In their difficult high school years, students could always count on teacher Tatsuo Endo to be there for them, with encouragement, support and words of wisdom.
Ten years after his death at age 39, Endo's former students have repaid his kindness by helping to convince the Tokyo District Court that their beloved teacher died from overwork.
“We were not able to say ‘Thank you’ (to Endo). With the court’s recognition, we were able to return a favor to him a little bit,” said Maki Inui, 27, now a mother of two children.
In April, the Tokyo District Court rendered a verdict of “death from overwork.” On May 7, that court ruling was finalized as an appeal was not filed by the deadline.
Endo's wife, who asked not to be identified, had almost given up.
Sitting in front of a Buddhist altar, the wife looked at his photo, and said, “Thank you for watching over me, though as many as 10 years have passed. I also have to express my gratitude to your students who have continued to encourage me.”
On Feb. 6, 2002, Endo, who was teaching physical education in the Tokyo metropolitan Nozuta Senior High School in Machida, western Tokyo, collapsed from an acute heart attack at a train station near his house. At that time, he was on his way home from a school trip to Hokkaido.
At Nozuta, his class of juniors had many difficult students. One of them rode a bicycle to school with three others perched on it. Others smoked cigarettes. However, Endo continued to counsel them each day, saying, for example, “Are you making your best effort?” or “Aren’t you going to get in trouble?”
His students often turned to Endo for advice when they encountered problems, such as bullying or blackmail attempts. Then, he would often talk with them until midnight on his mobile phone. The students thought Endo was an adult who cared and would not abandon them.
When some students were likely to be suspended from school or be forced to repeat the same grade, he would bow and ask other teachers not to enforce the disciplinary measures.
Before his students became seniors, Endo died.
His class then became difficult for replacement teachers. They faced difficulties in holding classes as his students often wept. One of them shouted at a substitute teacher, “Get out!” The students did not know how to deal with their sadness and grief.
However, they decided to band together on a common goal: “We will (do our best until the end of our senior year so that we can) graduate from this school together for Mr. Endo.”
As a result, all of his 34 students were able to graduate.
Their graduation album carried a photo of his class, in which Endo was making a V-sign in the center of his smiling students, who were dressed in various costumes for the school’s cultural festival.
The album carried a message, which read, “Our teacher Tatsuo will be alive in our hearts forever.”
After his death, the students and their parents formed the group “Tatsuo-kai” (Tatsuo group). When they heard that Endo's wife applied to the Fund for Local Government Employees’ Accident Compensation for recognition that his death was job related, they started activities to support her.
However, the fund rendered a finding of “non-recognition” four years later. Though his wife filed appeals of the decision twice, the results were the same. Finally, she filed a suit with the Tokyo District Court in 2009.
His former students submitted testimony when the fund examined Endo’s case. They also submitted more than 10 letters to the court as evidence. The letters read, for example, that Endo supervised the students until 3 a.m. on their school trip. He said that he felt ill, and that even after returning to Tokyo from the school trip, he had to mediate a quarrel between his students and those from a different school.
Examining the evidence, the Tokyo District Court recognized on April 23 that Endo's death resulted from overwork.
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