“Saving 10,000” – Suicide in Japan

Unless your life’s been touched by the suicide of someone close, many people don’t talk much about it. The topic remains taboo and a conversation killer to boot, so why bother? That’s probably true, but when the problem simply won’t go away, what’s to be done?

Here in Japan there are about 30,000 suicides per year, a grim statistic that’s been on an upward trend for years (but did show a welcome decrease in 2012.) The aftermath of 2011’s earthquake/tsunami in the Tohoku region has also resulted in more suicides and other mental health issues there.

For rush-hour commuters in Tokyo, suicides (successful or not) that involve jumping in front of a train are a regular occurence. I’ve never been on a train that’s hit someone but I have listened to countless “human person accident” announcements by the guards while traveling on others.
It’s so common that my fellow passengers show little emotion, unless our train’s already at a station and commuters decide not to wait for the ‘clean up’, but to get off and go use alternative lines or transport. In a city where the trains are usually punctual to the minute (or better), the mobile phone networks hum as plans are changed and meetings hastily rearranged.

For a nation of 123 million, perhaps 30,000 people each year doesn’t ’sound’ too high. However, all of these suicide statistics left behind family, friends and colleagues to mourn and then to somehow carry on, or not. And remember too that multiple attempts often occur before the final ‘out’.

Occasionally, the media reports about new ‘trends’ on the methods of suicides beyond trains, tall buildings, leaps into the sea etc. One such ‘tactic’ involves people who are apparently looking for others to die with. They find each other via the Internet, and then some time later (days, weeks, perhaps months…) meet up and take their own lives. The stories I recall had these relative strangers to each other being found by hikers or ramblers a few days after their carbon monoxide poisoning in a ‘people carrier’ – now a macabre and tragic name for a vehicle that was designed for pleasure and utility.

Of course, Japan is not alone in having a high suicide rate. The problem occurs throughout the world and I’m sure that most governments are well aware of the social and economic impacts of suicide.

An interesting experiment at attempting to reduce the numbers of suicidal people who choose to jump off a train station platform involves the installation of blue lighting overhead, usually at one end. I’ve seen this at a number of stations on the main Tokyo loop line (Yamanote). Apparently, it has been having a positive effect.

What else is being done I cannot say for sure but I recently came across this volunteer’s initiative: “Saving 10,000

Rene Duignan’s an Irish economist for the EU delegation in Tokyo by day but somehow, with the help of film maker Marc-Antoine Astier, found time to make a grassroots documentary about “a war on suicide in Japan.”

Rene was touched by the suicide of someone and if you watch to the end, some reasons for why he “declared war” on the tragedy of suicide will become clearer. There is a powerful combination of sadness, anger and hope in this film and I think that’s why it’s struck a chord.

Here’s one of the trailers:

The full-length production is 52 minutes and well worth watching if you want to know more about some of the issues around suicide in Japan.

Rene’s ‘goal’ is a very brave and laudable one – to find ways to reduce that 30,000 death rate by 10,000. From local media reports, he’s starting to get some attention from politicians, as well as from local groups around the country.

Please help by sharing the documentary information via social media channels.

On Higher Ground

Two years ago today these stairs began to sway, and stopped my climb to higher ground.
3-11-climbing-stairs
Soon, groaning girders shocked me senseless, no longer sure of where I stood.

Instinct kicked in, and up I bounded two more floors, and underneath a builder’s table hung on tight to sturdy legs.
While helter-skelter went the floor from side to side and front to rear.
A white-knuckeled ride no one would scream for.

On and on the tremors flowed, in shuddering waves that left me queasy and worried sick the floor would give, or walls might lean, in ways no architect had schemed or dreamed.

But stand it did, and when the noise and shaking stopped, I crept upstairs to find my friends with fallen books and anxious looks.

How strange to pick up broken glass and sweep the room of doom and gloom, as aftershocks came thick and fast.

The fallen clock a silent sentry to 2:46 on 3/11.

If only superman could turn back time or lend a hand to childen waiting, cold and tearful, small and fearful, north-east of here, so close to safety.
Alas, a black wave found and took them.
It breaks my heart to think what stopped their climb to higher ground.