Japanese suicide explained

Why did the samurai cut their stomachs rather than their necks or anywhere else to kill themselves?

Like the Chinese, the Japanese believe that the life force (ki, chi in Chinese) is centred on the stomach. Choosing the most painful and least quick way to die also had a bit of macho posturing about it.

Why did harakiri (= seppuku) die out?

Somewhere along the way it became a political act as much as a personal one, and as early as when General Nogi commited seppuku after the death of Emperor Meiji, people risked labeling themselves and their families as political fanatics by choosing that extreme method. There is also the practical issue of swords being just as tightly controlled as guns. It must also be remembered that it was only a very small proportion of society that commited (and were allowed to commit) suicide by this method even in the Edo period.

Why do so many kabuki plays end in double suicide?

In the controlled society of Edo period Japan, it was the closest thing to them having their freedom that could be realistically obtained. Alternatively, it was just crap storytelling because the costumes and acting were more important.

Why are internet suicide sites the next big thing in Japanese suicide?

They are the next big thing in Japanese suicide stories in the Japanese and foreign press, but in fact the quickest growing sector of suicides is old people finishing things due to ill health, money problems and/ or loneliness. As to why they sprang up first in Japan, no theories yet…

Why is jumping in front of a train such a “popular” way of killing yourself?

 In any society particular methods of suicide go through “booms” that are almost like those of consumer products and are closely linked to the amount of publicity they get. Jumpers can hardly be hidden because of the transport disruption. There have also measures that have made other methods more difficult, such as not allowing solitary men into some hotels

Why do stories on Japanese education in the Western media always mention that the “exam hell” education system leads to suicide?

To be fair, many of the stories start in the Japanese media, where there is culturally even more of a focus on children as innocent victims than in the West. Add to that the need to add something negative to a positive story on Japanese education to provide “balance”. There is a lot of evidence to suggest, however, that university entrance exams are not a major cause of suicide, including the fact that teen suicide is higher during Junior high school than high school.

1 Comment

  1. October 18, 2009 at 5:09 am

    First I would like to say this is one of the most well informed and balanced articles on suicide in Japan I have ever come across online.

    I am a JSCCP clinical psychologist and JFP psychotherapist working in Japan for over 20 years. I would like to put forward a perspective as a mental health practitioner for some of the reasons behind the unacceptably high suicide in Japan. Mental health professionals in Japan have long known that some of the main reasons for the unnecessarily high suicide rate in Japan is due to unemployment, bankruptcies, and the increasing levels of stress on businessmen and other salaried workers who have suffered enormous hardship in Japan since the bursting of the stock market bubble here that peaked around 1997. Until that year Japan had an annual suicide of rate figures between 22,000 and 24,000 each year. Following the bursting of the stock market and the long term economic downturn that has followed here since the suicide rate in 1998 increased by around 35% and since 1998 the number of people killing themselves each year in Japan has consistently remained well over 30,000 each and every year to the present day. The current worldwide recession is of course impacting Japan too, so unless the new administration initiates very proactive and well funded local and nationwide suicide prevention programs and other mental health care initiatives, including tackling the widespread problem of clinical depression suffered by so many of the general population, it is very difficult to foresee the previous government’s stated target to reduce the suicide rate to around 23,000 by the year 2016 as being achievable. On the contrary the numbers, and the human suffering and the depression and misery that the people who become part of these numbers, have to endure may well stay at the current levels that have persistently been the case here for the last ten years. It could even get worse unless even more is done to prevent this terrible loss of life.

    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 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

    Tokyo Counseling Services


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