Elementary school pupils sit in a line, each child pressing their ear to the back of the person in front to listen to their heartbeat.
« It’s going thump-thump, » says one youngster. « It’s warm, » notes another.
This is a scene from an experimental class called « Inochi no Kyoiku » (Teaching about life) at Ikeda Elementary School attached to Osaka Kyoiku University.
On June 8, exactly 20 years ago, a knife-wielding man burst into this school in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, and fatally stabbed eight pupils aged 6 to 8.
A few months after the massacre, the family of one of the victims found three children’s books their daughter had checked out from a public library. The family recalled in a note that they wept uncontrollably on the day they returned the books, wanting desperately to hold onto what their child had once touched.
One bereaved couple, who had promised their child a visit to Takarazuka Grand Theater during the school summer holiday, « fulfilled » their promise by going to the theater, carrying the child’s photo. But it was painful to hear the happy shouts of youngsters of the same age, they recalled in their book.
I was reminded of the poem « Tomorrow Never Comes » by American writer Norma Cornett Marek (1940-2004), who lost her 10-year-old son in a drowning accident.
Reminiscing about her regret over her final morning with him, she wrote: « If I knew it would be the last time I’d hear your voice lifted up in praise/ I would tape each word and action, and play them back throughout my days/ If I knew it would be the last time, I would spare an extra minute or two/ To stop and say “I love you” instead of assuming you know I do. »
The profundity of her loss breaks my heart.
On June 7, preparations for a memorial event were under way at Ikeda Elementary School.
A warning in large red letters, posted at the school gate, read: « School-related people only. Unauthorized entry prohibited. »
So great was the impact of that mass stabbing, schools around Japan switched, from that day on, to putting safety above all else.
One of the bouquets of flowers on the altar came with this handwritten message: « You remain in our hearts forever. Please watch over the children. May you rest in peace … »
At one moment, in a break from the « tsuyu » rainy season, the school building was bathed in gentle sunlight.
–The Asahi Shimbun, June 8
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.