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Last Updated: Friday, 15 October, 2004, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
Why are suicide pacts on the rise in Japan?
Body bags
Japanese police have discovered the bodies of nine young people who apparently committed suicide together.

The people, all reported in the teens or early 20s, met on the internet in one of the suicide websites that offer advice to those who plan to kill themselves.

In July 2004, The National Police Agency reported that the number of suicides in Japan has risen to its highest level since records began. Economic difficulties and an increasing sense of isolation are believed to be contributing to the rise.

Why do you think suicide is on the rise in Japan? What can the authorities do to discourage suicide attempts? What does it say about the pressure young people are under? Send us your views using the form.

This debate has now closed. Thank you for your comments.


Your comments:

Japan is a western country with a traditional eastern culture. Japan doesn't know where it sits in the world. Developing at a relatively rapid rate it finds itself betwixt and between two worlds and the young live a life of mixed messages; western individuality and expression of feelings and emotions (to a degree) and traditional community identity, compliance and the non expression (overtly) of feelings of sadness, loss and, some may say, love. Japanese people obviously love each other but there is little physical expression, it seems. Maybe the young want to see the status quo change. It will change, but in the meantime the young may be lost in an east-west void. Suicide could be the only exit from that void.
David Fisher, Tatsuno, Nagano Japan

Can we get a sense of perspective please. I am a British guy living in Japan and am surrounded by perfectly happy, pretty well off friends and colleagues. Japan does not have the highest suicide rates in the world (I believe that distinction belongs to Hungary or Finland but don't quote me). But, throw in preconceptions about harakiri and kamikazes and all of a sudden you have a major media issue! Suicide a "respected part" of Japanese culture. Nonsense! Tell that to the grieving relatives. Don't single out Japan or start making prejudicial comments about the society just because 9 people have chosen not to die alone. What about the remaining 126 million?
Philip Seaton, Sapporo, Japan

People with problems here don't consider it an option to seek the help
Liz, Nagano, Japan
One of the main problems here in Japan is a serious lack of qualified counsellors and psychologists. Government inquiries into youth violence and karoshi (death, including suicide, from overwork), recommend specially trained counsellors, but these individuals are simply not available. People with problems here don't consider it an option to seek the help of a "counsellor" to talk about personal issues. Another problem is that friends and neighbours don't intrude in another's personal life, even if they notice serious problems. Life in Japan can be a very lonely life.
Liz, Nagano, Japan

This shocking incident must have shown one aspect of problems that contemporary Japanese society has. The meaning of "development" and "progress" seems to be blurred more and more...what did the society leave out while pursuing economic growth during 60s-70s? What kind of new goals should Japan set for future generation? The urgent issue is to start meaningful conversation among people. Without communication, desperate young people wont find a way for future.
Noriko , Ann Arbor, USA

Having worked in a Japanese bank it hardly surprises me. Europeans were pretty much the odd ones out there. Their lives seem so regimented. No Japanese worker left before the boss in the evenings. Some of them stayed there until 9 or 10pm doing absolutely nothing... why? Because "it's not considered polite" One of my co-workers saw his children for about 3 hours a week. And people are wondering why suicide rates are increasing.
Sergio, UK

I arrived in Japan 3 months ago and teach in a city in rural Japan. I believe I am right in saying that anti depressant drugs are not available in Japan, and perhaps this is contributing to the high number of suicides. But in England we face the equally sad problem of millions of people who live numb and meaningless lives, dependent on drugs to keep them going. We also have to deal with escalating numbers of young people turning to self-harm. Yes, Japan has its problems, but I think it is all too popular for people around the world to scrutinise and blame the Japanese people for their problems when we don't treat other countries with the same kind of patronising contempt. It is easy for us to criticise the Japanese because all too often, they won't or cannot argue back.
Jessica Hill, Sagae, Japan

Many of the comments here highlight the same basic issue; we are not machines and we need to break away from the pressures of our business culture. Business and industry are not just destroying the environment but our souls too. The 'dream' is a myth, even a nightmare these days.
Ian Greenwood, Milton Keynes

It is hard to change a culture that has evolved over centuries
Andy Bird, Cheshire, UK
This is not a new thing. The ultimate method of preserving self respect is 'death before dishonour'. Centuries ago, Samurai fell on their swords. More recently, there were Kamikaze pilots who died for their cause. This of course doesn't make it right, but perhaps it is hard to change a culture that has evolved over centuries.
Andy Bird, Cheshire, UK

Young people everywhere are vulnerable to pressures that will lead them to take their own lives, however i find it extremely disturbing that there are sites on the internet that encourage suicide, and not many people seem to be addressing this issue?
Nabeel Al Mehairbi, Abu Dhabi, UAE

This just highlights the stigma associated with mental health problems, as if these people could've admitted their depression, who knows they may not have had to do this.
Izzy, Cupar, Fife

If people are forced to be what they are not and to live up to (unhealthy) standard then eventually they will collapse. In the West many of us have a break down and a high percentage of people are seeing a psychiatrist or other types of counselling. I believe the pressures are the same everywhere but maybe in Japan there is no place for the individual as much as in for example the West
Sarah, the Netherlands

The country is going through a difficult period of challenge and change
Becky , Misawa, Japan
I have lived in Japan for 10 years and it has been my experience that the Japanese culture is far from backward. The country is going through a difficult period of challenge and change, and many younger Japanese have gotten out of touch with traditional values. These are just as suitable and applicable to modern circumstances as any western ways.
Becky , Misawa, Japan

Suicide is on the rise because life is moving faster than a person can live. The faster we go the less life is worth. We need a place where we can live simple again and believe in something higher than ourselves.
Steve Hamilton, Spokane WA.

The list of reasons is endless. The pressure to achieve in Japan is immense. Companies that traditionally employed people for life are cost cutting and laying off staff. Unemployment is rising. Working hours are ridiculously long and underpaid. The cost of living is high. Social life is almost entirely based around work. Cities are heavily over crowded. It's virtually taboo to even admit to having problems let alone speak about them. Traditionally suicide is seen as an honourable death. It's not surprising the rate is so high.
Nigel, Fujisawa, Japan

Japan has a special way to work as a society; everybody must behave and be respectful of others
David Cormier, Tokyo, Japan

Japanese culture is unique. I've travelled in many places around the world, and I've never seen such a respectful society as Japan is. I have never felt that safe in a city. The crime rate is incredibly low (beside Yakusa's activities). Japan has a special way to work as a society; everybody must behave and be respectful of others. On the other hand, keeping all that frustration for yourself, combined with the stress to succeed (going to the best school, working for a big firm), will definitely be too much for some people who can't cope with pressure. Japan is a society that works as a whole, very low crime rate, but high pressure to succeed. This will unfortunately have a bad side at some point and that is why I think suicide is on the increase.
David Cormier, Tokyo, Japan

I think there is really no difference when it comes to what people value - life, happiness, freedom, spirituality etc, wherever on the earth you live. We should be asking which social structures lead to this kind of human behaviour, rather than focusing on Japanese beliefs.
Harutomo Hasegawa, Kyoto, Japan

In 70s we were not rich but we had dreams. If we studied and worked hard, we could buy TV sets, cars and so on. We've never imagined that our companies go bankrupt or we get fired for a recession. We are pessimistic and vulnerable. Once we lost a life model, we have a difficulty finding new one. Now adults in Japan are struggling to find new dreams or purposes to live. We have to change or we can't show a brighter future where young people will want to live.
Akira Tsutsumi, Nara, Japan

The Japanese I have met who have lived abroad always express a sense of freedom. Less peer and family pressure. Perhaps Japanese society can help by judging success less on materialistic values and more on someone's happiness in their chosen path and their relationships with friends and family.
Mike Moore, Tokyo, Japan

Japan seems to be struggling to address these very important issues
Jonathan Brody, Northampton
As a graduate student of clinical social work and someone fond of Japan and Japanese culture, I am saddened, but not surprised by this unfortunate news. I could not agree more that Japan has - and has had - major unmet mental health care needs. Exacerbated by its stagnating economy, and cultural transitions (e.g. family, feminism, etc.), Japan seems to be struggling to address these very important issues. However, I have great hope that a new generation of Japanese youth will take responsibility for addressing these needs (mental health and otherwise), and in doing so, infuse a much needed dose of humanism into the arm of Japan society.
Jonathan Brody, Northampton, USA

Suicide is the outcome of living in a modern world that makes everyone believe that material wealth is necessary, as the emotional, spiritual and social needs of every human being are totally lost.
Esra Karatash Alpay, Istanbul, Turkey

This seems to be a perfect example of why money is no ticket to happiness. Hard work is a virtue, but I don't see the point of doing it to gain some completely unforeseeable end as is the case in Japanese culture.
Graeme Phillips, Guildford, UK

Do not tell me that they do not mourn for their loss
Bruno, Edmonton, Canada
A culture of high expectations and honour and shame exist in Japan. In order for it to change, all of society must look at themselves and see what progress they have made. Yes, they are the second largest economy on Earth (third if the EU gets into gear) but at what price? Sometimes it is good to go back to the basics. As for suicide being acceptable; are these parents absolutely cold? Do not tell me that they do not mourn for their loss, especially, if it was a son who died and the family name cannot be carried on.
Bruno, Edmonton, Canada

Telling these people that they are emotional and mental basket cases on TOP of everything else is hardly the way to solve this problem. Suicide is a respected part of Japanese culture - sometimes the only choice you have left in life is whether you can endure it any more.
Iain Howe, Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Japanese culture is one of the most unique and stressful in the world
Rika Kinoshita
The Japanese culture is one of the most unique and stressful in the world. Being different is considered a crime, and being assertive means you are trying to show off. On the other hand, agreeing with others even when it is the complete opposite of your personal opinion, and respecting your seniors to such a degree that respect is no longer respect but merely a way to fit in with other members of society put such a burden on the people of Japan without them knowing it. I am Japanese and have spent more than 10 years living abroad both during childhood and adulthood. Therefore, I can never act like a "pure" Japanese due to how unique the culture is. The people of Japan have to realize how such a stressful system of society is affecting its people, and how it is the reason why suicide rate is so abnormally high.
Rika Kinoshita

I think suicide is on the rise in Japan due to stress that starts at an early age and only increases. Often suicide is the result of unbearable physical or mental pain. Undoubtedly, when groups of children end their lives, it is probably not due to physical pain of the group, but rather individual mental anguish. In a culture where actions do speak much louder than words, it is often very difficult for suffering individuals to speak about their pain.
Frank Fossler, Tokyo Japan

This focus on oneself denies individualized needs,
Wilson Winter, União da Vitória
Suicide is increasing because life in Japan is more and more based in individuality; that is, everyone is guided from the very early ages to be too independent and to develop no need of others. This focus on oneself and the traditional behaviour of treating all as they were the same denies individualized needs, mainly in the aspect of affectivity.

Authorities could launch a huge national wide campaign aiming the reflection on the theme and inquiring a attitude of parents in relation to adolescents, as well as promoting the idea that parents and society in general do love their youths and not only have expectations on them.
Wilson Winter, União da Vitória, Brazil

How about putting positive alternatives on the web? Offers of counselling and meeting of friendship and support groups, with suggestions of how to cope and enjoy life rather than how to die. Singapore has some good internet based counselling options, so it would be good if Japan could follow suit.
Megan, Singapore

Mixed and confusing signals from the government
Ross Wolverson, Barnstaple, England
I am a 19 year old UK resident back packing around Japan at the moment and have encountered these so called "suicide web pages " at public internet cafes through out central and lower Honshu (the central Japanese island).

I can see why young people are feeling isolated in this culture of order and reserve, to my mind the younger generations are trying to establish themselves as modern western citizens but are finding it hard to find there way in Japan, a country still very much trying to find a balance of its own between the eastern customs and western life style, if the country is off balance, what hope is there for its younger generations? Mixed and confusing signals from the government, friends family and the education system mean that being the modern Japanese citizen is now more of a fight with ones self in a balancing act of cultures.
Ross Wolverson, Barnstaple, England

I live in the town which apparently has the highest suicide rate in Japan. People blame the economy or so-called isolation, but the climate probably contributes more than anything. Suicide is also not perceived as something THAT bad here either, it is often nothing to do with depression or poverty but just, "well my life has to end sometime, so why not now when I am young and in my prime". (I am not condoning this attitude though)
Chris Sato, Akita, Japan

The only way to stop suicide can come from strong family values and good friend circle
Raj, Tampa, US
The only way to stop suicide can come from strong family values and good friend circle. Parents should understand there children give them time and help children to takeout there frustration. Yes government can help is encouraging family programs good outdoor sports you cannot leave in a world where people are isolated and on internet where people come to get time from someone a wrong person on internet can spoil the life of the other. I hope this tragedy is over soon.
Raj, Tampa, US

Help people in Japan to mingle with people in some other countries, and provide them with big grounds to play golf, cricket, baseball etc . Today as our world is on the way to become a small village with the help of globalisation we can make Japanese feel that they are not alone. We are with them and can be good friends. I like to say that people should enjoy their life remembering the thought " we live as if though we never die and we die as if though we never lived.
Kaushal Joshi , Bangalore in India

What they are facing now, the world will face in times to come
Yasir, Pakistan
I take Japan as the most modern country in the world. What they are facing now, the world will face in times to come. Perhaps suicide attempts have something to do with their religion, but then physical death is not the only way to die. These people feel dead from inside even if they don't attempt a suicide.
Yasir, Pakistan

There are so many annoying pop-ups for advertisement. Authorities should use pop-ups to reach those who are visiting the suicide web sites. It may only help a few but at least they will see there are options and help available.
Jackie Sanchez, Grants, New Mexico

Nobody can stop suicide in Japan. If you live in Japan for 10 years, you will want to take your own life. In Japan, most people always speak ill of others. If you work hard in Japan, you can not succeed because most Japanese are so jealous of others' success. Long long ago, hard-work, politeness and humility were virtues in Japan. However such characters are now dead. We have lost the Samurai spirit.
Shigeru Ishikura, Matsue, Japan

There is absolutely no way to stay alive without money
George L, Tokyo, Japan
In my limited opinion, I think that the rise in suicide in not surprising within country where there is absolutely no way to stay alive without money and a great societal pressure to maintain appearances irregardless of ones capacity to conform. The authorities are helpless because they themselves are immersed in the same quagmire.
George L, Tokyo, Japan

As we read in business school there is a limiting factor for everything. Japan has grown socially and economically way ahead of all other countries. Its social structure no longer supporting the very basic need of living together with interaction and most of all as social being.
Mushkik Ahmed, Manila, Philippines

As an Asian Christian, I believe that the overt emphasis on honour vis-a-vis facing one's problems with the help of a higher Power is something that ought to be corrected in some way. I would encourage the Japanese government to allow and encourage more exposure to life-affirming belief systems like Christianity in the popular media, bringing exposure to the idea of living life to the full to more people so that these things do not happen again.
Ren Aguila, Quezon City, Philippines

Counselling should be made compulsory for those who exhibit symptoms of depression
Hariprasad, Ranipet, India
Mental depression is one of the most common causes of suicide attempt. Especially in the adolescent group, if there is no proper guidance by parents or teachers, adolescents become frustrated in some of the cases like failure in love or failure in exams and attempt to commit suicide. In Japan life is becoming more mechanical day by day and spiritual thoughts like attaining greater heights by believing in God and other supernatural powers are coming down. The authorities can discourage suicide attempts by showing the young people the movies about great international personalities and their achievements hardships etc. Psychology should be made a compulsory subject at high school level and counselling should be made compulsory for those who exhibit symptoms of depression.
Hariprasad, Ranipet, India

Suicide in Japan doesn't really carry the same stigma as in the UK. Consider the fact that life insurance companies will pay out to the victim's family even in the event of suicide. This is significant because the majority of people that chose to commit suicide are older and do so for health or economic reasons. The Japanese that I spoke to point out that these suicide pacts formed over the internet seem to make it a lot easier for people thinking of committing suicide to do so.
Gavin Buffett, Saitama, Japan

Myself and others like me are unwilling to work with a social and economic system that we have no faith or trust in
Leif Harding, Winchester, UK
I would probably be considered Hikikomori, as would most of the people I know (online); I don't find any satisfaction in materialism, I didn't go to university just to get a good job. When compared to my peers who are now working full time and probably thinking about how they can afford to have a family or buy a house, I might be a failure.

But myself and others like me are unwilling to work with a social and economic system that we have no faith or trust in. I think that once you realise there is nowhere you can live without following a routine set by your fiscal circumstances, (i.e. a wage slave), suicide might seem like the only option. Perhaps if the youth of Japan and other countries were offered the opportunity to carry out charity and humanitarian work, and be supported to the extent of their living costs by their government, they would find this a more meaningful future than corporate subservience or death. However, I doubt any such option will become available to the thousands who could make use of it, because the majority of society remain unaffected by these suicides.
Leif Harding, Winchester, UK

I live in Japan and have done so for ten years. The pressure of work here is enormous. Many people work 16 hour shifts but only get paid for 8 hours. Japanese society is based on "group society", not individuality. Thus, if a person cannot find or join a social group the sense of isolation can be tremendous. In addition, the majority of Japanese are Shinto Buddhist. For them there is no thought of heaven or paradise. When one is dead... that's it. End of story...
Paul Waller, Japan

Any Internet-posted comment of 'I want to die' attracts attention from others... escalating to a point of no return
Richard Tunaley, Tokyo, Japan
As is being discussed on TV at the moment suicide pacts are seemingly on the increase in Japan. It appears that any Internet posted comment of 'I want to die' attracts attention from others on the web escalating to a point of no return. The act of suicide is seen as "noble" and the "right thing" to do in Japan when life, for whatever reason, becomes "unbearable" and only a different idea of what suicide is could change that and for anything which is so much a part of "being" any nationality to change can only be regarded as an enormous task.
Richard Tunaley, Tokyo, Japan

Far too much peer pressure in Japan. Plus children are expected to follow in their parents footsteps when they have no desire to. This leads to alienation from their family. The falling economy does not offer a great deal of hope for the untrained.
D. Moon, Ironwood - USA

I feel that the pressure to achieve has had an effect. The amount of study that Japanese youth have to do to get into the better High Schools, and then the prestigious Universities is back-breaking. As a teacher, I have seen students as young as 13 unable to raise their heads off their desks. In recent years, with the downturn in the job market, High school and University graduates are finding it ever harder to find good paying jobs. Those left by the wayside look at their successful friends with envy - envious of all the clothes, electronic gadgets they can buy. All that study for nothing, being made to feel left out of the consumer-driven, keep-up-with-the-Jones's society, and with parents not often around to talk over their feelings with, I can see why trends in suicide are the way they are. Convey to youth the importance of things other than money and material possessions may see suicides falling... and not just for youth!
Simon Evans, Tokyo, Japan

Both the young and old in Japan have an inability to express themselves
Paul Lynch, Kobe, Japan
Both the young and old in Japan have an inability to express themselves and even if they could, society would frown upon them for doing so. Suicide has always been part of the culture and as the family unit breaks down and economic strife continues, many people see suicide as the easiest, and maybe even the most honourable, way out.
Paul Lynch, Kobe, Japan

Many of the youthful Japanese, at least those I have had chance to talk with, do not have any spiritual beliefs. Even those who purport to be Buddhists or Shintoists, are only so to the extent that their parents are. Unfortunately, Japanese history taught the Japanese people one of the most unfortunate(in my view) teachings in the human history that "religion is very dangerous" to quote one of my Japanese friends. Therefore, taking a Japanese through a Christian, Islamic or any other new spiritual teachings amounts almost (by human standards)to a wild goose chase. Hence such youth, being spiritually empty judge themselves useless especially if they cannot overcome certain human challenges such as finding a good job.
Rutto Paul Cheruiyot, Hiroshima

The most severe problem in Japan is its poor mental health care system
Yuka Sato, Yokohama, Japan
We cannot imagine our future and are often pessimistic. I feel the most severe problem in Japan is its poor mental health care system. Authorities should realize such problems and show young people to healthy situations.
Yuka Sato, Yokohama, Japan

Here's something the authorities might want to consider doing... Quit digging up the road outside my window every other week at 3 in the morning! I'm that close, I swear to God I am. Found myself throwing grapes at them the other night. They took the abuse with their usual stoicism, I'll say that for them. Oh, and they might want to consider shutting down the Japanese music industry. That ought to buoy morale. It would mine at any rate.
Stephen Burns, Tokyo, Japan

Nowadays, lots of Japanese people feel very tired in their daily life, because they are facing violent competition in society and the Japanese socio-economic situation has been getting worse. The authorities should establish some advice for their citizens and offer good ideas to improve life for people who want kill themselves.
Feng Liu, China

The youth are not getting enough support from the elderly
Anaege Elochukwu MacDonald, Lagos, Nigeria
My brother is in Japan and married to a young Japanese. His wife was rejected by the family as a result of the marriage. They refused her any help and do not recognise their son-in-law. I think the suicidal increase has to do with cultural backgrounds. The youth are not getting enough support from the elderly, who are still immersed in archaic lifestyle. This is what I think, I have not been to Japan, but I believe something like this is apparent.
Anaege Elochukwu MacDonald, Lagos, Nigeria

I am working as a Christian minister in Japan. It's 17 years since I came here so I have seen this problem grow in this country. In fact I just got a desperate call from one candidate of this kind. Japanese have had a shinto-confucian-buddhist worldview but have become modern also. This old framework for life can't help the younger generation to make it in the flood of western existentialist influences. The evolution theory as taught now in schools doesn't give people motivation to live. If life is thought to be just an evolutionary accident and is going to disappear when the body dies there is no hope and meaning to live. Why should you waste your precious time to study and work for meaningless period of time?
Markku Ollikainen, Minakuchi, Japan

Before people could blame double suicide on the internet, they blamed it on literature: popular Japanese author Osamu Dazai, for instance, committed double suicide in 1948, after making it a big theme in his books. As for the current spate, it has to be said that Saitama, part of Tokyo's western sprawl, is generally considered a pretty depressing place. Generally Japan's economy and morale are good.
Nick Currie, Berlin, Germany

Suicide and collective suicide has long been part of Japanese traditional culture
Peter Van Belle, Antwerp, Belgium
Suicide and collective suicide has long been part of Japanese traditional culture, therefore it is less of a taboo. One story that springs to mind is that of the 47 ronin, a story every Japanese child used to learn at school. I doubt whether any actions against suicide websites will have any effect. Those that logged on to them were already thinking about suicide. One course the authorities could take is, I believe, a very difficult one. Japanese people should be made less worried about losing face when failing exams or losing their job. Seeing that even in western countries unemployment is seen as humiliating I can't see how this can be brought about in Japan. In the end the best suicide prevention must come from the individual itself, but then even a cry for help is embarrassing.
Peter Van Belle, Antwerp, Belgium

Three best advices for the Japanese citizen
1- Early marriage
2- Combined family
3- Set a limit for your desires
Siraj Amin, Kashiwazaki city, Japan

I don't know why they are committing suicide but it is awfully sad and a quite strange. Maybe they feel that their lives are set out for them and they don't like what impending future holds. With no options of change death could seem like the only option.
Ken, Seoul Korea

I would say that creating a genuine sense of community within institutions of learning and the workplace, as well as open communication within the family might be effective ways for Japanese young people to feel connected and not "alienated" by the strong pressure to live up to society's expectations of them. That, plus an increasingly materialistic trend that modern life in Japan has taken has probably left some of today's Japanese youth feeling isolated and empty inside.
Leah Ferolino, Kobe/Japan, Manila/Philippines

It is a result of no having social life
Tej, Tokyo, Japan
Obviously, it is a result of no having social life. The sense of isolation people feel while attempting to maintain "good manners" is promoted to the point of suicide. They can make interactive activities among youths and inspire them to speak about their feelings to the society. As a foreigner living in Japan, I feel so.
Tej, Tokyo, Japan

Japan is a hugely complex and traditional society existing in juxtaposition with modern social and economic advances. It is the most developed country in the world technologically and yet socially it is incredibly traditional and even backward. Japanese people are also very sensitive and dramatic and tend to try to find a succinct way to express their feelings and emotions rather than just come out and say it. A Japanese person will not just say I am happy or I am sad. A grand gesture or statement is needed to express emotion. Suicide, which also has traditional connotations of honour associated to it, is one such way to demonstrate feeling in a grand manner.
Barnaby, Sittingbourne, Kent




SEE ALSO:
Nine die in Japan 'suicide pacts'
12 Oct 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Japan's free spirits
30 Sep 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Japan suicides reach record high
23 Jul 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Japan
01 Sep 04  |  Country profiles



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