The suicide rate in Japan is amongst the highest in the world. The main reasons for this are considered to be cultural primarily because it is very rare for Japanese society to allow people to emotionally and morally reconcile from the perception of failures and bankruptcies. At times, suicide is also endorsed in confirmation of being one’s fate and acceptance of responsibility. Suicide is also viewed as noble by the Samurai traditions in Japan, supposedly because Samurai warriors preferred to kill themselves to save their honor instead of suffering pain and torture at the hands of their captors. Unlike Christianity, which overtly forbids suicide, the main religions in Japan such as Shintoism and Buddhism are impartial about it. This paper will examine the issue of suicide in Japan, its history, the psychological and sociological aspects. Relevant statistics will be examined to arrive at a conclusion in regard to its pattern in the country.
Suicide is now considered a major national problem in Japan. The present causes of suicide in the country are primarily social pressures, a high rate of unemployment resulting from the economic recession during the 1990s, and high depression levels. Amongst industrialized countries, Japan has one of the highest rates of suicide. The most common ways to commit suicide include jumping from high places, leaping in front of running trains, taking an overdose of medicines, and hanging. It is ironic that railway companies in Japan charge the family of the person who commits suicide, a certain fee for having disrupted rail traffic. A new suicide method has recently gained popularity in Japan with the onset of suicide websites whereby poisonous gas is made with household products. In the year 2007 there were 30 suicides by using this method while in 2008, there were 867 people that committed suicide in this manner. Historically, suicide has never been criminalized in the country. The attitude of society in Japan has been quite tolerant towards it, and in many instances, it is viewed as being an action in taking moral responsibility. Recent trends have shown that with increasing internet popularity there have been a large number of suicide pacts known as shinju. This has triggered a lot of concern with the public and media since the pacts are a sheer example of being thoughtless. Public opinion has held the responsibility for a large number of suicides on the hardships faced by people due to economic problems (Japan Probe, 2009).
Japan has now achieved the distinction of being the suicide capital of the world. As per the announcements of suicide rate made by the World Health Organization (WHO), Japan holds the top position amongst the Group of Eight countries in regard to suicide by females and second only to Russia for males. A major social aspect of the suicide patterns in Japan is the fact that the practice is condoned and often glorified which makes people take the extreme step. Ancient Japanese culture allowed Samurai warriors to make amends for their wrongdoings by slitting open their bellies in a ritual called seppuku. After the surrender of the country in 1945, World War II came to an end and many people killed themselves opposite the Imperial Palace in showing remorse and repentance. The following diagram is clearly indicative of the large number of suicides happening in Japan as compared to other countries.
The Japanese suicidal acts are considered to be quite unique in that they are associated with giving the meaning of bravery and absolution. Suicide has for long been culturally and socially associated with saving the honor and fame of the family. In essence, it is regarded as being tantamount to the interpretation of the society and culture of the Japanese people. The Japanese government has been known to advertise in impressing upon its office bearers to commit suicide if the situation warrants saving face to prevent a likely uprising against its authority. Japan was made an awe-inspiring country by showing its manliness to the world in the willingness of its people to commit suicide. The success of companies such as Mitsubishi, Toyota, and several other MNCs of Japanese origin was paved by such an attitude in Japan (The Japan Times, 2009).
Suicides are committed due to psychological reasons mainly amongst the young who are aged less than 19 years and amongst middle-aged men. Youngsters get emotionally disturbed due to school or health-related issues and middle-aged people are unable to cope with the economic hardships. Some elderly people commit suicide in the country due to health-related problems (Kayoko, 2009).
Since suicide is deeply embedded in the culture and behavioral pattern in Japan, the pervasiveness of suicide cannot be said to be negligible as in other countries. The high rate of suicides in Japan has been a matter of much debate and the most peculiar aspect in this regard pertains to gender characteristics. It is known that the number of men committing suicide in Japan is much more than the number of women committing suicide. According to the data of the Japanese National Police Agency the suicide rate per 100,000 people in Japan was 24.1 as compared to 4.1 in Brazil and 10.4 in the USA in the year 2000. Presently also Japan continues to have a very high suicide rate as compared to other countries. Statistics show that almost 30,000 people commit suicide in Japan every year and the figures have increased after 1998. In the year 2006, there were 32115 people who committed suicide in Japan, which works out at a rate of 25 per 100,000 people and almost a hundred people every day. A unique characteristic in this regard is the fact that most of the suicides are committed after 5 am by men and afternoon by women. This is presumably because, by such time, other family members leave for work and other chores. Men are said to be more prone to suicidal tendencies than women in Japan because they tend to be extra reflexive and become easily tormented because of the increasing domestic and economic pressures (Best, 2003). Another cause is the different role expectations allocated to women and men.
Gender roles play important roles in the suicide patterns in Japan. It is men between the ages of 50 to 64 that are most prone to committing suicides. This pattern is not observed in women. The number of suicides has been greatly increasing with men who face financial hardships, which indicates the financial responsibility faced by men in providing for the family and in meeting the expectations of their employers. The number of suicides has increased due to the long-standing economic downturn. Suicides have also been known to have occurred to enable the family to get insurance claims. Women, on the other hand, are seen as being responsible to take care of the members of the family, and hence their suicide rate continues to below. But more and more women have suicidal tendencies in Japan as they grow older (Gallagher, 2008).
Although the population of Japan is less than half of the USA, the number of suicides in both countries is almost the same. Experts have been perplexed at the sudden increase in the number of previous annual suicides from 24,391 to 32,863 in 1998. This increase by 35% and the number of suicides at above 30,000 has been a common feature in Japan since 1998. There are two reasons attributed to the large number of suicides taking place in the country. One is the increasing instances of bullying in school and the other is the online suicide pacts which are also known as netto shinju.
There is indeed a strong need for the government in Japan to find solutions to this problem which will otherwise assume more serious proportions. Although the government has provided for about 15.8 million yen for programs to prevent suicides in the country, much more remains to be planned and implemented on a long-term and consistent basis. Although the present financial provisions go into projects to improve society, social observance, and strict supervision of the websites, there is no solution that can fit into a situation that solves the given problems immediately. Since the reasons for suicide are psychological and complicated, flexibility has to be adopted in detecting and preventing the practice. The process adopted has to be humane and directed from different facets. The health professionals and psychiatrists engaged in counseling and treatment must be increased and public health services must exhaustively cover depression and other mental ailments. A broader sense of cultural awareness has to be developed so that prejudice about mental illnesses, depression, and other grave life problems are eradicated from the categories of discomforting issues that need transparent debate. People have to be encouraged to refrain from keeping hard feelings to themselves, and instead discuss them in understanding the realities (Petrun, 2007).
Workplaces have to be made more tolerant so that they become places to reduce and cope with stress and work pressure. Young people need to be effectively monitored by the family, educators, and administrators. Suicide is certainly avertable if concerted efforts and adaptable approaches are used by way of counseling and empathetically dealing with those prone to such tendencies. Examples of success in this regard are Australia, Sweden, and Finland which considerably succeeded in lowering their respective suicide rates by way of instilling consciousness and commitment in people. These countries were able to build efficient systems for medical practices and for training professionals in the required fields. They invested funds effectively and were able to reap the benefits. Japan does not presently have vast budgetary provisions for this purpose but the issue of suicide remains to be urgently addressed and recognized as a top priority so that lesser harm is done to the society at large.
- Best Shaun, A Beginner’s Guide to Social Theory, 2003, Sage Publications Ltd.
- Gallagher Paul, One Japanese suicide every 15 minutes, 2008, The Observer.
- Japan Probe, Japan’s Suicide Rate.
- Kayoko Ueno, Suicide as Japan’s major export? 2009.
- Petrun Erin, Suicide In Japan. 2007, CBS News
- The Japan Times, One Every Fifteen Minutes, 2009.