Everyone knows the story of how St Francis Xavier came to Japan as a missionary for Christ in the middle of the 16th century (1549). Xavier willingly crossed seas and oceans with his heart set on Japan, seeking to spread both the word and the love of God and to explain how the human soul can be saved. He came up with the idea of producing leaflets in Japanese, which he handed out to people. One of these was on the Ten Commandments. His message, which he sought to explain by distributing these leaflets, was: “If you wish to receive the teaching and love of God and become like one of us, keep these ‘ten teachings’ of God. These are the absolute minimum to be observed by us as human beings.” Everything began when Japanese gathered in response to this call to the Truth.
Some among our readers are probably asking, “Why has The Grape and the Grapevine —White Paper appeared at this point in time in the 21st century?” This pamphlet, written “from the viewpoint of protecting life and of preparatory education to protect life,” came to birth in the hope that it might contribute to preventing suicide.
Every year in Japan over 30,000 people take their own life. As of 2011, that number has been repeated for an alarming record of 14 successive years. A “close-up” examination has looked at various reasons why middle-aged and older people have taken their own life following on the bursting of the economic bubble. While the economy and economic problems have undoubtedly served as a factor since 2005, school/education-related problems, like bullying, have also issued in a similar sharp increase in suicides among junior high school students, who started commuting to cram schools (塾) in the upper years of elementary school so as to remain competitive in an “exam war” system with its heavy emphasis on “standard mark ranking” (偏差値). This contemporary situation has resulted from abandoning the basics of education, which formerly saw seeking truth and promoting each person’s individuality as the ideal and emphasized ethics and morals as foundational. With a sharp rise also in the divorce rate, solitary, lonely children fail to find a place in the wider society, move into delinquency, and fight loneliness by turning to crime. Children today can no longer play with their former uninhibited freedom.
Since 2009, the government has set aside a budget of 100 billion yen as part of its Suicide Countermeasures Fund. Right across the country, at the prefectural level and through committees of experts serving on “Suicide Countermeasures Committees,” people from the worlds of medicine, education, law, the police and other areas have strenuously sought various countermeasures in endeavoring to prevent suicide. However, since for all their efforts there has been no numerical decrease, it is up to us in the medical profession to try to identify and pin down the true causes. The situation became critical following on the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, and it is expected to become even more so. Since they defy imagination, we can only guess at the grief and anguish of the victims, for whom time seems to have stopped as they try to deal with feelings of total loss and meaninglessness. (One year on, as of March 11, 2012, the number of dead stands at 15,854, those unaccounted for at 3155, with another 343,935 living as refugees.)
Within the Catholic Church, the Social Affairs Committee of the Bishops’ Conference issued An Urgent Appeal for the Protection of Life in 2009, and in 2010 the education section of Caritas Japan published An Honest Look at Suicide.
This year, the Japanese Catholic Nurses Association (JCNA), stressing our identity as a group qualified in nursing, considered grappling with the problem from a totally different angle, that of “educating to protect life” (ethical education), by publishing the pamphlet The Grape and the Grapevine—White Paper. In this way we returned to St Francis Xavier’s original starting point. We went back to the “ten words from God” and “true love.” This was the first step towards a world in which there would be no people who thought of taking their own life.
If it is because they are “victims of society” that there is so much suicide among the poor or those who are bullied, there would, logically speaking, be fewer victims of suicide if Japan on the whole kept the “ten words from God.” There is, for example, moral confusion among adults, since easy access to the sex industry is available through the Internet. Adults have created a society that causes suffering and distress to young people who don’t have guidelines to live by, who don’t know what is good. Not without good reason, people who deep down are drawn toward the good, the beautiful, and the true—whatever is eternal—sometimes incline toward evil. And once they actually get involved in evil, this separates them from God and from other people. Therefore it is vital that our young people, who will be entrusted with the future of Japan, should be adequately educated in the fundamentals of protecting life.
In Part One, we were allowed to reprint important words and ideas from Florence Nightingale and from significant representatives of the world of education and medicine in Japan. Allow us to use these few lines to express our heartfelt thanks to all those who have showed us their appreciation and offered their cooperation.
For Part Two, Most Reverend Takami Mitsuaki, Archbishop of Nagasaki, graciously undertook to write two essays on “True Love” and “Ten Words from God.” We wish to express our heartfelt thanks and appreciation for his undertaking to do so despite his busy schedule. Also our thanks go to Fr Brendan Kelleher SVD (Society of the Divine Word), who, drawing on his many years of teaching Christianity and English at Nanzan International Junior and Senior High School, took on the task of doing the English translation.
Unless we continue to return to the starting point, which is the word of God, no true solution will be found to the social problems of suicide, poverty, proper pensions, theft, and drug-related crimes among others. This is because such problems emerge among those who are victims of society, where fraud and deceit are commonplace and ethics and morals have degenerated.
As members of the JNCA who seek, as witnesses to Christ, to walk closely with those who suffer, we have endeavored to draw a profile in this pamphlet of the “Word of God” and “The Love of God” through which, above all, human life and dignity are saved.
Small and insignificant as this pamphlet may seem, our heartfelt undying hope is that it will convey a message to people in Japan and around the world, so that people won’t take their own life and that world peace may be born from a revitalized approach to education.
It will be a great blessing for the Catholic Church in Japan to be able to pass on its witness to salvation offered by Christ in the Gospel to those victims of society who have attempted to take their own life and to the families left behind by those who have done so.
Finally we express our heartfelt thanks to all who helped in the completion of this pamphlet.
On the Solemnity of the Lord’s Resurrection, April 8, 2012
Japanese Catholic Nurses Association（JCNA）