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5 facts about suicide in Japan


Live in urban Japan long enough and, as shocking as it sounds, you’re eventually going to have the distinctly unpleasant experience of riding a train that hits and more than likely kills a human being.

Even if you aren’t experiencing it firsthand, walking into a Tokyo train station only to notice yet another train delay caused by what is euphemistically described as a “bodily accident” ("jinshin jiko" or 人身事故) is at least a weekly occurrence. It’s enough to make you think Japan must be wrestling with one hell of a suicide problem.

Which is true. But it’s not quite as bad as the Western media would have you believe. Here are five facts about suicide in Japan that are about as uplifting as we have any right to expect from facts about suicide.

1) Japan isn’t the suicide capital of the world.

While Japan has been the world leader in suicides in the past, that distinction currently belongs to Greenland, where an average of 83 out of 100,000 people took their own lives in 2011, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Japan averaged 21.4 in 2013, the most recent year with available data.

2) Japan’s suicide capital isn’t Tokyo.

Despite the city’s frequent portrayal as a cold, unfeeling megalopolis filled with lonely, financially burdened salarymen who are all constantly just this shy of offing themselves, Tokyo isn’t actually Japan’s suicide capital. While it certainly has the highest number of suicides by virtue of its staggering population, Iwate Prefecture in the northeast recorded the highest rate at 27.5 suicides per 100,000 people in 2013.

3) “Train Jumpers” are surprisingly rare.

The overwhelming majority of suicides in Japan are by hanging, according to WHO. Going by some admittedly old data (2003), only 2.1% of male suicides and 3.6% of female suicides were death by train strike. Overdoses, hangings, and even jumping off of buildings and deliberate drowning were more common methods in that same year.

4) Rates are declining.

We just recently talked about how suicides in general in Japan are on the decline in recent years. While suicide is still far and away the leading cause of death among youths in Japan, that statistic actually isn’t as scary as it seems on the surface; with Japan’s low rate of violent crime and death by natural causes unsurprisingly low in that age group, the numbers speak more to Japan’s overall safety than to any kind of disturbing suicide trend.

5) The reasons are pretty much what you’d expect.

While there are certainly “shame culture” aspects to Japan’s high suicide rate, people are generally killing themselves for the reasons you’d probably expect any other place: Financial trouble and heartbreak. Divorce, debt and bankruptcy are some of the most common reasons for suicide in Japan.

Source: Madame Riri

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I appreciate the source, but the lighthearted tone of this article struck me as a bit disturbing. If someone posted a comment which refered to a city being a 'suicide capital' and victims of suicide as 'train jumpers' I think it might be deleted.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

But it’s not quite as bad as the Western media would have you believe.

I disagree. Sadly, from what I have experienced here it is definitely as bad (or worse) than "the Western media would have you believe."

As for the comment that train stoppages for "jishin jiko" are "at least a weekly occurrence," I would say this happens pretty much on a daily basis somewhere in Tokyo on any given day.

On a positive note, I am glad to see growing awareness of this problem, more empathy than before with regard to those who take their own lives, somewhat declining numbers of suicides, and a growing likeliness among people here to seek counseling.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

You know... Jinshin Jiko.. is in most of the cases that, and accident.

If you live in Tokyo and use the train system you know how pack the trains stations platforms get on mornings and how many drunk people are on nights...

Suicidal by train jumping is there thought but most of the Jinshin jiko are again accidents.

And since, in Japan dying is for mostly by natural causes and/or illness witch is not..... sensational and well TV material.... the rare cases of murder, freak accidents and suicide are going to be picked up....

In other countries... were you can just pick for the sensational even of the hour (kids shoot in schools, a gang kick to death a gay guy, Mafia related accident... robbery gone wild, drug lords war, etc., etc.) suicides are not so much of news (since there is not enough action I guess).

So the statement of "the Western media would have you believe" is very much on the spot.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

3) “Train Jumpers” are surprisingly rare.

based on old data, Eleven Years back, now very common and train schedules getting disturbed almost everyday.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Though this is in Japanese

You can find here the graphs indicating the amount of "jinshin jiko" up to 2012. In the middle of the article you can find the annual "deaths by trains " the black line is the number of suicide by jumping (the green line is the percentage of suicides by train).

That info has been gathered by a private train watch service and you can track the accidents here (if you want)

So it is safe that although there are a good amount of suicide by train.. is not a common thing. And the trains service stops are not always due to suicides.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Very misleading article. Comparing Japan with Greenland is spurious. Greenland is at the top of this list with an outlandishly high number,

and the rate in Japan of 21 per 100,000 is still very high, with the average about 10, most developed countries peaking at 14, and being about double the rate in the US, UK and Australia.

To compare Tokyo to Iwate is similarly spurious, seeing as people in Iwate suffered a massive tsunami and earthquake 3 years ago, leading to massive mental health problems among the population.

Like M3M3M3 said, an article such as this should be taken an awful lot more seriously.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

There are many myths that bring stigma to mental health as well as suicide which is the most preventable form of death. Unfortunately many who attempt suicide never seek professional care. But through positive action, through caring about a person, suicide can be prevented. A person talks of suicide directly before they complete suicide. Therefore talking about and providing information on suicide reduces the stigma and increases the likelihood that a person at risk of suicide will go to in time of need. Suicide does not happen in any one group of people, any single area, it knows no economics, gender, or geographical constrains. Every one can be at risk of suicide including other factors that can leave people at a higher risk for suicide. In the end the best form of prevention is education.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

People were not meant to live in such large concrete cities. It's no surprise there are a lot of suicids. The gaijins like it cuz it's different. The average Japanese with their horrible work ethic...not so much, and THAT'S why they jump.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You know... the reasons for suicide in Japan (as is stated partly on the article)... are basically the same reason as other countries. According to the Japanese Police report only 6% of suicides are said to be related to work. The main suicide reason is health problems (40%), monetary/living problems (31%), family/love problems (13%)... by the was suicide because of school bulling is set to be less than 1% (200 children killed themselves in 2012, because of bullying).

So it is not that the Japanese society or cities drive people to terminate their lives.... the reason are the same as every body around the world.

Now why Japan has a high suicidal rate...that is another thing.... partly maybe psychosomatic reason, but there may apply other thing too. Its different for every one... not to say for every country.

The main suicidal reason being "sickness", that means that people with poor health or elderly don't want to be a burden and prefer to die instead of. In that case you may say that the Japanese mind is a major reason for suicide.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Just a personal comment. I know we all have our limits, and each of is different. To me the act of suicide takes a great bit of courage, and if we can summon up the courage to commit such an act, we should just about be able to summon up the courage to get through whatever it is that may be causing our problem. All in my most humble opinion.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Trying to claim the reasons are financial doesn't do justice as to why it happens. Japan is a cold, conformist, distant and materialistic and superficial orientated society where money and face rules everything. Millions of people are in a financially worst situation than Japanese yet suicides are not nearly as much as in Japan for that reason. Other countries do not place such high expectations on the superficial like East Asian countries. In Japan, if you lose your job its a big thing, elsewhere they'll think okay.. I'll find another one.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Now why Japan has a high suicidal rate...that is another thing.... partly maybe psychosomatic reason, but there may apply other thing too. Its different for every one... not to say for every country.

As I was reading the article and the comments (I also think it is kinda light-hearted) It struck me that suicide in Japan had a special connotation It was the Japanese that invented "seppuku" as a way for samurai, so killing yourself for protecting , saving face, or honoring some kind of debt, is an act of "honorable" way out, they do not have the notion of religion that condemns souls to hell.

In the U.S. it is seen as an act of shame, and even I found people that had suicidal thoughts or tried to kill themselves feel shame, it seems that if you kill ypurself you are a coward, whatever is your mental, financial, or emotional situation that you are in, they don't feel empathy.

In my country, suicide is seen as an act of being cornered, someone who couldn't "put up with" life, which means weakness, those who have not succeed in killing themselves are seen as people that need help and they see themselves as someone who has to find courage to live (they don't feel as ashamed as U.S. people).

Even so, I'm glad that the rates are declining

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Die Intellectual

You hit on most of the points I was going to make, which were surprisingly absent from the article. I'd also add that the "rainbows & lollipops" image that is spewed out daily by the Japanese media (looking at you, TV networks) paints an unrealistic picture of the Japanese societal landscape.

Watching the same talentless "personalities" on TV every night towing the "everything is happy happy" line is enough to make anyone severely depressed. It just isn't realistic, nor engaging, nor reflective of the "real" Japan. Then we have to deal with them on the trains, billboards... every nook & cranny imaginable.

It's just one big "cult of personality" juggernaut.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Some very interesting comments here. Thank you for some insightful reading.

I used to think that lack of assistance for mental health issues was the main issue, but as Die Intellectual has mentioned, the high expectations across the board in Japan (as children and as adults) probably has a high impact on the amount of suicides (Sorry, no data, just speculation).

Also, along the lines of what Novenachama has posted, I believe that open communication within families (or lack thereof) is probably another factor, although even with open communication, there are always some who unfortunately chose not to reach out or accept help from others.

As for the article's lighthearted tone... what do you expect? It's written by someone named "Madame Riri".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Tahoochi, Madame Riri is a website,

nationalistically trying to refute the image of Japan as having a suicide problem. Unfortunately they're talking BS.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Another thing but people here will probably give me bad ratings because of this....

Why the suicide rate is so high in Japan.. For children the accessibility to alcohol is almost impossible... alcohol to kids.. that is a bad thing but if you think about it other countries (even in the developed ones) the access to alcohol for kids it is somewhat more easy compared to Japan (not that Japan has an air tight control over it either though).

So access to alcohol to kids... I think is another reason for the suicide rate in kids here... (sadly either option is good).

Another thing, compared to other countries (again even to developed ones) the accessibility to drugs in general in Japan is extremely difficult (virtually impossible). So for people living in Japan the "option" to escape to drugs is virtually nonexistent.

In other parts of the world you can choose between the two evils... So I think that is another reason for the high suicidal rates too

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I find the comments attributing to lower mental health care in Japan a little ironic.

Because when you look at the actual numbers, suicide rates in non-shame based cultures are only about 30-50 percent lower. While at the same time, the same type of desperate folks who wants to get even with society, seems to typically go off killing family and friends in their schools, homes, and workplace.

This of course shows up in the 2,000-3,000 percent higher intentional homicide rate. So I find the hypocrisy of claiming to have superior mental health condition a little hysterical TBH.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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