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Sign saves lives of 29 suicidal people

At least 29 people who went to forests at the foot of Mt. Fuji to commit suicide changed their minds after seeing a sign put up by an organization of loan shark victims about a year ago.

The sign reads, "Your loan problem can definitely be solved," and carries a telephone number for a 24-hour consultation service. The sign was put up by a national liaison council of associations of loan shark victims based in Kanda, Tokyo, in an attempt to prevent those troubled by financial difficulties from committing suicide.

The sign is located at an entrance to Aokigahara forest in Yamanashi Prefecture.

A 44-year-old man in Chiba Prefecture said he entered the forest in mid-November last year. Due to a worsening chronic disease, he lost his job in June last year and started living in his car. He owed 1.5 million yen to a consumer loan company and had little contact with his family. He said it was only natural he went to the forest.

Though he spent about two weeks wandering around the forest he did not kill himself, and was eventually found by a police officer. The officer told him he could consult the organization.

Despite initial reluctance, he finally made a call to the organization. When he heard the words, "It's not a problem, you can make a fresh start," from a counselor at the organization, the man said he at last found hope.

Using money lent to him by the police officer, he set off to the organization's office on train. But as the man was physically exhausted from his prolonged stay outdoors and suffering from an injury to his right leg, he collapsed at JR Kanda Station in Tokyo. The counselor waiting for him at the station called an ambulance, and he was taken to a hospital.

The man is now undergoing rehabilitation while living on public welfare. After he left hospital, he wrote off his debts by declaring bankruptcy and is now trying to find a new job.

"The phone call enabled me to restart my life. I hope to get a job in social welfare so that I'll be able to help somebody out someday," he said.

According to the Cabinet Office, in Yamanashi Prefecture, the number of people who come from outside the prefecture to commit suicide there is the highest in the nation due to the extensive forest area.

Yoshio Honda, 67, head of the organization's office, said, "We decided it was necessary to put up the sign as we'd given consultations to people who had tried to commit suicide in the forest."

Coinciding with the erection of the sign in January last year, the organization launched a 24-hour telephone consultation line.

Loan shark victims associations operating under the organization's umbrella have so far received about 3,400 calls, 29 of them made from Aokigahara forest.

Honda said many of the people did not know simple facts pertaining to their debts: interest payments beyond legal limits can be refunded; repayments to illegal lenders can be stopped; and an individual's bankruptcy declaration is not recorded on that person's family registration.

"I want such people to call to us first," Honda said.

Nobuo Sawaguchi, 41, head of the organization and one of the telephone counselors, said he also had considered suicide after accumulating debts from consumer loan companies and illegal lenders.

(Feb. 24, 2008)
AP News
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