Hung Up On Suicide
An article came out today about Japan's suicide numbers for 2006 and it prompted me to do a little research for some comparative analysis.
First, read this article.
Basically, the article says that while the suicide rate dropped slightly this past year, it still topped 30,000 for the ninth year in a row. Why is this such a big deal? Let me put it into perspective for you.
Japan's population is just under 130 million people and the land mass of Japan is slightly larger than that of California. The United States has a population around 300 million people and a land mass that makes Japan look like a speck of dust. Here you have this tiny country with less than half of the US population but with a suicide rate as big as our own. Thats crazy. If Boise, Idaho was representative of Japan, the entire city would have killed themselves in about seven years if it had the same suicide rate.
So why do Japanese people kill themselves is such numbers and Americans as a whole do not? I think there are two reasons. First, most of the American population is of a Christian faith. Suicide is a big no no in Christianity and therefore, is somewhat of a taboo in American society. Most of Japan would say they are not religious but like other Asian cultures, the society is built around Buddhism. The odd part is statistically, more people associated with Christianity or Islam kill themselves than people of Buddhist or Hindu-based faiths. Secondly, Japan has historically seen suicide as a brave and honorable way out and a way to relieve your family of the burden and shame you believe you have have put upon them. Being unemployed, being found guilty of a crime no matter the seriousness, bad school grades, ugliness, bullying both in school and in the workplace are all excuses I have seen for people offing themselves here.
School kids have a very high suicide rate in both countries but Japan's is worse. Usually, if a student kills themselves it's due to bullying. You can say that there is bullying in US schools too but it is not the same. Bullying is much worse and much crueler here, when is the last time you heard about an American girl getting her little finger cut off by her "friends" who then wanted to serve it in a bowl of curry? Never right, that happened last week here. If the stuff that kids say to me is half of what gets said to their peers, I can see why they become so demoralized. Lately, I have had to crack down in one of my own classes because I have one student who will not stop hounding another student about his weight and I won't tolerate it. This same kid has said stuff to me before but I am an adult, not an eleven year old, and can handle it. And when I say that this kid is hounding the fat kid, I am not kidding, in the sixty minutes of class this kids spent forty-five of them ragging on the other kid even after I told him not to. Aside from the bullying, students in Japan are forced to deal with a lot more stuff sooner than kids in the US. Can you imagine taking a test that will determine the rest of your life when you are fifteen? Kids here do just that every March or April. They are forced to mature faster than children in the States and I think that takes a toll on them.
Anywho, I also found the methods that people use to kill themselves somewhat interesting. In Japan, the big three ways to send yourself out are hanging, jumping, and trains. What travel guides don't tell you about Mt. Fuji is that at the base of it is a forest that the Japanese call the "Ocean of Trees" and each year they find over a hundred bodies of people that chose that forest as a nice place to leave this world. It has gotten so bad there that a group is posting signs in the forest telling people that if they are in debt, suicide isn't the way and they can help them.
The issue of death by train also got to the point where the JR company, the folks that run the train system, issued a statement that warned people against jumping on to the tracks or else the company would fine the person's family for the time and money lost by having to stop the train line and clean up the mess. You see, in places like Tokyo, hundreds of thousands of people ride the trains each day. If one person gets splatted by a train, they have to shut down the line, investigate and clean up the stain on the railroad. This delay can inconvenience tens of thousands of people depending on what train line has to shut down and what time of a day it is. Usually the delays are only half an hour or so but half an hour is a lot of time and money. This means that if you were to jump in front of a train on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo at rush hour, your family could end up having to pay thousands of dollars for your selfish act. Since that rule has been put into place, more people go out into the countryside where less people will be delayed by their becoming a bloody, chunky splotch on the tracks and that way their families don't have to pay too much of a fine.
Many people jump from apartment buildings to end their lives. While it may be morbid, it makes for good reading when articles come out about how lucky one guy is to be alive after a suicidal schoolgirl brushed him on her way to her abrupt end on the pavement. That was a news story two weeks ago. There are very few suicides here that involve guns or drugs and that is due largely to the fact that there aren't many guns or drugs here. Death by over-medicating would be a pain in Japan because their drugs are so weak. A Tylenol in Japan is half the strength of one in the US and most drugs here are the same way if you are going to OD on something here, you are going to need a lot of it. Trains, hanging, and jumping are much quicker and more effective ways.
I know that in writing this, it sounds like I don't really care about all of this and that I find it kind of funny. Suicide is a tragic thing and it sucks that people get to the point where they see it as their only option but it is just so common here that I probably see at least two or three news articles a week, reporting some random suicide. It is hard not to get somewhat jaded over it because if I were to feel bad every time I read about some kid hanging himself or throwing herself off a building, I would be depressed several times a week. I find differences in Western and Japanese culture fascinating and this topic is one that stands out to me as a blatant example of such a difference. I don't mean to be rude or morbid, I am just curious.