Bare statistics mask human cost of Japan’s high suicide rate

Japan in 2009 was a busy place — for the Grim Reaper. A National Police Agency report revealed that there were 32,753 suicides in the country last year, exceeding 30,000 for the 12th consecutive year and accounting for 3% of all deaths. Current World Health Organization figures show that of OECD countries, Japan has the second highest suicide rate, at 24.7 per 100,000 people. Only Russians kill themselves at a greater rate.

Unfortunately, in a country of 135 million people, such statistics lend themselves to abstraction, so let’s put a human face on things. Imagine standing at your local train station from morning to night and having to choose six people an hour to take their own lives. Who will it be? The salaryman? The young mother? The high school student?

Last year, the government set up a task force to address the suicide crisis, but there have been a number of such efforts made over the past decade, and the rate shows no sign of declining. This is because the task forces deal not in cures but in treatments, like the latest action of assigning mental health professionals to “Hello Work” employment offices. The rationale is that unemployment is a factor in suicide, but other countries with greater economic woes have much lower suicide rates. Why? Because a perpetually high suicide rate doesn’t just reflect a set of temporary circumstances — it’s a symptom of a dysfunctional society.

This means that the only way to permanently reduce the rate is to deal with socio-cultural factors like, for one example, the historical romanticization of suicide as an honorable way of taking responsibility. Yet there’s no sign of that happening; instead, we had former LDP heavyweight Kunio Hatoyama pronouncing last summer that suicidal tendencies are “obviously” genetically inherited. In addition to being so untrue as to leave one slack-jawed in stupefaction, Hatoyama’s remarks were either a cheap, distasteful way to avoid assigning responsibility or a profoundly inhumane political “shoganai.”

But if not genetics, then what? In his novel “A Long Way Down,” Nick Hornby offers a striking insight: people commit suicide not because they hate life, but because they love it and can’t endure separation from it. I take this to mean that we all want to lead lives as we choose but are constrained from doing so. The stronger the constraints, the wider and more painful the separation.

These constraints can take many forms. There are socio-cultural ones, like the pressure placed upon you by family, your company, peer groups, or society in general. Then there are personal or emotional ones, like relationship problems, depression and shyness.

Yes, shyness. I think it’s no coincidence that in the U.S., where people are encouraged to be outgoing, the birthrate is high and the suicide rate low, while in Japan, where shyness is seen as a virtue, the situation is the opposite. Put simply, outgoing people are better able to lead the kind of life they want to, while shy people are held back from doing so.

So I was appalled to read last year that shyness is the quality that Japanese parents most desire for their children, evidently because it is “cute.” Well, cute it may be from the outside, but I speak from experience when I say it is torture to actually live that way. Being shy results in a kind of viciously frustrating social paralysis, a fear of negative reactions so deeply ingrained that it leaves the sufferer unable to socialize, however much they might want to. So when parents say they want their children to be shy, they’re saying that for the sake of “cuteness” they want them to live in fear and frustration.

And it’s this kind of shallow, appearance-over-reality attitude that the government needs to address if it’s serious about reducing the suicide rate. The idea that shyness is good, the belief that hardship should be endured in lonely silence rather than dealt with, the old adage that “the nail that sticks up will be hammered down” — all of these constraining social notions need to be consigned to history, where they belong.

Of course, some will say I have no place questioning how Japanese society functions, that I’m an arrogant foreign meddler, that nothing needs to change. Well, are those people happy to accept a human cost of 30,000 suicides a year for the sake of preserving this lofty, abstract ideal of the “Japanese Way”? If they were asked to hand-pick six people an hour, I bet their tune would change.

Not so abstract now, is it?

Peter Sidell is an English teacher from the UK, living and working in Kanagawa Prefecture.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

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  • 0

    foxkenji

    a bit confrontational in the last paragraph eh?

  • 0

    IvanCoughalot

    What a very well-written critique.Not sure about the maths part (6people per hour= 144 people per day = 52,560per year, rather than 32,000) but that notwithstanding, bravo Mr. Sidell.

    This cute fixation is truly sinister.

  • 0

    doitsujin

    IvanCoughalot at 07:12 AM JST - 31st March

    What a very well-written critique.Not sure about the maths part (6people per hour= 144 >people per day = 52,560per year, rather than 32,000) but that notwithstanding, bravo Mr. >Sidell.

    Trains in Japan don't run 24 hours a day.

  • 0

    paulinusa

    There was an article last year in the New York Times about a sea cliff in Japan where many end their lives. Except a former police officer and the organization he formed patrol the area and persuade would be suiciders to seek help. He described how most Japanese people don't want to interfere and the way that local authorities were indifferent and unwilling to support the efforts.

  • 0

    CoolCali

    Nice article Peter, but with the tiniest amount of research you would have found that the birthrate in the USA is not much better than it is here. The US keeps the population pumped through.... anyone, anyone??? Yes, immigration.

  • 0

    twkozlowski

    @doitsujing, @IvanCoughalot: The author has clearly stated "Imagine standing at your local train station from morning to night". If we assume that "from morning to night" means about 15 hours (e.g. 6:30 AM – 9:30 PM), then the statictics given are almost ideal: (32 753 / 365) / 6 = 14.9557078. In such an imaginary scene, 6 people would take their lives every hour.

  • 0

    paulinusa

    Here is a link to the New York Times article. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/18/world/asia/18japan.html

  • 0

    sf2k

    from the Times article

    Mr. Shige’s efforts have stirred local resentment, particularly from a local tourist association that says his activities are bad for business. But Mr. Shige is not easily deterred.

    “I will continue until the government finally gets its act together and takes over,” he said. “I can’t let their inaction cost another precious life.”

    Glad Shige-san is there to help, and denying a flourishing morbid-tourism

  • 0

    Debucho

    more suicides = more space for me

  • 0

    woodynzjp

    Some interesting points made Peter. I have sometimes surmised the Japan suicide rate could partly be attributed to the "Bushido" way of thinking: honor, obedience, duty, and self-sacrifice etc. though Russia has a higher rate with a different society and circumstances. The high numbers of suicides in Japan is definitely a sad situation but I can't see much improvement in the near future. In fact with another looming global financial crisis on the horizon things could get a lot worse in Japan. Not sure where you got the 135 million population figure from.According to stats Japan's 2008 total population was 127.69 million.

  • 0

    islands

    I agree with foxkenji, what's up with the last paragraph?

  • 0

    kawaiipineapple

    I wanted to stop reading after the first line. A flippant statement like that is not amusing in an article about suicide. The writing style of the rest of the article was also overly pompous.

    Moderator: How about outlining where you disagree with the writer? That is what the discussion board is for.

  • 0

    nemoflow

    A fairly well written list of cliches repeated ad-finitum in Gaijin bars the length of the country.

    The suicide rate in Japan isn't going to change. Only thing to worry about it not becoming one of the number.

    I mean, who HONESTLY cares about the amount of suicides? Darwinism in motion...

  • 0

    tkoind2

    I see that Japan suffers from a few key problems that must be reversed if both suicide rates and overall mental well being are to be addressed.

    "Gambarro Culture" living in Japan I have observed that suffering, frustration and limitations are almost viewed with awe and respect. Why? Because people are often valued by their capacity to Gambarro and suffer through.

    This thinking leads to people seeking or amplifying suffering in life to earn respect from peers. Like the salarymen in the office comparing how terribly late they stayed or the manager praising the staff member who collapsed in the office before taking a sick day.

    This thinking is twisted. Instead Japanese people should be respecting people who have the courage to improve their lives, the manager who is compassionate and caring and the workers who work efficiently and go home to their personal lives.

    So abandon "Gambarro Culture" in favor of a more rational "Balance Life Culture".

    Second. "Kawai-ism" needs to go. Too much of what Japanese think is good is based on vacuous, shallow representations of one dimensional realities. And that one dimension is "Kawai". Like a plague it is turning women into dolls, men into neutered grass eating waifs and everything else into characatures. Those who fail to become or appear cute are left out as undesirable. This kind of gradeschool measurement of what is good is childish and vapid and should be equally abolished and replaced with something new, such as respect for intelligence, capability, talent and the quality of character.

    There are many more solutions. But these are two key starter points.

  • 0

    zurcronium

    Japan is a pressure cooker for most. Many leave to go to Europe, many leave permanently. Consider it a cost of doing life in Japan the way it is done here.

    In the US we just shoot each other. Same result.

  • 0

    LFRAgain

    The author's heart is in the right place, but this article seems written more to help Mr. Sidell exorcise personal demons and deal with pain endured growing up as a shy person himself than any real effort to put a human face on the story of suicide. If anything, the author's use of his personal experiences with shyness serves to indicate that shy people can and do eschew suicide in favor of living. Which sort of lessens any impact he was going for and leaves us right back at the beginning with an impersonal set of statistics.

  • 0

    kawaiipineapple

    I agree with most of the article's conclusions, but they style is very trying.

  • 0

    jason6

    foxkenji and islands: that last paragraph is a rebuttal to the inevitable mutterings that the author will hear in response to his sincerely written article. there is a sizable portion of Japanese (and foreigners) that believe that anybody not of Japanese heritage should have no opinions on the nation's affairs. in other words, "mind your own business, we'll run our country how we like it". it's a defensiveness that doesn't really address the problem, which is what i think the author is trying to say.

  • 0

    ppayne

    I believe the U.S. population rate is around 2.1 per female all by itself. I know of several Christians who have gone out of their way to have 4-5 kids (my sister is among them) specifically to keep the "market share" of white Christian Americans from dropping. I believe the lack of patriotism in Japan is one of the reasons why the birth rates are so low.

    One thing about suicide: there are almost no drugs in use to help depressed people. Much as we dislike the American practice of using drugs for everything, clearly there are times when a person should be taking something for their suicidal feelings.

  • 0

    cleo

    shyness is the quality that Japanese parents most desire for their children, evidently because it is “cute.”

    That's a new one on me. I get the impression parents want their kids to be smart, athletic, kind and filial. All kids, like all puppies, are cute anyway.

  • 0

    cleo

    I know of several Christians who have gone out of their way to have 4-5 kids (my sister is among them) specifically to keep the "market share" of white Christian Americans from dropping. I believe the lack of patriotism in Japan is one of the reasons why the birth rates are so low.

    Insisting that the population should have a majority of your own demographic isn't patriotism, it's a mix of nationalism and racism. The reason for the low birth rate in Japan is the huge cost of raising a child plus the higher age at which people are getting married plus the difficulty for women of combining motherhood with a career (or even just a job).

  • 0

    LFRAgain

    Jason6,

    Good point, however I personally believe the majority of premises put forward in the last paragraph are mistaken, thus tainting the overall message of the article.

    For one, I believe it would be perfectly reasonable for Japanese nationals to question his qualifications in criticizing the roots of high suicide rates. Aside from not being a trained health care professional, social anthropologist, or cultural historian, Sidell seems rather convinced that modern Japanese society still clings to a romanticized notion of suicide, a la "The 47 Loyal Retainers," which simply isn’t the case. At best, he’s misinterpreted something in a culture he is no native of. At worst, it suggests the perspective of one still enraptured by intermediate-level university Japanese “culture” courses that devote a disproportionate amount of time to suicide as it was viewed in the feudal period.

    To many people, Japan is all about samurai, geisha, and honorable suicide. But Feudal Japan is not Modern Japan. Social attitudes have changed drastically in Japan over the past 100, 50, or even 25 years, and you’d be hard-pressed to find many social similarities between today and any period during which suicide was ever “romanticized.” In a nutshell: Modern Japan society does not revel in suicide as a possible solution, romantic or otherwise, to one’s hard luck. To continue to peddle this silliness suggests a shallow, cursory familiarity with Japanese society and culture that undercuts any efforts to find the root causes of the real problem.

    As if to cinch his image as one woefully uninformed, Sidell makes the bold claim that Japanese society feels “nothing needs to change.” Meanwhile municipalities across the country struggle with the unavoidable reality of an annual suicide rate of 30,000 or more going into its twelfth year. Tasks forces have been set up, public awareness campaigns have been started, and specialists have been dispatched, at the cost of tens of billions of yen per year. Japanese society does want things to change.

    Obviously, that change isn’t coming as quickly as some would like, but publishing a poorly-written article posing as enlightened and informed insight when all indications are to the contrary isn’t really the best way to contribute to finding a solution.

  • 0

    IvanCoughalot

    I stand corrected on the maths, and now have nothing but praise for the article.

  • 0

    GJDailleult

    @LFRAgain - I didn't read it as the writer exorcising personal demons. More like he has been there himself (so have I), and so understands just how paralyzing and damaging shyness is. And he isn't a shy person who eschewed suicide in favor of living, he is somebody who made the choice not to be shy anymore. Big difference. Most people have never been forced to make that choice, and have no clue how debilitating and destructive real, pathological shyness is. They think shyness is like when they were nervous at the high school dance or something like that.

    Reality is that shyness is a huge social problem, and at its core, the result of a fundamental lack of understanding of what life and relationships are about. As the writer says it is based on a fear of negative reactions, but that fear then becomes self-fulfilling. Their behavior itself leads to the negative reaction they fear. It is not much of a logical step to say that any country where shyness is common and even thought of as a positive (I cringed when I saw that item about parents last year too) might see the effects of that in their suicide statistics.

  • 0

    LFRAgain

    CORRECTION:

    The first sentence should read, "I personally believe the majority of premises put forward in the article are mistaken."

    Apologies.

  • 0

    LFRAgain

    GJDailleult,

    I agree with you entirely. I think shyness, or rather the social behavior we see in young people here in Japan lumped awkwardly into the one-size-fits-all category of "shy" needs to be addressed.

  • 0

    aedfed

    Two paragraphs; two mistakes. I quit reading after that. Japan's population is 127 million, not 135 and Russia isn't a member of the OECD. But hey, why let a few facts get in the way of opinions?

  • 0

    tkoind2

    LFRAgain. I agree that the ronin notions of Japan are pure romanticism and not a reflection of reality. But the Gambarro culture is very real. The tendency for Japan to be rigid and restrictive to both native and outsiders is easily observed. While the social points won for enduring these problems are also easily seen in how such people are so positively viewed in media, the work place and social circles.

    What gambarro culture fails to address, is that the pressures associated with living in a gamabarro fashion are often too much for people. That results in people breaking down after enduring too much gambarro culture instead of having the opportunity to extract themselves or seek help earlier on. The risk of being seen as weak, lazy or undesirable outweighs the common sense responses to warnings that depression, fatigue and emotional breakdowns normally reveal in other cultures.

    As long as people are expected to endure often senseless restrictions, work or carry on despite unhealthy conditions and submit to personal judgements based upon one's capacity to "endure", then the pressure will always be there and some will break down under it.

    Japan needs to work on mental health care and on ways to enourage people to recognize danger signs and respond to them. But society also needs to put aside the admiration for endurance and adopt more humanitarian views of life where enduring is only one aspect of life and one element in measuring others.

  • 0

    as_the_crow_flies

    To many people, Japan is all about samurai, geisha, and honorable suicide. But Feudal Japan is not Modern Japan. Social attitudes have changed drastically in Japan over the past 100, 50, or even 25 years, and you’d be hard-pressed to find many social similarities between today and any period during which suicide was ever “romanticized.”

    I totally second that, LFRAgain.

    On shyness,

    I think shyness, or rather the social behavior we see in young people here in Japan lumped awkwardly into the one-size-fits-all category of "shy" needs to be addressed.

    Yes, I think it's only because of that one-size-fits-all word, hazukashii that people start falling into the trap of calling it all shyness. Some of the emotional reactions and responses I see a lot here, and which are considered normal, I always associate with people with serious behavioural and developmental problems back home, such as autism. For example, total zoning-out and disengagement from an activity seems to be accepted here by 99% of teachers in 99% of classrooms (ball-park figures there, by the way). Junior high students showing emotional reactions appropriate to a child 5 years younger. Bullying in different forms as a major model of leadership. And adults not taking an interest, pretending not to see what's not convenient to see, sending the message that you're on your own out there. No wonder many children here grow up with seriously dysfunctional ideas, isolated, disengaged, and an inability or unwillingness to communicate their feelings.

  • 0

    LostinNagoya

    If 32,000 makes 3% of the total number of the deceased, then around 1,100,000 people dies every year in Japan? Isn't this number a little way too high?

    PS. I stand to be corrected too.

  • 0

    misoshiro

    You can not help somebody unless that person recognizes he/she has a problem, and is willing to embark on a theraphy or corective program.

  • 0

    herefornow

    LFRAgain -- you mus live in a different Japan than I do. I can give you numerous examples of "social similarities between today and any period in which suicide was 'romanticized'". Let's start with the obvious ones like: xenophobia, racism, and sexism. Also, as others have pointed out, the "the nail that sticks out, gets hammered down" philosophy is still very much alive. Sorry, but, deep down, Japan's social values have not changed that much, just the veneer on top.

  • 0

    bobbafett

    The problem is that a lot of Japanese people have no backbone.

  • 0

    dolphingirl

    I think the writer hit on a lot of good points. Depression is generally the result of both internal and external factors. Internal factors being one's personality. Being shy, reserved; perfectionism, pessimism; the inability to deal with stress, lack of problem solving skills. A person with these traits is going to be more vulnerable to the external factors such as constraints, societal pressures & expectations, daily stress & life problems.

    Put everything together and you end up with a person who feels hopeless, helpless and powerless. People don't commit suicide because they love life. They commit suicide because they feel stuck and don't see a way out. They don't see any future.

    To prevent suicides, you have to work from the inside out. First teach young people to be more sociable, outgoing, expressive. Teach them it's okay to make mistakes. Teach them how to handle life's stresses & problems. Then change the outer things. Give people more control over their lives. Empower people in the workplace. Let people make choices and be responsible for them. When people start realizing that they are not victims, that their actions will lead to both their successes and failures, then you will have a society with more happy people who are running their lives instead of having life run them.

  • 0

    DentShop

    Here are some statistics that surprised me..

    According to the WHO, Japan had 30000 suicides in 2007

    71% were male

    Of the males, 47% were over 55 years old and 24% were over 65 years old

    Of the females, 54% were over 55 years old

    My previous idea of a young stressed-out salaryman or student jumping in front of a train has been replaced by a lonely, frail old man overdosing on medication.

    Any thoughts?

  • 0

    smithinjapan

    dentshop: more disturbing is the trend of junior highschool students and children who off themselves as opposed to tired out, old men who have for one reason or another wound up in serious economic difficulty. How have those stats changed from 2007 and now? I'd bet the numbers have changed slightly.

    In any case; the author is bang on. The current government is only paying lip service to the issue, and as usual offering no concrete means to deal with it.

  • 0

    bicultural

    Who does this guy think he is? He obviously thinks he knows more about Japan or how to "solve" Japan than he actually does. What did this guy read to find out that Japanese parents want their kids to be "shy?" The shukan gendai or some other gossip magazine? I have never heard this being said, and they probably only interviewed young mothers.

  • 0

    bicultural

    The reason why the suicide rate is high in Japan is the whole "meiwaku o kaketakunai" mentality. Japanese kids are taught from an early age to be considerate of those around them and to not cause problems or be more of a hassle than necessary. It's their life so it's their choice to take it.

  • 0

    Bholder

    while agreeing with other posters there is also one aspect of this that has not been dealt with properly, namely financial and or economic reasons.

    the capital so dominates over the individual here that for instance you must inherit a persons debt if you don't want to give up any right to inheritance at all which is inhuman in my view. also, in you default on a real estate loan you no only get the estate confiscated you get stuck with the difference that remains between the price reached once the creditor has disposed of the property and the net worth of your debt in the first place. in other words you lose the property but are still under debt, with interest. mind boggling...

    not to mention the need for guarantors for any loan so if one defaults your family and/or friends go down as well. the suicide not only clears all this it helps put a positive balance on things because a lot of japanese life insurance policies indeed do pay a premium even in the case of suicide (there are also those that exclude it as well, but majority). so people are often put in a situation where not only do they feel like they have no way out, the suicide offers itself as a win win deal - the only way to delete the negative (debt) and as a plus leave something positive behind (a fat premium).

    financial system need to change so that the rights of borrowers are balanced with the rights of creditors, from the present situation where the creditors only are over protected at the expense of borrowers. the gambaro culture and a lot of other traits that lead to suicide are just an end result of deeper, fundamental relations between capital and individual, the former all-powerful and in control - the latter insignificant and impotent (shy if you will).

  • 0

    LFRAgain

    Herefornow,

    Xenophobia, racism, and sexism are social dynamics that exist across the world. Nothing uniquely Japanese about them. Yet it's Japan that sits at the top of the charts in annual suicides. Why?

    Despite your suggestion social attitudes regarding nationality, race, or gender haven't changed much over the years, the truth is they are no more similar to what they were in Feudal Japan, than attitudes towards suicides were. A striking lack of crucified Christians on Japanese beaches as a message to proselytizing Jesuits comes to mind when thinking of concrete examples. Women being allowed to work in the Japanese workforce and serve in the Self-Defense Force is another example. The fact that foreigners are allowed to live and work relatively free of obstruction in Japan is yet another. Things have changed in all those areas, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

    Ultimately, your random segue has little to do with the issue of suicide in this discussion, so I'm not sure why you're trying to introduce one thing (apples) as evidence of the existence of another (oranges).

    As for the adage -- it's not a philosophy -- "the nail that sticks up, gets hammered down," what does an expression of social pressure to conform have to do with romanticized notions of suicide as a legitimate way out of difficulties? If you could provide but one example found in popular culture that reinforces the idea that Modern Japanese think suicide is spiffy, I'd love to see it.

  • 0

    bicultural

    LFRAgain with yet another excellent post.

  • 0

    CreekDeTorrens

    @Lost in Nagoya

    Number of deaths in Japan was 1.142 million in 2008. (See: http://www.stat.go.jp/data/getujidb/index.htm A-1)

    I wonder where on earth did the author get the "shyness" quote. If he is going to make shyness such a central part of his argument, then surely he should quote his sources so we can examine his translation of the word.

  • 0

    kirakira25

    I agree with everything this guy said, except for the fact that parents want their kids to be "shy" - I am not buying that at all. However, I wouldn`t be surprised if they actually said they want them to be "quiet", "conforming" or "fit in" i.e. not rock the boat or stand out too much.

    The whole feudal Japan v modern Japan argument has some merit, but modern Japan grew out of feudal Japan, and I was shocked to hear my husband and his friends, all young-ish men in their thirties discussing the "beauty" of suicide one time. So maybe old habits do die hard.

    I agree with everything Tkoind2 said - this ganbarre culture is the root of many many social issues - amongst other things. Yes, the article is confrontational, but quite frankly I think it needs to be. It is time to call thigns what they really are, because the half-hearted attempts to address the problem by the government aren`t working.

  • 0

    BurakuminDes

    Good article. There just seems to be so many people here walking around with an intensely sad look on their faces. Family support lacking? Financial problems? Lack of psychological support? Who knows - but these issues need to be identified in Japan - and quickly. I mean, I have even read of the supposed existance of "suicide clubs" on the internet here, whereby people chat about suicide and supposedly plan group suicides... it is too hard for me to fathom.

    Let's hope somehow the statistics can be reversed and Japanese stop killing themselves at unprecedented rates.

  • 0

    yourock

    I think the author has a point about shyness. When J people say that I'm not shy at all, it's never a compliment. I just think screw it! I'm not changing, and I seem to attract going J-friends.

  • 0

    yourock

    whoops, meant out-going j-friends. Sorry.

  • 0

    missy25

    I feel for people who feel so hopeless and desperate to end their lives but at the same time i think they are extremely selfish and need to quit being being victims!! There are people who have no choiceand are dying of cancer and want to live, i bet if these people who "want" to kill themselves were put in a situation where they had terminal cancer i bet they would think about life differently!!! Life sucks sometimes but you suck it up and go on!! I had a crappy life but i am so grateful to be alive!! I know sometimes these people feel like they have no were to go but i can relate...i was alone, you just got to stop being a VICTIM and understand not everything is going to be wine and roses....and if you really really want to kill yourself atleast be a organ donar so someone else has a chance at life...

  • 0

    Frungy

    The problem is not shyness or cuteness. One could actualise a 30% decrease in the Japanese suicide rate simply by educating Japanese people about the importance of getting 7 to 9 hours sleep a night instead of the 5 to 6 most currently average. There's a mass of research showing that there is a causal link between higher rates of teenage depression and sleeping less than 7 hours a night, and further research shows that teenage depression leads to adult depression. Finally depression is the leading factor in suicide. So instead of putting up blue lights in train stations they should be educating people about the importance of sleep.

    By pinning the blame on "shyness" the author of this article displays both a complete lack of understanding. Get some sleep people! It's really as simple as that.

  • 0

    yourock

    Frungy- great, you have it all worked out.

  • 0

    brotokyo

    Frungy, can't disagree with you. I also think that if a Japanese puts the hand of another in his/her hand instead of a keitai ... just seems to be sooooo much lonliness and wanting to connect or waiting for a connection everywhere I look, and sadly the connection usually comes from the electronic gear one holds rather than the warm touch (or God forbid smile in this country) of another. I read a few days ago here (forgive me for forgetting whose post) that "more hugging and less bowing" is a step in the right direction. It was the best post I've yet to read in this forum.

  • 0

    GenevaMan

    I could see many of my J-friends being stucked in the worst and most sinister jobs, crappy romances, boring lifestyles, failed marriages and family life... Most of them don't chose something else, not because they don't want to, but just because they have no idea that somehing else is possible.

  • 0

    Icewind007

    As for the adage -- it's not a philosophy -- "the nail that sticks up, gets hammered down," what does an expression of social pressure to conform have to do with romanticized notions of suicide as a legitimate way out of difficulties?

    Do you not realize that is what the entire article was explaining? People not being able to live life because they have to conform. Those who cannot deal with this loss of "life" commit suicide instead of living life without "life".

    As for the adage -- it's not a philosophy -- "the nail that sticks up, gets hammered down,"

    This IS a philosophy. It deals with the "problem" of people not conforming to the ideals of the group oriented mindset of the "Japanese way." Because this directly interferes with one's desire to commit to their individual desires, it often develops into a strong depression.

  • 0

    Belesarius

    I think this is less of a problem in american society and many others because there is always more of a tribe mentality. Nerds if you will, jocks, popular kids etc all have there own groups. Plus people are just less interested in fitting in to a nich here. Where as in japan you have...well you have a place if you dont fit in a entire society tries to count you out.

  • 0

    Belesarius

    The bad part is in our society the differences between geeks/jocks etc are getting thiner and thiner. Sometimes its good to be us :P

  • 0

    GJDailleult

    I agree with everything this guy said, except for the fact that parents want their kids to be "shy"

    An article about the survey where that was stated was up on this site last year sometime, but doesn't show up on a search of the site. I remember because I thought something like "bloody hell" when I read it. How accurate the translation was and how valid the survey results were is another question, but I assume that is the survey the writer read about.

  • 0

    jbro888

    great comments everyone.

    But I think the problem isn't shyness. It's being shy for people who are not naturally inclined to by shy.

    Being shy is not a bad thing. I'm shy to an extent, it's just my personality. I don't have depression and I go out every once in a while with friends and go drinking.

    However, if you are not naturally a shy person but keep things inside to keep that image of being shy. That's where it gets unhealthy.

  • 0

    Frungy

    Yourock - No need to be sarcastic. Instead of criticising an inherently complex social phenomenon like shyness that has a tenuous link to suicide I'm suggesting a simple and easily corrected issue like education on the link between lack of sleep and suicide. It is something that could be done quickly and easily to bring about a significant decrease in the suicide rate, and could be rolled out across the country in a matter of weeks by a simple faxed lesson plan from the ministry of education to all schools. If you have a better idea to reduce suicide rates then speak up. If not then can the sarcasm and shut up.

    Brotokyo - I agree that the lack of genuine human contact is a huge issue, and the statistics bear it out, however that's a more complicated social dynamic to unwind, and is intertwined with the declining birth rate. Italy and a couple of other countries also had declining birth rates and they implemented a very simple solution by cancelling TV one night a week. With nothing else to do in the evening married couples found... alternative entertainment and the birth rate soared back up. Its something Japan should consider, except in Japan I'd also suggest shutting all clubs, bars and snack bars one night a week as well as TV, and then they'll see their birth rate rocket as couples are stuck at home with nothing to do ;).

  • 0

    gogogo

    All talk and no action, no one takes on the tough jobs in japan, just point fingers at people and make a scandal.

  • 0

    skipbeat

    kirakira25 said,

    The whole feudal Japan v modern Japan argument has some merit, but modern Japan grew out of feudal Japan, and I was shocked to hear my husband and his friends, all young-ish men in their thirties discussing the "beauty" of suicide one time. So maybe old habits do die hard.

    This is not going away and some people still practice and believed in Bushidō.

    In order to understand the high rate of suicide in Japan, the author should ask those who were/are contemplating suicide. Because we all have our own reasons as to why suicide happens in Japan. There are probably statistics on why people commit suicide like bully, bankruptcy, or depression along with other factors to have a clear pictures of what is happening in Japan. People don't commit suicide for no reason.

    I don't think shyness is it. The Japanese culture expects the majority of Japanese people to conform to the rules of society. Some rebel it and are seen as troublemakers. Some are torn between it. Some conform because it is a comfort zone that they don't want to let go of and expect the rest to conform to the standards of society.

    I think some Japanese people don't have self-esteem and are not able to climb out of their situation. There isn't a lot of encouragement from society much less from family and friends.

    Lyrics from the song, "What Faith Can Do" by Kutless.

    Everybody falls sometimes You gotta find the strength to rise From the ashes and make a new beginning Anyone can feel the ache You think its more than you can take But you're stronger, stronger than you know

    And dont you give up now The sun will soon be shining You gotta face the clouds To find the silver lining

    Ive seen dreams that move the mountains Hope that doesnt ever end Even when the sky is falling Ive seen miracles just happen Silent prayers get answered Broken hearts become brand new Thats what faith can do

    It doesnt matter what youve heard Impossible is not a word Its just a reason for someone not to try Everybodys scared to death You may decide to take that step Out on the water But itll be all right

    Life is so much more Than what your eyes are seeing You will find your way If you keep believing

    Overcome the odds When you dont have a chance (Thats what faith can do) When the world says you cant It will tell you that it can

  • 0

    30061015

    Grim Reaper

    I die, therefore I was. Because the individual is ostracized by Japanese social oppression, suicide is the last attempt to assert self in a Pavlovian culture that grooms idyllic conformity (cuteness, success ) from cradle to grave . Sad, that the only way to even show up on the radar screen is to be your own Grim Reaper.

  • 0

    poppler

    in the U.S., where people are encouraged to be outgoing, the birthrate is high and the suicide rate low

    Some interesting stats between Japan and US:

    -Japan's suicide rate among the under-24 year-olds is 40% lower than the US

    -the rates are about the same between 25 to 44 year olds

    -Japan's rates are about double the US's among the middle-aged and elderly

    I'm not sure I like the US's stats better than Japan's.

  • 0

    bboy30

    Hatoyama’s remarks were either a cheap, distasteful way to avoid assigning responsibility or a profoundly inhumane political “shoganai.”

    haha..now thats funny!

  • 0

    stipend

    it’s a symptom of a dysfunctional society

    I agree with that. I see it around me every day.

    Analyzing the trends Kyodo reports today Health, Labor & Welfare found people kill themselves mostly on the first and last days of the month. Great. How is that going to help anyone?

  • 0

    jonswan

    It's great to read so many smart posts on here - a lot of good thinking going on. Lots of truths, some of which may be painful to Japanese; - the bushido/samurai thing is silly and people should move beyond it - the gambare culture is often the wrong choice - shyness can cripple - society is rigidly controlled, almost as if the nation was at war and social control was vital - a lack of sleep is a serious factor in levels of depression and bad health (try it; it's real) - the work/life balance is warped beyond belief in favour of work; it's fundamentally insane - Smiling in Japan seems to be illegal; looking miserable is a grotesque national habit - debt is a major factor - ditto the idea of shame - so much of modern 'culture' seems staggeringly superficial - the 'work comes first' culture here is difficult for westerners to understand. Rarely would we subjugate our entire lives to make other people rich; it defies logic. Not in Japan.

    And my own personal views on the matter; I've felt suicidal at times in my life; what's kept me back are: embarrassment, an ability to see beyond the short term, a fundamental interest in life - even the bad bits, my imagination, my mother's possible reaction to it, the stupidity of the act itself, and the fact that you've got the rest of eternity to be dead; suicide is the ultimate stupidity, the ultimate lack of imagination. The Japanese don't show much imagination - hence suicide can seem a plausible alternative to an unfulfilled and difficult life. It's not an easy situation to resolve.

  • 0

    islands

    Your not kidding!

  • 0

    moonbeams

    The problem is not shyness or cuteness. One could actualise a 30% decrease in the Japanese suicide rate simply by educating Japanese people about the importance of getting 7 to 9 hours sleep a night instead of the 5 to 6 most currently average. There's a mass of research showing that there is a causal link between higher rates of teenage depression and sleeping less than 7 hours a night, and further research shows that teenage depression leads to adult depression. Finally depression is the leading factor in suicide. So instead of putting up blue lights in train stations they should be educating people about the importance of sleep.

    By pinning the blame on "shyness" the author of this article displays both a complete lack of understanding. Get some sleep people! It's really as simple as that.

    This and the economic system. It's easy to fall through the cracks.

  • 0

    T_rexmaxytime

    I think high suicide rate, drop in birth rate and lack of creativity comes from everyone being brainwashed/taught from when they are young that societie's need outweighs individual's need. Hence indviduals soon or later become just a replacable within the society and losing the individual goals and decision making abilities. Basically what I am trying to say is that Japanese society makes people forget what they really enjoy and want and conforms you to the way of the society which is basically brainwashing yourself to think what the society wants is what you want.

  • 0

    bebarisu

    Naturally, suicide is an issue, but it does not seem very clear to me how to deal with it. As this article states, factors such as unemployment are a big contributor to the issue despite being low comparative to other industrialized nations, so the real factor is how Japanese culture interacts with and interprets the world and events. The Japanese tendency towards introversion, as this article states, is a big part of this. It is where the article suggests Americans as a people to be emulated that I disagree. A society is a complex system of mechanisms arranged by culture, in other words if the Japanese were to adopt 'American' style extraversion this would fundamentally change Japanese society, which I would not wish to happen. To put it simply every culture/society will have its own advantages and disadvantages, and before criticising Japan for its high suicide rate, consider that the rates of crime (especially gun crime) and incarceration are far lower than the US. Just as people are unique, so are cultures, and will change naturally. I highly admire Japanese society, and the fact that it, as with all societies, has problems doesn't bother me as it is inevitable, sad, certainly, but then there is no 'utopian society' as the phrase itself is a contradiction.

  • 0

    bcbrownboy

    How many people are affected by one suicide? I would estimate about 50 people, at least, including family, friends, teachers, classmates, police, doctors, EMT's (my EMT cousin is constantly pulling down suicides hanging in their apartments). That means about 1,600,000 people a year are personally affected by these suicides. In the last 10 years, 16,000,000 people have been traumatized to some degree. I am no psychologist, but I would presume that this would create quite a negative effect on society as a whole. I agree with the author that this problem must be addressed soon! Thank you for writing this. Despite a couple of errors/generalizations, it is an excellent article focusing on a big problem

  • 0

    skipbeat

    bebarisu said,

    Just as people are unique, so are cultures, and will change naturally.

    Please explain this,

    A National Police Agency report revealed that there were 32,753 suicides in the country last year, exceeding 30,000 for the 12th consecutive year and accounting for 3% of all deaths.

    I don't see it naturally changed to the better in fact it is worse.

  • 0

    DamoSuzuki

    Excellent article Peter.

  • 0

    realist

    Russia and Japan top the list of suicides. Very sad. Could it be that maybe part of the reason is the quality of life, and the sheer boredom of both places, in the lives of most of their repsective citizens?

  • 0

    realist

    Excellent article, by the way.

  • 0

    dkz00

    damn, people here are just worried about the maths... wtf is wrong with you??? it's lives we're talking about. think that's why japanese are known world-wide as the "coldest people" on earth!!

    "Because a perpetually high suicide rate doesn’t just reflect a set of temporary circumstances — it’s a symptom of a dysfunctional society."

    says everything!!

  • 0

    bigsurchiba

    its horrible yeah.

    but I would rather live in a dysfunctional society where people kept their problems to themselves and internalized their angst by offing themselves, than live in one where people are extroverted and externalize their angst by offing the people around them.

    something to ponder before getting on the ain't Japan horrible bandwagon.

    sure, its sad, and there are a myriad of reasons why Japan has a higher suicide rate. on the other hand, I have no worries of a random gunman taking out his angst on me. sure there have been more of the random lashings out of late, but still.

  • 0

    dkz00

    only there's a difference between a gunman who kills for robbery (which is a problem on the local economy, like insufficient job offers) and the one who gets a gun or a knife and murders for psychosocial dysfunction.

    i don't say that's a jp's exclusive problem, but this country has already overcame the economy issues, this is a developed nation. then i think social problems should have already been dealt with, since the burden of poverty and its issues are not so heavy.

    and it is not healthy at all to supress your anxieties. talking is a good thing. don't knock it till you try it.

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