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Retired Japanese Detective Devotes Himself to Helping Suicidal Men and Women

In a 2009 article in Time magazine, writer Coco Masters shared a startling statistic: one in five Japanese men and women have seriously considered taking their lives, and each year over the past decade, more than 30,000 people have killed themselves in that country. But Masters surrounded those troubling statistics with the story of Yukio Shige. It's because of Shige that at least 188 Japanese men and women have chosen life over death.

Every day since 2004, Shige, a retired detective, has roamed the Tojinbo Cliffs, a popular site for suicide attempts along the coast of the Sea of Japan, looking for people who are considering jumping. If he spots someone in need, he slowly approaches them, offers a gentle "Hello," and then does his best to engage them in some conversation. At some point Shige will offer them a light touch on the shoulder, which almost always causes the person to burst into tears. Shige will then softly say, "You've had a hard time up until now, haven't you?"

The beauty of Shige's work doesn't end there, though. He will often take the person back to an office (which he rents for $800 a month) for counseling sessions. Masters writes:

There's no rush in Shige's office. He offers those who go there oroshi-mochi, a dish of pounded sticky rice served with grated relish. Traditionally the food is prepared to celebrate the New Year, with each family taking its own rice to be mixed with that of its neighbors. "When people come here and eat mochi, they remember their childhood—father, mother, siblings, hometown. They remember they're not alone," Shige says.

Toward the end of her article, Masters points out, rather nonchalantly, that the ring tone for Shige's cell phone is set to "Amazing Grace"—which seems the perfect choice. Shige sums up his mission this way: "I want Tojinbo to be the most challenging place, not where life ends, but where it begins."

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