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Monday, March 16, 1998 Published at 15:49 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

String of suicides shocks Japan
image: [ The number of bankruptcies in Japan has quadrupled this year ]
The number of bankruptcies in Japan has quadrupled this year

The economic downturn in Japan is being blamed for a recent string of suicides.
[ image: Businessman's car found in Tokyo Bay]
Businessman's car found in Tokyo Bay
Since the start of this year, there have been at least a dozen suicides related to the economy. The latest victim of Japan's economic downturn is the president of a small printing company who drove his car into Tokyo Bay.

He had been refused the bank loans he needed to keep his business going.

His death followed a suicide pact by three middle-aged businessmen in a Tokyo hotel.

[ image: Racehorse-owner Yoshiharu Shoji]
Racehorse-owner Yoshiharu Shoji
They decided to hang themselves because their businesses were failing and they could no longer pay their debts. They left notes apologising to their employees.

One of the three men, Yoshiharu Shoji, had been the proud owner of a prize-winning racehorse when Japan's economy was booming. He later had to sell the horse.

Number of bankruptcies quadrupled

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Since the start of this year, the number of bankruptcies has quadrupled compared to last year.

The effects of the recession are most keenly felt in small businesses in Tokyo. Recently a husband and wife hanged themselves because they could no longer afford to pay their employees.

[ image: Takashi Tokuyama understands the desperation]
Takashi Tokuyama understands the desperation
Takashi Tokuyama owns a factory in the same area. He understands the desperation of those who have chosen suicide.

"Three years ago we had thirty employees now we have just ten. There is not enough for them to do and we don't have enough money to pay them, " Tokuyama says.

"But I won't give up. I hope that something will come up."

Long tradition of suicide

[ image: Yukio Mishima chose Hara Kiri in 1970]
Yukio Mishima chose Hara Kiri in 1970
One of the most notorious cases was the writer Yukio Mishima, who disembowelled himself in 1970 after he failed to stage a coup.

He chose the ritualistic method known as Hara Kiri. In the past it was regarded as an honourable way to die and the dead in shame are stripped of shame.

Masafumi Nakakuki, a psychiatrist in Tokyo says many of his clients talk of suicide these days.

"It is accepted in this culture that whenever someone does something shameful then they commit suicide," Mr Nakakuki says.

Mixed motivations

[ image: Shoeki Arai hanged himself]
Shoeki Arai hanged himself
The threat of shame was believed to be a factor behind the recent death of the up-and-coming politician, Shoeki Arai. He hanged himself just hours before prosecutors were planning to arrest him on corruption charges.

But other suicides may have more mundane motives. One of the three businessmen who hanged themselves left a note saying he hoped his life insurance could be used to pay his employees.

Haruhiko Arita who works for Sony Life Insurance, the company that insured the dead man, admits that the Japanese insurance system is unusual.

"As long as you have held a life insurance policy for more than a year, you can receive a pay out even if you commit suicide," Arita says.


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