A suicide prevention group will dispatch a drone to monitor remote areas around Tojinbo in Sakai, Fukui Prefecture — whose lonely cliffs remain romanticized in popular imagination as a destination where people go to end their lives — in the hopes that the effort will help reduce the suicide rate.
Retired police officer Yukio Shige, the 73-year-old head of the nonprofit group, said that although there has been a decline in the total number of people leaping off the cliffs in recent years, suicide remains a persistent problem.
“This year we have managed to stop five people from committing suicide but five is a very small number; it’s only one per month,” Shige said, adding that far more still think about killing themselves.
“So far we’ve monitored (Tojinbo) by ourselves but with the use of drones we could reach places that the human eye can’t see.”
The group’s 16 members — made up of retired police officers, academics and company workers — patrol the cliffs six times a week, from 11 a.m. until sunset. They plan to use the drone starting in June.
The health ministry has approved the group’s use of the drone for suicide prevention and will fully cover the cost, Shige said.
He said that since the group started monitoring the area, suicides have decreased from 25 per year in 2004 to 14 last year. To date, the group has talked 586 people out of committing suicide, according to Shige.
He attributes the reduction in part to the release of the smartphone app “Pokemon Go.” Designated as a “Pokestop” hot spot, the stretch of towering rocky cliffs overlooking the Sea of Japan has become crowded with players, hindering many of those seeking a tranquil place to kill themselves. However, some remain undeterred and with the intent of suicide they have increasingly sought out more secluded, harder-to-reach spots in the area, Shige said.
Travel agencies that continue to promote Tojinbo as a popular suicide spot are engaging in a misguided practice — drawing more people to the area for the wrong reason, Shige said.
More than 150 people have ended their lives in Tojinbo in the last decade, according to the group.
During his last year as a police officer, Shige was assigned work in assisting suicide survivors and prevention at Tojinbo. His experience prompted him to launch the group.
“I felt helpless as a law enforcement officer who under the law couldn’t provide sufficient assistance to those contemplating suicide, as it would be deemed interfering with victims’ private lives,” Shige said. “When you listen to those people, they say they don’t want to die, that they’re scared. I wanted to respond to their silent cry for help.
“I want this place to regain its reputation, but recast as a place for a fresh start,” Shige said.