At first sight, Yukio Shige might appear to be preparing for a afternoon hike or fishing trip, but this wonderful 73-year-old man is actually waiting to save another life. Atop the Tojinbo cliffs, with the Sea of Japan just below, Yukio has saved over 609 lives in just 15 years -- just by using his words.
As a country with one of the highest rates of suicide in the world, Japan has been facing an epidemic over the past few decades; and the Tojinbo Cliffs are a popular spot for those with suicidal thoughts to consider ending their lives. It is here that Yukio awaits, looking through a pair of binoculars for anyone who might be standing over the rocks in contemplation.
'I Speak to Them Like a Friend'
At the first sign of a possible suicide attempt, Yukio jumps into action. He doesn't yell, intimidate, or threaten. He just speaks to them 'like a friend'.
"The way I save people, it's like I'm seeing a friend," said the 73-year-old retired policeman. "It's not exciting or anything. I'm like, 'Hey, how are you doing?' These people are asking for help. They're just waiting for someone to speak with them."
And it is in this quote from Yukio that we discover perhaps the most amazing part of his story: his profound humility. Even after saving hundreds of lives in what amounts to the work that can usually only be accomplished by large charities or rescue teams, Yukio downplays his courageous actions, and treats the accomplishment as if it were no big deal.
His journey to save lives atop the Tojinbo Cliffs began after 42 years of service as a police officer, when he approached an elderly couple sitting on a bench above the sea. When he spoke with them, they told him that they were planning on jumping at sunset, because they were heavily in debt. Thus began his 15 year quest to save as many people as he could -- by being a friend.
We need more people like Yukio.
Yukio Shige Photo by: (Jonathan Kaiman / Los Angeles Times)