Today will likely be the deadliest day of the year for Japanese school children.
The first day of September marks the beginning of the second semester of the Japanese school year and, historically, it’s the day that more kids decide to take their own lives than any other day of the year.
An analysis of more than 18,000 suicides by children under the age of 18 between 1972 and 2013 found Sept. 1 had the highest rate of deaths, with an average of 131 minors taking their own lives, according to the government’s suicide prevention office.
April 11 was the second deadliest day, with an average of 99 child suicides, coinciding with the beginning of the school year. Aug. 31 and Sept. 2 were also deadly days for school kids, with an average of 92 and 94 suicides recorded on those dates.
A graphic published by Japanese news service Kyodo shows just how dramatic the spike on Sept. 1 really is.
It’s well known that Japan has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world and more than almost any other wealthy nation. And the true extent is probably much worse than official figures suggest, due to underreporting.
Suicide was the leading cause of death among Japanese children aged 10 to 18 in 2014, the BBC reported.
But what is so bad about the Japanese school year that so many teenagers would rather die than face their classmates again?
Bullying appears to be one force driving students to suicide.
A 13-year-old boy who was run over by a train in an apparent suicide in the northeastern prefecture of Iwate in July had written notes to his teacher saying he was having problems with friends, and indicating his intention to kill himself, Kyodo reported.
The thought of facing their tormenters after a relatively peaceful summer vacation is too much for some bullying victims.
"The long break from school enables you to stay at home, so it's heaven for those who are bullied," Nanae Munemasa, 17, told CNN. She had skipped school and contemplated suicide after being bullied.
"When summer ends, you have to go back," she said. "And once you start worrying about getting bullied, committing suicide might be possible."
The dog-eat-dog environment in Japan’s hyper competitive school system has also been blamed for driving kids to extremes.
"The bigger issue is the competitive society where you have to beat your own friends," Shikoh Ishi, the editor of a newspaper for children who refuse to go to school, told the BBC.
The government has urged teachers and parents to be vigilant at this particularly delicate time for many students.
“It is important for adults to create an environment where children are able to air their concerns with the people around,” a Cabinet Office official told Kyodo.
The alarmingly high figures, though, suggest that might not be enough.