Are you curious about Japan and its culture? Are you possibly planning a stay in Japan in the near future, studying Japanese culture for a class in school, or are you simply just intrigued by the unique society in general? One thing that is rather unique and possibly somewhat macabre about Japanese society, both historically and currently, is its attitudes about the autonomous termination of a human life. According to figures from the year 2007, nearly 100 people commit suicide in Japan each day. That is a rising number of annual suicides, despite supposed efforts by the Japanese government to actually attempt to reduce the rate.
In Japanese society the act of deciding one’s own fate and acting upon it willfully has historically been seen as a noble way of handling a difficult and otherwise potentially shaming situation. The art of “Seppuku”, which is a classical Japanese style of suicide, was often the chosen or sometimes even recommended path for many men and a part of Samurai training in Japan for hundreds of years. Seppuku is not a very efficient nor sensation-less method of committing suicide, as it is essentially a ritual in which a person essentially disembowels themselves. This is a rather ridiculous sounding proposal to most people today, but there was a reason for that specific type of ritual suicide that served a purpose. The center known as the “Hara” in Japanese, otherwise known as the solar plexus, is seen in Japanese culture as the location of one’s self. Thus the cutting of the stomach was seen as a clean way to release oneself from the human body. Seppuku is thankfully no longer a common way in which suicide is performed in Japan today.
Historical reasons for a formally ritualistic suicide had occasionally been rather ridiculous from a modern perspective. Sometimes they would include such nonsensical politics as offending an overtly greedy and controlling land owner. Since the family unit was considered more important than the individual in that era of history, a person could potentially redeem not only themselves in suicide but also their entire family. In this way suicide and its intentions were respected, sometimes recommended, and sometimes even considered a requirement.
Today the reasons for a relatively high rate of suicide in Japan is generally considered, by analysts outside of Japan, to be directly related to the fact that psychological counseling is almost non-existent in Japan in general. For a Japanese person to mention to any friend or colleague that he or she is seeing a psychologist would almost certainly be a form of social and professional suicide. This is just simply not normal or publically acceptable, and Japanese society is based around homogeny. The Japanese government and its political leaders have historically done very well at creating and maintaining a homogeneous nation of worker slaves. There is a well known Japanese saying, which can be paraphrased as “The nail that stands out gets the hammer”. It is thus rather questionable if the Japanese government actually wants to do what is necessary to effectively reduce suicide in Japan, as doing so would likely undermine politics and business as usual. The Japanese government claims to be making attempts to curb suicide rates, but its efforts are not known for being focused on counseling or psychological happiness.
While Japanese men in their 30’s are reportedly the most likely to commit suicide, it is reportedly also the number one cause of death for those under 30 in Japan. That being said, the trains tracks of Tokyo are a relatively popular option for many. If your train stops suddenly or is delayed during a stay in Japan, you should know that it rarely happens for any other reason.