"There had been occasional accidents in the past, but what's been happening lately is turning our station into a 'meisho' (famous or popular site) for suicides. I think the most recent, on the previous Sunday, pretty much decided things for good."
The speaker, a young office worker who commutes from Shin-Koiwa station in Tokyo's Katsushika Ward, voices his concerns to Weekly Playboy (Oct 10), over the spate of suicides that occurred at his station over the past two and a half months.
The incident to which he was referring occurred just after 11 a.m. on September 18, when a woman in her 40s leaped in front of a passing train -- the fifth such incident at his station since July.
On July 12, a woman in her 40s jumped in front of a Narita Express train bound for Ofuna Station in Kanagawa Prefecture. The collision flung the woman's body against a enclosed kiosk on the platform, shattering window glass and injuring four commuters. The incident was widely covered in the media.
The next afternoon, July 13, a middle-aged man committed suicide in the same manner, but without any collateral damage. The next took place on July 25, when a man believed to be around age 30 took a jump. And on Aug 25, another young male followed suit.
Why Shin-Koiwa? Weekly Playboy's efforts to obtain comments from station employees proved fruitless, so instead, the reporter asked local residents for their opinions.
"Of course, people here are talking about it," said one. "The Narita express whizzes by Shin-Koiwa Station without slowing down, so I suppose people contemplating suicide must be thinking if they're going to kill themselves, that's the place to do it."
Indeed, all five of the recent suicides were standing on the same platform and chose the Narita Express for their trip to the hereafter.
"Once departing Tokyo central station, the Narita Express makes no stops until Chiba Station," says Ryo Ooi, an authority on trains and author of several books. "It uses the same rail line as the Sobu Line expresses. Around Shin-Koiwa, there are no curves and the trains are just approaching maximum speed."
According to JR East, Narita Express trains are traveling around 120 kilometers per hour when they pass Shin-Koiwa, close to their maximum of 130 km/h.
Ooi also believes that media coverage is likely to have led to copycat suicides.
"The media coverage of the first woman who committed suicide, whose body was flung into the kiosk, attracted a lot of attention," he says. "I think there's a strong likelihood that her death spurred the incident that happened the next day. And by the time of the third incident, the place had started to get a reputation as a 'popular spot' to commit suicide. For similar reasons, the Chuo Line became a popular spot for suicides."
According to Ooi, JR East is said to be mulling installation of barriers (called "platform doors") to discourage jumpers. But the cost is high and there's no assurance it will prevent future suicides.
At present, the station has added part-time staff and company retirees to patrol the platforms.
"Following an accident, the first responders at the scene are usually station staff and members of the cleaning crew," Ooi says. "They don't receive any special allotments, and it's hard on them psychologically. There have been cases when station workers who clean up a suicide for the first time went into shock and lost consciousness.
"Things are especially tough right now for the station workers at Shin-Koiwa," adds Ooi. "I would hope, by knowing this, more people will be discouraged from committing suicide, out of simple consideration for those workers who have to deal with it."© Japan Today