial piety. However, when he was in 5th grade, unhappiness came to visit. His mother became bedridden from overwork and life became very difficult for them without any source of income. Their phone, gad, and electricity were cancelled and they could barely eat. What brought even more unhappiness was that this mother and child had no knowledge about social security or social welfare.
Still, Masafumi did his best. To help his sick mother, he would walk from their apartment 40 minutes to reach town and visit every connivance store one-by-one. There he would plea with the staff, “Right now, my mother has fallen very sick and cannot work. If there are any box lunches you are planning to throw away, may I please have them?”
No matter the connivance store, they would refuse him gently by explaining, “I’m really sorry, but all the left over box lunches have to be sent back to headquarters.” However, there was one and only one person who offered to help.
“The box lunches go back at 2 in the morning…can you come that late? If you can, I’ll leave several on top of the return container for you to take.”
From that day on, Masafumi would leave his home at midnight, hide in the shadows until the area became totally deserted, and take the box lunches left out for him back to his sick mother. Every time he began his journey home, he would bow his head over and over and over again to the one person who offered help.
Yet, with only one meal’s worth of a box lunch a day, those two couldn’t survive.
It was then that Masafumi approached his school’s lunch lady. “Madam, I’m taking care of three stray dogs at a nearby park. I want to give them something to eat, so please give me the leftovers from school lunch. She then gave him the left over break and milk to take home with him each day.
It’s a terrible thing, but the lunch lady and his homeroom teacher never took notice of Masafumi’s pitiful lifestyle. However, seeing as children are sensitive to differences, his classmates were unfortunately the first ones to notice. When they learned that he was receiving left over school lunches, they began to fiercely bully him. At that time, his classmates hated him. Perhaps when they knew about just how poor he was, they were angry about how he stubbornly tried his best pretending like nothing was wrong. That was the most difficult situation for Masafumi.
One day, many students were absent from school because of the flu, so there was a lot of left over lunch. Masafumi received 15 pieces of bread and 7 cartons of milks which he gingerly put in his bag and hurried on his way home. However, on his way, many of his now heartless classmates caught him and dragged him to a nearby park.
“Hey, the truth is you are really poor, right? This bread, you are really eating it at home aren’t you?”
“You’re wrong. I give it to the dogs…”
“If that’s the case, then it’s ok to do this.”
His classmate then stole all of his bread and scattered it on the ground where he then trampled and stomped on every last piece.
With great patience and reserve, Masafumi watched the situation unfold. When everyone had gone, he picked up the remains of his break and carried it home where he borrowed the stove of the old woman who lived next door. He mixed sugar in some milk and dipped the crushed pieces of bread in the mixture before cooking it in a fry pan and feeding it to his mother.
“Mom, I made French toast for you (literally, this is French toast). I learned how to make it in home economics. You are really supposed to use egg as well, so when you get better please buy some eggs. Then I can make (you) real French toast.”
After that, his mother at the food in tears. “It’s delicious.”
The one who saved these two from these horrible conditions was a member of a motorcycle gang who lived in the same apartment complex. With his gang’s influence, he stopped those who bullied Masafumi and, as a result, when Masafumi was in 6th grade he became a member himself. His mother felt much sorrow at this. In his mother’s eyes, her son’s figure had changed into the same figure as his dead father. Of course, Masafumi also felt this sorrow. So, in order to run away from that sorry, he turned to sniffing paint thinner.
People who tackle the problem of drugs often use this expression: “The more serious the child (‘s situation), the more serious the drug they use, the more serious they break themselves. The more hurt a child is in their heart, the more desperately they use that drug to erase the hurt. In this manner, they begin to die.”
Masafumi was no different.
For 4 years he treated paint thinner as his “one and only friend.” Meanwhile, I continued to attempt to persuade him to stop using paint thinner as a means to escape.
“How are you Masafumi? You haven’t used any paint thinner today?”
“Can I go to your home? If I am with you, I won’t be able to use it.”
After that, Masafumi and I lived together momentarily. However, aft
er a week Masafumi came to me and said, “I have already been able to quit paint thinner. Mom must be really lonely, so I am going to go home.” And he left.
The very next day around midnight I received a tearful phone call from him.
“I sniffed paint thinner again…Will you hate me now?”
After repeating this many times, Masafumi came to me carrying a newspaper article clipping.
“I can’t stop using paint thinner after all. Not even you could do it. Could you please take me to the hospital written in this newspaper?”
I felt a surge of rage run through me. although it was only for this had I been seeing him, and although I have been doing everything in my power to save him from paint thinner, I still felt betrayed by Masafumi in that moment. I therefore treated him very coldly that day.
“After everything I have done, he dares (use it again and then ask me this)…” is how far my mind was blurred by anger.
“I suppose it would also be ok if I went to your home again for a little?”
It was at these words that I coldly sent him away.
“Tonight I am doing a public patrol with the police, so I can’t.”
This was a total lie. Masafumi turned to me so many times repeating the same words: “Today, you are so heartless.” These ended up being the last words I ever heard from Masafumi.
2 am in the middle of the night. On a roach very near his home, Masafumi threw himself in front of a dump truck and died. Perhaps because of a hallucination due to the paint thinner, the truck’s head lights looked like an entrance to a beautiful world. In order to hold that light in his hands, Masafumi threw himself in front of the truck. It was an instant death.
When someone wants to quit a life of addiction to something, they always say “after OO, I will say good bye to OO.” When people want to stop smoking, “When I have smoked this pack, I will stop smoking,” is how they say their good bye to cigarettes. “Today I will drink to my heart’s content, then tomorrow I will be sober,” is the good bye for alcohol. However, the truth is when one says “good bye OO,” the actual probability of quitting is almost 0. This is even worse for things like paint thinner and drugs.
I have now come to understand that on that day, the Masafumi who called me, the boy I sent away, had just said his “good bye paint thinner.” Furthermore, my getting angry at his words and pushing him away ultimately sent him to his death.
At his funeral, only his mother and myself were present. It was a very sad funeral. After the funeral, I went with his mother to the crematorium and she asked me to perform the Bone-Picking Ceremony*with her, but when the body was brought back out and it was time to take his bones from the ashes, his mother instantly broke into tears. After all the long years of sniffing paint thinner, there was almost nothing left of Masafumi’s bones.
“Paint thinner has robbed my son of twice. The first time was his life. The second time it even took his remains (bones).”
As we went to pick up the only remaining bone of Masafumi’s, it quickly broke. His mother continued to cry and gripped her hands.
“Let’s at least pick up every last piece of his ashes.”
With that, we gathered Masafumi’s ashes together with our bare hands. The bright red ashes were picked up one-by-one and places in an urn. Finally, we put all the now white ashes in a modest white wooden box. We could not hold back our tears.
*Translators Note: At the appointed time, the family members go to the crematorium and the burned body is slid back out. Each of the family members is given a set of chopsticks to pick up the bones to put into the urn. The attendant usually points out the important pieces to pick up to put into the urn, the most important being the Adam’s apple. The family members pick up the bones and put them into the urns with two persons grasping the same bone fragment together and putting it into the urn in unison. This custom explains why when two Japanese reach for the same piece of food at the same time with chopsticks, both will quickly pull back, as this is the only time two people hold the same thing with two sets of chopsticks. This is known as the Bone-Picking Ceremony.
There is nothing I can do to make amends for what I did to him. Masafumi was the first child I killed. I felt I was no longer qualified to continue teaching. It was with this way of thinking that I gathered my belongings and looked at the newspaper clipping Masafumi had given me in his last moment that day. I then made up my mind.
“As long as I still have the title of teacher, I will consult this hospital. It is there I will make sure one way or another if what I did, what I am doing, is a crime or not.”
One week after Masafumi’s death, I visited the Prefectural Psychiatry Center Serigaya Hospital. There I met the director of the hospital and told him Masafumi’s story. The director of the hospital said this to me. I will never forget these words as long as I live.
“Mr. Mizutani, it was you who killed him. Understand, using paint thinner and other substances are not things that can be easily stopped. This is why the disease is called “dependence.” You tried to deal that disease with the power of love. Did the sickness heal with the power of love or judgment? If you embrace a child with love who has a high fever and is suffering, does their fever go down? If you scold them with, “You are not showing enough guts!” does that make their fever go down? Healing illnesses is our job as doctors. You were trying to do too much in your capacity as a teacher.”
Having this said to me, I could offer nothing in response.
“Mr. Mizutani, because you are a very sincere human being, you are trying to help as many children as you can stop using, am I right? I do not want you to stop doing this? From now on, the number of young people touched by drug’s dark hand will increase. But, few educators are able to tackle and fight this problem. Won’t you let me help you tackle it?”
This became the starting point of my fight against substance abuse.
—–END OF TRANSLATION—–
So,let me know what you think 1) about this man and 2) about my translation. I know it is not perfect, but I would appreciate any feedback.
Coming Soon (or as is said in Japan “Roading Soon”: This Month in Kyusyoku & Jr. high school graduation + the after party