Yukiko Okimura was just 11 years old when her mother, a single parent, was left paralyzed by a traffic accident on her way to work in Kanagawa Prefecture in 2001.

A tragic upheaval in the life of any elementary school child, what made it doubly transformative for Okimura was suddenly finding herself taking on the role of her mother's main carer, with no relatives ready to step in.

Nevertheless, Okimura was far from alone in being faced with what is usually regarded as an adult task. A recent government survey has revealed that in each classroom of Japan's junior and senior high schools, there are, on average, one or two such "young carers" who routinely look after family members.