Children play at a shelter in the earthquake rocked Mashiki in Kumamoto prefecture, Japan, April 17, 2016. (File Photo Xinhua/Ma Ping)
TOKYO, March 11 (Xinhua) -- "There were times I wanted to kill myself, I really did. I used to think about it all the time, it became an obsession that grew and grew as the daily torments became harsher and more wicked," Yuki Endo said solemnly from the edge of a sofa in his nondescript apartment in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo, Japan.
Clutching a large cushion close to his chest, the 14-year old added, "It was far worse at the first school, but it was still pretty bad at the second too. I study at home now with my mom and younger sister."
"There's no bullying here and my sister is safe too. It's quiet, but I have no friends," the young lad said, sniffling slightly and failing to make eye contact, as he pulled the cushion even closer to his chest.
Yuki lives with his father, mother and sister in a residential town on the outskirts of Matsudo, in Tokyo's neighboring Chiba region and they moved to the area around four years ago.
Prior to that, Yuki's family, as thousands of other families, was forced to join the exodus from Fukushima Prefecture in the wake of the earthquake-triggered nuclear disaster there that began six years ago. They were essentially internal refugees, temporarily based with friends and family members away from the potential danger.
According to the latest figures provided to Xinhua by Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori, there are still some 80,000 people living as refugees away from Fukushima. While the numbers returning to different parts of the embattled prefecture vary, in some cases, even where the radiation restriction has been lifted, only 10 percent of residents have opted to return.
Indeed, official figures also show that of school-aged children, as of May 2016, 7,800 students who originated from Fukushima Prefecture have yet to return and remain scattered across the country, some leading miserable lives, both due to and in spite of their plight.
"Yuki had to change schools twice, and that was after the upheavals of having to leave his home, then live with relatives he barely knew. He's still just a child. Kaori's now only 11 and has had a tough time too, but not quite as bad. She hasn't had to change schools," said Yasuko Endo.
"as a mother it was my decision to leave Fukushima. I did it for my children."
She went on to explain that when Yuki enrolled in his first school in the Kanto region, the other children were quick to single him out as being the "new kid" but as soon as they found out he was from Fukushima started to harass him on an increasingly frequent basis.
They would call him all sorts of names like "radiation boy" and "vermin", which, may not have seemed too vicious at first, but when it became routine was devastating to the young boy's self-esteem.
And it would continue outside of school too, she said. They would follow him home and taunt him, coming up with new "nicknames" related to the nuclear accident and at one time got physical too, a palpably despondent Yasuko remembered.
Along with her husband, she complained to the school and said that things calmed down for a while and that Yuki seemed to be doing better, but then the bullying escalated again and Yuki suffered a mental breakdown.
"Some of the children refused to get into the swimming pool with him during a sports class and complained to the teacher that they were worried they would be infected' with radiation if they shared water with Yuki."
"They said it half-jokingly, I think, but for Yuki it was just too much, he couldn't cope, nor was he being effectively cared for by his teachers. He broke down and was under medical supervision for around a month after that," Yasuko said, the painful memory etched into the furrows of her brow.
"Children can be so cruel," she lamented, swiftly wiping a single tear away, so as not to let her kids see. "But we're getting through this aren't we?" asked Yasuko rhetorically, while quickly gathering her poise. The two children nodded unconvincingly in unison.
Residents walk past destroyed buildings in the earthquake rocked Mashiki in Kumamoto prefecture, Japan, April 17, 2016. (File Photo Xinhua/Ma Ping)
Cases like the Endo family's are not unusual although it would seem that the severity of the problem is just surfacing now. Education Minister Hirokazu Matsuno has only recently launched the nation's first survey to try and determine the extent that children from Fukushima are being bullied.
"We will try to prevent bullying derived from prejudice and discrimination. It is very regrettable that students who are not able to return to their hometowns (in Fukushima) are anxious of becoming targets of serious bullying," Matsuno told a press conference on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the double-disasters that triggered the nuclear crisis.
Albeit a somewhat sluggish government response, experts on the matter have said that the planned survey and publishing of the results will do little but prove such harassment is occurring on a larger scale than previously believed. Besides, more needs to be done.
"It's safe to assume that the majority of children who were evacuated from or otherwise left Fukushima with their parents and attended school elsewhere in the country would have experienced some degree of bullying from their new peers, even if it wasn't meant as such," Tokyo-based anthropologist and sessional lecturer, Keiko Gono, told Xinhua.
What happens in schools is characterized by the broader society and hence we're seeing adults bullied or discriminated at work and in their communities because they're from Fukushima, so it's only reasonable to assume that it's happening where society is most impressionable: in schools, Gono said.
She added that there was a "tendency", in Tokyo at least, to "look down" on people from Fukushima, not because of fear of radiation, but, in fact, because of a perceived burden on them as tax payers.
"While they might not come out and say it openly, people in the capital believe they are bankrolling the subsidies that Fukushima evacuees have been receiving from the government, although some of these have now been cut."
"The evacuees are believed to be a financial burden to many Tokyoites, even though this is not the fact. In some ways it could be described as resentfulness and children are quick to pick up on such negative nuances and express similar discriminatory grudges. But as they don't understand the full situation, this comes across as juvenile, yet at times, venomous bullying," she said.
Gono concluded that society cannot expect its children to change until their parents set a better example. She suggested that while the education ministry's survey would provide valuable statistics, an ideological shift is necessary for all ages in Japan to bring a halt to the ongoing traumas affecting the society's most vulnerable.