Almost every day, Yukio Shige spends his days standing by the sea, with his binoculars trained to his eyes. His schedule rarely changes even though his services are rarely needed on rainy days. During his 42 years as a police officer, much of his job involved removing dead bodies at the same location.
Although this made him more comfortable with death than most people, it also made him determined to prevent it as much as he could. You see, all of the people whose bodies he had been removing had died from suicide.
In Japan, more people die by suicide than almost anywhere else in the developed world. The only other country with more deaths by suicide is its neighbor, South Korea. While Japan regularly records over 20,000 suicides every year, the United States, in comparison, mercifully lags somewhat behind with a suicide rate of 13.5 deaths per 100,000 people.
One day, in 2003, Yukio spotted an old couple by the beach. When he approached them, they told him they planned to commit suicide because they were swimming in debt. He managed to save them, but after they were sent away, they hanged themselves five days later.
After this event, Yukio decided he would try to save as many people from suicide as possible. He formed a volunteer group of about 20 people who patrol the beach during the day. In the 15 years since he started this work, Yukio has encouraged 609 people to give life a second shot.
When he's saving someone, Yukio says he doesn't anything dramatic. "It's not exciting or anything," he says. "I'm like, 'Hey, how are you doing?' These people are asking for help. They're just waiting for someone to speak with them."
In 2017 alone, he saved 28 people from suicide. Part of his work involves making people see that their problems are always too trivial for them to consider death. One was a 17-year-old girl who was preparing to jump off a cliff to escape the academic pressure her parents placed on her.
She was embarrassed because she had not done her homework since school had started and was scared of how her parents would react. After Yukio talked her off the cliff, he called her parents to come pick her up. When they arrived, he asked them, "Which is more important, her life or graduation?"
Credit: Los Angeles Times