In October of last year, a 14-year-old girl in Kobe City committed suicide. She posted a tweet that said pretending to be friends every day was hard.
The girl's mother says she was told by the homeroom teacher that her daughter was having problems with another student, but that it wasn't serious.
"It sounded like the other student simply disliked my daughter," she says. "I didn't think there was any bullying."
The school conducted a survey after the girl killed herself. It showed she had been harshly bullied by a number of students. She was also verbally taunted, and some had tripped her.
October 26th was the girl's birthday. She would have turned 16. The mother says if the school had told her that her daughter was being bullied, she may have been able to do something. She now feels deep regret.
"I want to tell my daughter that I'm sorry for not noticing," she says. "I hope schools will let parents know if they suspect anything is wrong, so that others won't have to suffer the same experience. I want them to tell parents whenever they notice something."
Rima Kasai is another child who took her own life. A 2nd-year junior high school student in Aomori Prefecture, she killed herself last year after leaving a note saying she was being bullied.
This year, her father Goh said he regrets that he failed to notice his daughter's pain, and her struggles.
"I keep thinking things like I shouldn't have made her go to school," he says. "I can't help but feel overwhelmed with regret."
Suicides have also increased
According to Japan's education ministry, during the last school year, 244 students committed suicide. That's 29 more than the previous year.
Of the children who took their lives, 4 were attending elementary schools, 69 junior high schools, and 171 were attending high schools.
The survey also looked into the reasons behind their suicides.
The result showed that for the largest number of students, 132, the reasons were not clear. Education and family problems were found to be factors in the suicides of 27 children. 20 killed themselves over anxiety about the future and other reasons. 17 took their own lives due to problems in relationships with friends, and 10 committed suicide because of bullying.
The survey also showed that 3 children killed themselves because of problems with teachers. In March, a second-grader at a junior high school in Ikeda town in Fukui Prefecture killed himself after being treated severely by his teachers.
The sharp rise in bullying appears to reflect a shift in education ministry policy
Ahead of this year's survey, Japan's education ministry called on schools and education boards to report scuffles and teasing that could lead to bullying.
323,808 cases of bullying were later confirmed at elementary schools, junior high and high schools, and schools for children with special needs. That is up more than 98,000 from the previous year.
237,921 incidents were recorded at elementary schools. The numbers for elementary and junior high schools were the highest since surveys started in 1985.
The national average for all prefectures was 23.9 cases of bullying per 1,000 students.
Professor Mitsutoshi Yatsunami at the Tokyo University of Science is an expert on bullying. He says the latest survey shows that schools and teachers are now trying to detect even the smallest problems. He says they have started to check on scuffles and teasing, which they previously did not consider bullying.
Yatsunami says even the most insignificant-seeming cases must not escape notice. He says problems must be caught and resolved while they are still small.
Yatsunami notes that bullying can fester, for example, through students' use of smartphones. He says schools and families must work together to stop the growth of bullying before it starts.