Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Reasoning Behind Japanese Suicide

By: Marina Neuman
Produced & edited by: Trianna Connolly
According to the JapanTimes, Japan’s suicide rate hit its lowest number in 22 years, declining to 21,897 suicides in 2016. While that number does not make Japan the highest suicide rate in the world, it makes the country the second worst among eight industrialized nations. 
 Karoshi
 In 2015, national attention was drawn when Matsuri Takahashi, a Japanese worker, committed suicide. After further investigation, Japanese regulators found that Matsuri had been forced to work over 105 hours of overtime in the month leading up to her suicide. The extreme schedule resulted in her suicide. Karōshi, which can be translated from Japanese to, “overworked to death,” has become an epidemic in Japan over the last few decades. Labor lawyers and citizens groups have pushed for changes to Japanese law to recognize karoshi as a serious social issue.
 Their efforts resulted in a 2014 law that called for better working conditions but did not force companies to act. According to Sonam Dorji, a Japanese tour guide, “Everybody does over time job. Everyone works 16..18..hours a day. For instance one completes today's work, he immediately starts tomorrow's work..like wise. Sleeping only 4 hours a day is normal. Stress level is very high. There is no time for a love life. No time for marriage. A big chunk of population is unmarried and they have their own associations like clubs.”
 Culture in context
 Japanese culture may also play a large role in high suicide rates. This is because the tradition of death instead of defeat, capture, and perceived shame has been deeply entrenched in Japanese military culture. According to history.com, historically, Japanese Samurai soldiers would perform “seppuku” (an honorable suicide by disembowelment) rather than fall to the enemy.

Japanese art depicting "seppuku", an honorable suicide.
Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
“I knew at least two people who committed suicide,” said Japanese linguist Yumi Nakata in her blog. "Historically, suicide was considered a virtue. Samurai used to kill himself to regain their honor. Even in modern Japan, some people rather end their lives than living with shame for whatever reasons that they have.”
 Mental health crisis
“Unlike in America or Europe, there is no government-mandated system of training and qualifying clinical psychologists…Mental illness is still very much a taboo here. There is little popular understanding of depression and those suffering its symptoms are often too scared to talk about it," says Vickie Skorji, the Lineline Director of TELL in Tokyo.
In fact, according to, Noriyasu Yoneda, Citizens Commission on Human Rights Japan Coordinator, “Up until about 2010, the field of psychiatric treatment in Japan was kind of lawless area. High rates of psychiatrists prescribed too many psychotropic drugs without evidence.”
The call for change came in 2010 when families who had been bereaved by suicide investigated more than 1,000 suicide cases. Their findings showed that high rates of suicide cases had received psychiatry treatment then later committed suicide by taking a large dosage of the psychotrope drugs which had been prescribed by psychiatrists. The finding then forced the government to warn of the dangers of prescription psychotropic drugs. 
Government Effort 
While the Japanese government had made some effort to decrease the overall suicide rate, how much impact they have actually made is questionable. One attempt that has been made by local governments to stop or reduce suicide had been to place signs at the entry of one of the most infamous suicide areas in Japan, Aokigahara, also known as the Suicide Forest. The signs are in both Japanese and English and urging suicidal visitors to seek help and not kill themselves. 
Entrance to Aokigahara, the Suicide Forest.
Photo Courtesy: keio via flickr.com
There is also a telephone box with a free suicide hotline to call and talk to a counselor. According to Dr. Kenji Takegami of the Japan Stress Check in Tokyo, the government had also made a "support life-line" campaign, to promote using telephone lifelines for people who do not have supports. 
"Of course, after the decrease in suicide cases, the government says that this decrease is due to their lifeline campaigns. However, it is more likely that as the numbers of Welfare recipients increased then less people killed themselves," Takegami said.

**Global Spotlight is a nonprofit educational production, constituting a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided under Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law.   




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