How can suicide be both so honorable and so disgraceful?

Given the role of seppuku (= harakiri) in Japanese fiction and history and the respect that people who did it are still held in, you might be surprised to hear that suicide in the family is a shame that is hushed up and can often cause families to move house so that they can avoid the stain on their marriage and job prospects that can ensue.

The main distinction seems to be that killing yourself due to private grief or depression is seen as selfish/ individualistic (basically the same thing in Japanese), while seppuku was often done to save other people and/ or as a public ritual. The other thing is that depression was until recently a taboo topic in Japan, perhaps because it was assumed that it was mainly genetic.

I suppose that doing something in public could also save you from gossip, a factor that explains a lot more in Japanese life than more popular topics like Confucianism, imo



  1. October 17, 2010 at 8:01 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by BlogLinkJapan, Priscilla Brooks. Priscilla Brooks said: How can suicide be both so honorable and so disgraceful? « Japan … […]

  2. October 17, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    The comments on past and present situation about suicide and Japan mental health are very thoughtful and interesting . There were samurai warriors who, as part of their honour code, committed seppuku (the correct term in Japanese and not the colloquial misnomer “harakiri” often misused and misunderstood in English media reports) is performed by plunging a sword into the abdomen and moving the sword left to right in a slicing motion. Seppuku was officially abolished as a means of judicial punishment in Japan in 1873. Voluntary seppuku did happen on a sporadic basis from then until the end of the second world war. The last recorded incident of seppuku as a means of committing suicide in Japan took place in 1970 when the novelist Yukio Mishima committed seppuku after failing in his attempt to incite military forces to stage a coup d’etat.

    Just from my viewpoint only, I think that In Japan it will take political will in order to reduce the tragically and unnecessarily high loss of real human life here through suicide.

    As a psychologist and psychotherapist here in Tokyo I have been working for just over two decades with people who are suffering depression and feeling suicidal because, among other reasons, there have no hope of starting again if they have lost their jobs or gone bankrupt or, if there are still employed, are under great stress and in a state of panic that leads, as I am sure you know, to work harder to keep their jobs and so to overwork and karoshi and karo-jisatsu. During that time it has been very frustrating at times to read poorly researched and uncaring reports in both the English and Japanese media reports that usually followed the announcement of the annual suicide figures did not focus on the deeper economic and social factors behind the problem of too high suicide rates in modern Japan.

    I would also like to suggest that as many Japanese people have very high reading skills in English that any articles dealing with suicide in Japan could usefully provide contact details for hotlines and support services for people who are depressed and feeling suicidal. Useful telephone numbers and links for Japanese residents of Japan who speak Japanese and are feeling depressed or suicidal:

    Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):
    Japan: 0120-738-556
    Tokyo: 3264 4343

    If you believe that he may be about to attempt suicide you should call the Japanese police:

    Emergency contact numbers:
    Both the police and fire/medical assistance are available 24 hours a day.

    110 is the number to the Police Headquarter Command Post, and 119 is to the Fire Department Command and Control Center. They will take your call, and arrange a police car, fire engine, or ambulance in case of emergency.

    You can dial 110 and 119 for free. Even from a public phone, you do not need a phone card or money. Hope this may be of some help to you.

    Tokyo Counseling Services:

    Very much enjoyed reading this post and many of the other excellent articles here. All the best.

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