Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Japan's suicide hotline flooded

Source: The Straits Times

TOKYO - JAPAN'S hotline for people considering killing themselves is stretched to its limit, with the economic crisis feared to be worsening the country's suicide problem, its director said on Wednesday.

More than 30,000 people kill themselves every year in Japan, giving the country one of the world's highest suicide rates.

A national suicide hotline run by the Inochi no Denwa - Telephone Lifeline - association is struggling to meet demand, with 7,000 volunteers handling some 700,000 calls a year.

'We don't have enough volunteers,' Yukio Saito, the head of the federation, told AFP.

'I'm afraid that there will be a rise in suicides with the economic recession,' he said.

This has always saddened and troubled me. Why in Japan? Recessions, economic downturns happen all over the world. People are losing jobs in America, England, Canada, everywhere. In Canada, people cope with it and move on. If they lose an engineering job for example, they have to find something else, live on Employment Insurance for a while, do odd jobs like pumping gas or delivering pizzas etc... Suicide is not a consideration for the majority here.

Here's an article about new university graduates in China being encouraged to find 'lesser' jobs during the recession. (Source: Asia One)

BEIJING - DESPERATE Chinese graduates, facing grim job prospects amid slowing economic growth, are clamouring to find posts as nannies and domestic helpers for the rich in one southern province, state media reported on Wednesday.

Thousands of university students had applied for nanny work through an agency in China's export heartland of Guangdong, the Guangzhou Daily newspaper said.

'There have been five or six hundred people applying every month, with more than 90 per cent of them university students, including 28 Masters students,' the paper quoted a housekeeping recruitment agent as saying.

Only 300 out of 2,000 students had landed jobs over the past few months, however, as slowing growth had seen companies go bankrupt and foreign businessmen desert the province in droves, the agency said.

Chinese labour officials have repeatedly warned the country's 6.1 million graduates that they will face tough times finding work this year and told them not to be fussy.

So in China people are looking for ways to cope and survive. Everyone has to start at the bottom right? They say that a person living in Canada on average changes careers five times in their life. I've changed careers a couple of times myself. I've been laid off, fired, bounced around. I've worked as an usher, waited tables, been a cashier. Life is tough, you have to gain and keep what you have during the good times in order to survive. If you spent all that bonus money and promotion money last year and are now out of a job, then you were too selfish can't really blame anyone but yourself.

So why in Japan don't people start again? Why in Japan? Is it an issue of entitlement? Is it drilled into their head at a younger age that if they can only have a job given to them (inherited) and if that job is gone than it's the end of the world? There was a high rate of suicides in Japan when the economy crashed in the early 90s, and again in the late 90s when the '' bubble bursted. And now again? Why in Japan? Is this the only way out?

I went digging around a bit and found this interesting article from 2005 (Source: Espaco Academico

A few points include:

It has been largely pointed out that a Japanese suicidal act is unique because it has often been accompanied by meanings of valiance and vindication. Suicide has a longstanding cultural association with saving one's and/or the family's fame.

Japan advertised suicide, inwardly urging its members to commit suicidal acts, by implanting the vocabulary associated with saving face in order to prevent a possible rebellion against the government. The figure of the Kamikaze was idealized to glorify the war. It is important to remember that, outwardly, before Toyota, Mitsubishi, and other Japanese owned MNCs came along as representative of Japan's economic might, among those phenomena which had made Japan awe-inspiring to other countries was our "man-liness" in committing suicide.

Before the age of internet, there hardly existed a chance of meeting other suicide candidates, whereas now, finding companions has readily become available. Within a minute, we Japanese can find "I want to die too, let's do it together" in suicide sites. It's a new phenotype of our “group suicide culture” with a new emphasis on the least suffering, fear, and isolation. It is as if it were okay as long as people do it together and painlessly. Also in media discourse, those who recruited companions hardly got social sanction. Probably because once it was considered as suicide, it is by definition a voluntary act among participants. Even if not, they are dead, so whom to blame?

I haven't really digested all of this but this phenomenon of suicide in Japan has really startled me. In Canada, you are always taught that suicide is the cowardly and selfish way out. You're hurting the ones you love. If you contemplate suicide here, everyone will talk you out of it. But in Japan it seems to not only be accepted butin fact more people might join you!

I admit I'm not that knowledgable in this area. Being Canadian-born I was always taught to never give up and get back up when you're knocked down. It's the Canadian way. My parents came to Canada with nothing and worked hard to make a life for themselves and their children. Suicide would have been the easy way out after their country was lost. I know it's not fair to say the Japanese have no 'heart' or no 'guts', terms you hear all the time in sports. But looking at the numbers, how can one not make such a conclusion.

I would like to hear from all of you and learn more about this issue. Why in Japan?


Ryan said...

Thanks for this post. I haven't thought as much about this topic as you have, but being Japanese, I do see some of the cultural undercurrents that you noted in your post.

Got some thoughts on this, but it'll take me a bit of time to formulate them. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

In western Europe suicide was considered a sin and a crime, failure a mere circumstance. In Japan failure was a sin and a crime, and suicide an honorable way to avoid the shame of failure.

Degenerasian said...

Interesting. But again "why?"
Why do Japanese feel so ashamed when they fail? Everyone fails and learns from it. Is Japanese society that judgmental and that unforgiving that if you're not a 'perfect' citizen and you're worth shit?

Roger Williams said...

It's is a question of "staining" the good names of other people in your group, be it your coworkers, family, constituency, etc. A person's disgrace, failures and scandals go beyond the individual, and the social penalties for bringing shame or disgrace on other people is extremely high in Japan. There are a large number of people who see death as a less painful way out than dealing with the fallout of their problems on others.

Hank said...

The way I see it, there are some failures you simply can't recover from. What's the point of living if it's in a "crippled" state, so to speak.

Degenerasian said...


There always has to be a way out. There's family and friends who can always help out. Last thing they want is for you to die.

One thing that I agree with you is the example of addiction. Sometimes a person is addicted so much (example gambling) that they keep hurting other people and there is no way out. But that doesn't seem to be the case in Japan.