It was 6 p.m. on Sept. 3, 2003, when Yukio Shige sawÂ the couple sitting near the edge of a cliff in the darkening eveningâcontemplating their own deaths, as he would come to learn.
Shige approached, and asÂ he spoke with the couple, he learned that the restaurant they owned was deeply in debt and they didn't see another way out of it. ShigeÂ was able to convince them to go to the police for helpÂ and truly believed that they would find it. It was only a week later that he received their suicide note. It had been left with his name on it. The couple had gone to seek help from the police, as he'd suggested, but it wasn't enough. In the letter they asked him to continue to help those considering death as the only way out.
Since then Shige, a retired police officer of 42 years, has created an organization to help those pondering their own deaths. It is run out of a cafe near the Tojinbo Cliffs in Japan, whereÂ 20 to 30 suicides are committed each year.
Shige and his staff of 20 patrol the cliffs several times a day and know them well. They are aware of the places used most often for people attempting suicideÂ and, horrifyingly, even the ideal spot to end your life with your family. According to Shige, a woman once jumped with a child clinging to her back and a baby in her arms. A 70 percent success rate doesn't leave much room for hope.
When he first began, Shige said that many couldn't understand why he was doing it. They thought that if someone wants to die you should let them.
"Hearing those in pain should make you want to act," says Shige "It's a responsibility that comes with being born into this world."Â Currently there are close to 550 people who are glad he has taken on that responsibility. More than 500 people whose lives may have been lost if not for Shige and his organization.
"The Gatekeeper," a short documentary directed byÂ Yung ChangÂ details the work of Shige, a truly inspiring hero.