Photo/IllutrationKo Suzuki had jotted in a notebook: “A fool must make efforts within the capacities of a fool.” (Atsushi Takahashi)

  • Photo/Illustraion

SHIZUOKA--Ko Suzuki had perfect school attendance for more than a decade and was popular among his peers for his bright and friendly personality.

Although his learning disabilities and minor intellectual disabilities kept his grades low, Ko was a stickler for rules and instructions, an attitude he maintained after he was hired by a major auto parts manufacturer in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Fifty days into the job, Ko left home early, but he did not board his usual 7:20 a.m. train, and he skipped the following ride as well.

He then jumped into the path of freight train at 7:46 a.m., security camera footage showed. Ko was 18 years old when he died on May 20, 2014.

Three years later, his parents, Eiji, 52, and Yukari, 50, of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, are still asking why their son committed suicide.

They have filed a lawsuit against the company, arguing that it assigned a workload that was beyond their son’s abilities and that it had unnecessarily driven home the point to Ko that he was intellectually disabled.

The parents point to one of the many notes their son made while he was learning the job: “A fool must make efforts within the capacities of a fool.”

The company declined to comment on the case, but it denied any mistreatment of Ko in documents submitted to court.

Ko was in the fourth grade of elementary school when his disabilities were diagnosed. His academic records were always the lowest in his class.

However, he maintained a cheerful attitude and strictly followed what his parents and teachers told him.

With his mind tending to focus on just one thing at a time, he often continued to practice with his high school baseball team or swimming club until he collapsed from exhaustion.

The auto parts maker, using a quota for disabled employees, hired Ko for factory work after he graduated from high school.

“For 12 years from elementary school to high school, Ko was never late for or absent from school,” said Eiji, a farmer. “He was aware that he was a serious person and had physical strength, so he thought he would be suited for simple work at a factory.”

After the company unofficially decided to employ Ko, Yukari asked staff members of its personnel division to pay consideration to her son’s disabilities.

“(But) now, I doubt whether they even listened to my explanations,” she said.

One reason for her doubts was that Ko was assigned to the press division, which required knowledge of a complicated work flow and familiarity with a jargon-filled manual consisting of as many as 82 items.

Ko took detailed notes. His notebook was filled with jottings, showing he was making strenuous efforts to learn.

On May 19, 2014, however, he made a mistake that forced a machine to temporarily shut down. The next day, Ko killed himself.

The parents filed the lawsuit in autumn 2015, demanding compensation, including consolation money, from the company.

They asserted that the company neglected its duty to pay consideration to their son’s disabilities, saying, “The job was an excessive burden for him.”

The company defended itself in documents submitted to the court.

“We had received explanations (from his high school) that although he has disabilities, he is almost the same as non-disabled people,” the documents said. “We never forced him to master the work.”

The company also referred to Ko’s note about “the capacities of a fool.”

“Ko consulted his superior, saying, ‘My speed to master the job is slow because I am a fool.’ At that time, the superior thought, ‘I am not smart, either, but I am making efforts within my capacities.’

“To convey that message (to Ko), the superior told him, ‘There is no way for fools to do their jobs other than doing so within their capacities by, for example, taking notes.’”

The company said the superior was explaining his own efforts and coached Ko.

The parents said those words may have had a negative effect on Ko.

“Our son who had intellectual disabilities was told that he was a fool, and he was required to make efforts to do a job that was beyond his capabilities,” they said. “At that time, what did he think? We regret that we were unable to protect him.”