Suicide in Japan has become a significant problem nationally. Factors in suicide include unemployment (due to the economic recession in the 1990s), depression, and social pressures. Suicide is predominately the result of a combination of factors such as healthcare provision, social attitudes, cultural influences and economic distress. In 2007, the National Police Agency revised the categorization of motives for suicide into a division of 50 reasons with up to three reasons listed for each suicide. Suicides traced to losing jobs surged 65.3 percent while those attributed to hardships in life increased 34.3 percent. Depression remained at the top of the list for the third year in a row, rising 7.1 percent from the previous year.
The rapid increase in suicides since the 1990s has raised concerns. For example, 1998 saw a 34.7% increase over the previous year. Japan has one of the world's highest suicide rates, especially amongst industrialized nations, and the Japanese government reported the rate for 2006 as being the ninth highest in the world.
In 2009, the number of suicides rose 2 percent to 32,845 exceeding 30,000 for the twelfth straight year and equating to nearly 26 suicides per 100,000 people. This amounts to approximately one suicide every 15 minutes. However, this figure is somewhat disputed since it is arguably capped by the conservative definition of "suicide" that has been adopted by the Japanese authorities, which differs from the WHO's definition. Some people thus suggest a rather larger figure of 100,000 suicides a year. Currently, the conservative per year estimate is still significantly higher than for any other OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) country. In comparison, the UK rate is about 9 per 100,000, and the US rate around 11 per 100,000. In 2007, Japan ranked first among G8 countries for female suicides and second, behind Russia, for male suicides.
Demographics and locations
Typically most suicides are men; over 71% of suicide victims in 2007 were male. In 2009, the number of suicides among men rose 641 to 23,472 (with those age 40–69 accounting for 40.8% of the total). Suicide was the leading cause of death among men age 20-44. Males are two times more likely to cause their own deaths after a divorce than females. Nevertheless, suicide is still the leading cause of death for women age 15-34 in Japan.
The rate of suicides has also increased among those in their 20s, and in 2009 was at an all-time high in that age group for the second straight year reaching 24.1 per 100,000 people. The NPA likewise reported a record for the third consecutive year among those in their 30s. The rate among the over-60 population is also high, although people in their 30s are still more likely to commit suicide.
The most frequent location for suicides is in Aokigahara, a forested area at the base of Mount Fuji. In the period leading up to 1988, about 30 suicides occurred there every year. In 1999, 74 occurred, the record until 2002 when 78 suicides were found. The area is patrolled by police looking for suicides, and that same year 83 people intending suicide were found and taken into protective custody.
Common methods of suicide are jumping in front of trains, leaping off high places, hanging, or overdosing on medication. Rail companies will charge the families of those who commit suicide a fee depending on the severity of disrupted traffic.
A newer method, gaining in popularity partly due to publicity from Internet suicide websites, is to use household products to make the poisonous gas hydrogen sulfide. In 2007, only 29 suicides used this gas, but in a span from January to September 2008, 867 suicides resulted from gas poisoning.
Ties with business
Historically, Japan has been a male-dominated society with strong family ties and correlating social expectations; however, the bursting of the bubble which brought about the death of the “jobs-for-life” culture has left these heads of families unexpectedly struggling with job insecurity or the stigma of unemployment. Japan's economy, the world's third-largest, experienced its worst recession since World War II in early 2009, propelling the nation's jobless rate to a record high of 5.7 percent in July 2009. The unemployed accounted for 57 percent of all suicides, the highest rate of any other occupation group. As a result of job losses, social inequality has also increased which has been shown in studies to have affected the suicide rates in Japan proportionately more than in other OECD countries.
A contributing factor to the suicide statistics among those who were employed was the increasing pressure of retaining jobs by putting in more hours of overtime and taking fewer holidays and sick days. According to government figures, "fatigue from work" and health problems, including work-related depression, were prime motives for suicides, adversely affecting the social wellbeing of salarymen and accounting for 47 per cent of the suicides in 2008. Out of 2,207 work-related suicides in 2007, the most common reason (672 suicides) was overwork. (See Karoshi)
Furthermore, the void experienced after being forced to retire from the workplace is said to be partly responsible for the large number of elderly suicides every year. In response to these deaths, many companies, communities, and local governments have begun to offer activities and classes for recently retired senior citizens who are at risk of feeling isolated, lonely, and without purpose or identity.
Consumer loan companies have much to do with the suicide rate. The National Police Agency states that one fourth of all suicides are financially motivated. Many deaths every year are described as being inseki-jisatsu ("responsibility-driven" suicides). Japanese banks set extremely tough conditions for loans, forcing borrowers to use relatives and friends as guarantors who become liable for the defaulted loans, producing extreme guilt and despair in the borrower. Rather than placing the burden on their guarantors, many have been attempting to take responsibility for their unpaid loans and outstanding debts through life insurance payouts. In fiscal year 2005, 17 consumer loan firms received a combined 4.3 billion yen in suicide policy payouts on 4,908 borrowers — or some 15 percent of the 32,552 suicides in 2005. Lawyers and other experts allege that, in some cases, collectors harass debtors to the point they take this route. Japanese nonbank lenders, starting about a decade before 2006, began taking out life insurance policies which include suicide payouts on borrowers that included suicide coverage, and borrowers are not required to be notified.
Cultural attitude toward suicide
Suicide has never been criminalized in Japan.[clarification needed] Japanese society's attitude toward suicide has been termed "tolerant," and on many occasions a suicide is seen as a morally responsible action. Public discussion of the high rate of suicide also focuses on blaming the economic hardship faced by middle-aged men (see sarakin). However, the rise of Internet suicide websites and increasing rate of suicide pacts (shinjū) have raised concern from the public and media, which consider the pacts "thoughtless."
In 1703, Chikamatsu Monzaemon wrote a puppet play entitled Sonezaki Shinjuu (The Love Suicides at Sonezaki), which was later reengineered for the kabuki theatre. The inspiration for the play was an actual double suicide which had recently occurred between two forbidden lovers. Several more "double suicide" plays followed which were eventually outlawed by the governing authorities for emboldening more couples to “romantically” end their lives.
During Japan's imperial years, suicide was common within the military. This included kamikaze, kaiten and suicide when a battle was lost. The samurai way of glory was through death, and ritual suicide was seen as something honorable. Writer Yukio Mishima is famous for his ritual suicide while taking over a Japanese army base.
The cultural heritage of suicide as a noble tradition still has some resonance. While being investigated for an expenses scandal, Cabinet minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka took his life in 2007. The governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, described him as a "true samurai" for preserving his honour. Ishihara is also the author of the film "I go to die for you" which glorifies the memory and bravery of the kamikaze pilots in WWII.
Despite an economic upturn in 2007, suicide rates have continued to be high, prompting concern by the Japanese government. Describing the situation as very serious, they have called on municipalities to implement measures based on the differing realities. In 2007, the government released a nine-step plan, a "counter-suicide White Paper," which it hopes will curb suicide by 20% by 2017. The goals of the White Paper are to encourage investigation of the root causes of suicide in order to prevent it, change cultural attitude toward suicide, and improve treatment of unsuccessful suicides. In 2009, the Japanese government committed 15.8 billion yen towards suicide prevention strategies. Naoto Kan, the current prime minister, has spoken of his desire to "minimize unhappiness" in the country and has repeatedly spoken about the need to reduce Japan's high suicide rate.
Japan has allotted 12.4 billion yen ($133 million) in suicide prevention assets for the 2010 fiscal year ending March 2011, with plans to fund public counseling for those with overwhelming debts and those needing treatment for depression.
Amid the overall increase in self-inflicted death for 2009, the government claims there have been encouraging signs since September. The Cabinet Office said the number of monthly suicides declined year-on-year between September 2009 and April 2010. According to preliminary figures compiled by the NPA, the number of suicides fell 9.0 percent from the year before.
- Japanese work environment
- Shame society
- Suicide Circle
- Suicide in South Korea
- Demographics of Japan
- Etiquette in Japan
- Strom, Stephanie (15 July 1999). "In Japan, Mired in Recession, Suicides Soar". Health (The New York Times). http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F00E1DB173FF936A25754C0A96F958260&sec=health&spon=&scp=29&sq=suicide%20japan&st=cse. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
- Lewis, Leo (19 June 2008). "Japan gripped by suicide epidemic". The Times (London). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article4170649.ece. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
- Chambers, Andrew (5 August 2010). "Japan: ending the culture of the 'honourable' suicide". The Nation (Thailand). http://global.factiva.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu/ha/default.aspx?hc=Publication. Retrieved 2010-08-06.
- "Suicides due to hardships in life, job loss up sharply in 2009". Japan Economic Newswire.
- "Asia:Japan: Guidelines to Reduce Suicide Rate". World (The New York Times). 9 June 2007. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CEEDD163FF93AA35755C0A9619C8B63. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
- "Girl's suicide leaves dozens ill from fumes". /asia (CNN.com). 24 April 2008. Archived from the original on 18 June 2008. http://web.archive.org/web/20080618061051/http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/04/24/detergent.suicide.ap/index.html. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
- "Suicides in Japan top 30,000 for 12th straight year, may surpass 2008 numbers". The Mainichi Daily News. Dec. 26, 2009. http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20091226p2a00m0na008000c.html.
- Prideaux, Eric, "World's suicide capital — tough image to shake", Japan Times, 20 November 2007, p. 3, retrieved on 24 December 2010.
- "Suicides Top 30,000 Cases in Japan for 12th Straight Year". Jiji Press Ticker Service. 11 June 2010.
- "The different impacts of socio-economic factors on suicide between males and females". Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Week. 14 August 2010.
- Ozawa-de Silva, Chikako (December 2008). "Too Lonely to Die Alone: Internet Suicide Pacts and Existential Suffering in Japan". Cult Med Psychiatry 32 (4): 516–551. doi:10.1007/s11013-008-9108-0. PMID 18800195 p. 519 Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; name "ozawa-desilva" defined multiple times with different content
- McCurry, Justin (19 June 2008). "Nearly 100 Japanese commit suicide each day". London: The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/19/japan1. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
- Takahashi, Yoshitomo (1988). "EJ383602 - Aokigahara-jukai: Suicide and Amnesia in Mt. Fuji's Black Forest". Education Resources Information Center (ERIC). http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ383602&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ383602. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
- "Suicide manual could be banned". World: Asia-Pacific (BBC News). 10 December 1999. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/558798.stm. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
- "'Suicide forest' yields 78 corpses". The Japan Times. 7 February 2003. http://search.japantimes.co.jp/member/member.html?nn20030207b1.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
- French, Howard W. (6 June 2000). "Kunitachi City Journal; Japanese Trains Try to Shed a Gruesome Appeal". Health (The New York Times). http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9907E2DC173FF935A35755C0A9669C8B63&scp=1&sq=chuo%20japan%20suicide&st=cse. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
- "Japan suicides rise to 33,000 in 2009". Associated Press Worldstream. 13 May 2010.
- Harden, Blaine (13 July 2008). "Japan's Killer Work Ethic, Toyota Engineer's Family Awarded Compensation". The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/12/AR2008071201630.html. Retrieved 2010-07-07.
- "Japanese Suicide Rate Swells Amid Prolonged Economic Slump". RTT News (United States). 26 January 2010.
- Shah, Reena (2 August 1992). "In Japan, retiring is hard work". St. Petersburg Times (Florida).
- "Loans to tackle suicide". Geelong Advertiser (Australia) 1 - Main Edition. 30 December 2009.
- Japantimes.co.jp:CONSUMER LOAN CRACKDOWN Will lending law revision put brakes on debt-driven suicide?
- Spencer, Michael (23 September 2001). "Kabuki Story 2001". Creative Arts Net. http://www.creative-arts.net/kabuki/Breakdown/Story.htm. Retrieved 2010-08-06.
- Chambers, Andrew (3 August 2010). "Japan: ending the culture of the 'honourable' suicide". The Guardian(London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/03/japan-honourable-suicide-rate. Retrieved 2010-03-08.
- Lewis, Leo (12 November 2007). "90 suicides a day spur Japan into action". The Times (London). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article2852762.ece. Retrieved 2008-09-23.