Last year 30,513 people took their own lives in Japan. Of the total, 20,867 were men and 9,646 were women. The good news is Japan doesn’t have the highest suicide rate in the world (Lithuania holds the current title), or even in Asia (South Korea). The bad news is suicide is now the leading cause of death for men age 20-44 and women age 15-34, the most productive and reproductive demographic group that Japan desperately needs for its dying economy and aging society.
Interestingly enough, the ratio of female to male suicide victims in Japan and South Korea is exceptionally high compared with the other countries. I suppose it means in Japan and South Korea, men and women are almost equally unhappy, while in other countries, men are obviously much more depressed than women.
What makes Japan unique is probably the way people choose to go. One of the most common methods is jumping the rails. We are used to sitting on the train when it suddenly screeches to a halt and followed by the announcement of yet another "human accident" (jinshin jiko).
When it happens, many foreigners are stunned by the reactions of their fellow passengers who seem either completely indifferent to the tragedy just occurred or apparently angry because of the inconvenience it has caused, but no one shows any empathy or horror at all.
I know the Japanese attitude toward suicide here seems bizarre and creepy to the foreigner who don’t live here, but what else do they expect when this can happen to us on a daily basis?
And think about it, it’s probably not a bad way to go. It's effective and efficient. It's simple and can be done spontaneously. It doesn't cost you a dime to do it, even though it will cost your family a fortune to pay the fine (usually around 100 million yen). It's no news that they have hole-in-one insurance for the golfer here. I won't be surprised if they also have the insurance for the surviving families of the jumpers.
I suppose if nobody notices you when you live, that's your last chance to get people's attention, to go out with a bang so to speak. It's your final statement and your protest against the society that has let you down.
The funny thing is, if you know Japanese well enough, they spend all their life trying to be the same as the others and not to inconvenience anybody. But when they decide they have had enough of that and it’s time to top themselves, they would take this approach, get everybody's attention and cause maximum inconvenience.
Now what can we do to stop this madness? I think that's more important than what's happening in our head when we just sit there waiting for them to clean up the mess.
Some railway companies have installed blue LED lights in stations hoping to calm the people who are comteplating jumping, although personally I suspect the lights could have the opposite effect because blue only adds a touch of surreality. We also see those barriers putting up on the platform to prevent people jumping. I am sure they are better than nothing. But the best anti-suicide measure I’ve heard so far is to put up a sign on the platform asking potential jumpers if they have cleared their computer hard disks.
Or better yet, Japan being the most law-abiding country in the world, I wonder why the Japanese government hasn’t banned it, you know, just make it illegal. Jumping the rails is a crime now. Please choose another way to die!