It is often commented that Japan is a safe country to visit, crime is low and women can walk at night with little worry. However, Japan seems to have a high suicide rate, with some high profile cases appearing each month, in 2014, 70 people were committing suicide every day. Suicide rates have been declining in recent years, although suicide is still the leading cause of death for men between the ages of 20-44. There is one man who has taken it upon himself to try and turn this tide, Yukio Shige (茂 幸雄).
Suicide in Japan has historical origins, anyone who has seen a samurai movie has probably been introduced to the practice of harakiri or seppuku. Seppuku was ritualised suicide done by disembowelling oneself whilst a second person would remove the head once this had been done. Seppuku was carried out under a number of circumstances. One such reason was to release the soul of the warrior onto the enemy and stop a dishonourable death. Seppuku was also performed under orders as a punishment, for example if the samurai had lost or dishonoured himself. Sometimes seppuku was also performed after defeat in a battle, the losing sides damiyo was sometimes ordered to perform this act in order to weaken the clan that lost.
Sometimes ritual suicide was also performed by the wives of samurai, in this act the women would slit their throats to avoid capture or to remove dishonour on their family. Women of high-ranking families were taught how to do this as children. Ordered seppuku was made illegal shortly after the Meiji Restoration, however seppuku has still been carried out voluntarily since then, such as at the end of World War 2.
Suicide is still carried out in Japan today, but the methods have changed and so have the reasons behind this act. The top reasons for suicide in Japan are currently due to losing your job, hardship and depression. Bullying is increasing as a motivator to suicide, especially in people of school age. Suicide is now viewed differently in Japan, the government is committed to reducing suicide rates. They plan to do this by changing cultural attitudes to suicide and in offering better treatment for people who have attempted suicide. In suicide ‘hot-spots’ such as Aokigahara signs have been put up urging people not to take their lives and giving numbers they can call to talk to someone in their time of distress.
Yukio Shige is a 70-year-old man living in one of Japan’s suicide ‘hot-spots’, the Tojinbo Cliffs. In his earlier life Yukio Shige was a policeman, now he devotes his time to try and reduce deaths by suicide in this area. Yukio patrols the cliffs with a pair of binoculars looking out for people who might jump with three volunteer who help him in his work. In the past 10 years Yukio Shige has saved around 500 lives, he is truly amazing! So what does Yukio do in order to help these people? He talks. Yukio allows the jumpers to simply talk to him, to have a sympathetic ear and to accept help. Yukio has six apartments which he offers to use of to those he saves. He helps them rebuild their lives and to consider other options rather than suicide. If the person is in financial difficulties Yukio takes them to a financial aid office, if they have lost their job Yukio takes them to an employment agency, if they have nowhere to live Yukio gives them somewhere to stay. Yukio’s crusade is driven by two events, the death of a close friend by suicide and by helping an elderly couple on his last day as a policeman. Sadly the couple he helped on this last day took their lives after being denied aid, so now Yukio takes a more central role in helping those in need.
Yukio Shige is truly a kind and considerate man and his altruistic motives are obvious to see. Hopefully, more people feel like Yukio and support those who are struggling and help them stay alive.