We have seen and heard it in the news. Not once, not twice, but many times. They do it in the privacy of their rooms or in a far-away mountain where no one can see. But, worse, within the public’s eyes like in trains, and the latest, in the zero-accident, but now tarnished record shinkansen, where most likely innocent people could be affected.
In one high-profile suicide act committed inside the Shinkansen, one innocent passenger also died due to suffocation. Many Japanese have committed suicide. But, why? Why in such a beautiful country would some people choose to end their lives? I’ve tried to search for some answers to this query and let me share what I found with you.
Suicide happens everywhere. It’s a sad fact that some people struggling on this lovely Earth choose to discontinue fighting and make a permanent rest. “Jisatsu”(自殺) as it is called in Japan, is a universal occurrence. Japan is not alone. And more importantly, Japan is not the leading country with the highest suicidal rate.
In fact, Japan is only the 24th out the top twenty-five countries with the world’s highest suicidal rate. On the fifth spot is Suriname, Kazakhstan on fourth, Mongolia third, Guyana second, and Sri Lanka on the top. Japan is not even in the top ten list.
In my own opinion, it might be because Japan’s crime rate is really low and the news companies have nothing else to talk about but the self-inflicted crimes such as suicide. In other countries, there are more pressing issues in society, so talking about those who commit suicide takes a back seat. Media plays a big role in societal issues. The more the issue circulates in the media, the more it appears to be prominent, more than what it is in reality.
Maybe you have read somewhere how good and harmonious the Japanese are. How well they follow rules as embedded in their “atarimae”(当たり前) culture. Atarimae in English means natural, reasonable, and expected, although I can’t really come up with a more accurate translation. They do what is right because it’s “atarimae”. It is a natural thing to do. It is natural to throw garbage in the proper place. It is natural to fall in line and wait for your turn. It is natural to resign from your job when accused of something.
And sometimes, it is natural to end your life when you are in trouble and the trouble you are in causes trouble to the others. Like when a head of a company fails to do his job and puts the company in a terrible situation or an old person suffers from a disease and needs to be taken care of by his family. They don’t want to trouble others so they choose to end their lives. Japanese also value honesty and integrity. So much that when they are put into a disgracing situation, a scandal that tarnishes their names and reputation, they find it very difficult to handle and impossible to repair. A situation that can only be escaped by disappearing. Of course, this does not happen to every Japanese. Only to a very few.
In the ancient Japanese society, a ritual suicide by disembowelment called “seppuku”(切腹) and also called “harakiri”(腹切り) was formerly performed by Japanese samurai. Seppuku literally means “stomach cutting”. The samurai committing seppuku would normally use a small knife called “tanto”, a dagger, and cut their stomach while another samurai was acting as their second, lopping off their head.
This highly ritualized form of suicide, a part of samurai’s bushido (samurai’s way of life) was abolished as a capital punishment in 1873. But even after the abolishment, voluntary seppuku goes on in the military grounds. This behavior is said to be widely praised by propaganda.
I bet this could be one of the reasons why some Japanese still commit suicide. It is in the culture. It is in the history. In the end, we cannot really tell the reasons why some Japanese commit suicide because I believe that the best person who can tell us is the person committing the act him or herself, which, unfortunately, is impossible to achieve unless you see them and talk to them on the other side of life.
I believe all of us are aware of the hierarchy here in Japan and the statuses given to someone either superior or inferior to you.
Senpai (先輩), literally translated as upperclassman, or kouhai (後輩), underclassman, are statuses you receive beginning in kindergarten in Japan.
Bullying(or いじめ/ijime in Japanese) often occurs not only in schools, but also in companies, and sometimes the reason is this hierarchy.
There are also many cases when people are bullied because they are slightly different from others; for example someone who is a hafu (ハーフ) or “half”, a term used to describe the people that are only half Japanese, might be picked on. If you are sensitive to these matters, it might affect you greatly, especially as a child, and bullying is one of the reasons why many of the youngsters in Japan choose to end their life at a young age, finding no other escape but death.