Tokyo: Earthquakes and train suicide.

Warning: This is not a very happy post!! Skip it if you’re already having a blue day.
While we were in Tokyo, although we did love every inch of the city’s excitement and hustle, we also experienced two of it’s arguably worst elements: an earthquake that shook us awake and made me wish we were not in a multi, multi story hotel room and a train suicide. We were returning from watching my grandmother’s choir practice and just as we walked up the steps… a train pulled up… but then the doors didn’t open. And everyone started quietly talking to their neighbor… and then looking under the train. My grandfather was conversing with someone in Japanese so we really didn’t know what had just happened until suddenly a few people started earnestly pointing and looking under the train just in front of us… and that’s when we realized there was a body just there. What a sinking feeling to know that someone had taken their own life, in this very place, just a minute before. I instantly felt a collective responsibility. What had happened to this poor person to make them do such a thing? How had their society let them down so drastically? If we had gotten there just a minute before, would there have been something we could have done? Would I have tried to pull them back?
On the practical side of the fence, my grandfather and the Mr. began dragging me away from the tracks, down the stairs, past the stretchers and angered commuters… and were figuring out how to get home. In the end, we had to walk about 30 minutes to another station and take a different line home, adding I would say about 75 minutes to our trip home. On the subway television screens next to several trains, including the one we were trying to take, it read in red: jinshin jiko, or “human accident.” What a cryptic way to describe someone’s death.

When I got home, I couldn’t help but wonder how common this was and if Japan’s suicide rate was higher than other developed nations. And what I found really surprised me.
  • JR East, the line we were trying to take, is the most popular for suicides because it charges the bereaved families the least. CAN YOU BELIEVE they actually charge families for the delay their child’s death causes the metropolis?!
  • JR EAST has been trying to discourage suicide by doing things like painting train crossings green, which shrinks say can alter the state of mind of would-be suicides. They’ve also added more cameras and trimmed trees to deny jumpers a sense of privacy. And in popular enclosed jumping areas, they’ve added mirrors thinking that a view of one’s self might make a jumper pause. They’ve also added blue lighting, which is supposed to be calming. Mark Saldana’sTokyo’s “Human Accidents”: Jinshin Jiko and the Social Meaning of Train Suicide
  • Roughly 2,000 Japanese individuals commit train suicide each year, a figure that accounts for about 6% of total suicides nationwide. More than 30,000 Japanese commit suicide each year, one of the highest rates in the world, but only a small percentage — just over 2% of men and 3% of women — do so by throwing themselves in front of moving vehicles, usually trains. New York Times, 2009.
  • According to Wikipedia, Japan has the highest suicide rate (25 for every 100,000 people) of any first-world nation and is ranked six out of all countries.
  • The suicide rate is very closely tied to the economy; during the 2008 recession, it jumped 40%. More than half of people who commit suicide in Japan are unemployed.
  • Working class people, aged 45-65 are most likely to commit suicide and there’s a 3x chance that they’re male over female. In this demographic, suicide is the no. 1 cause of death.
  • Surely the Japanese historical tradition of ‘hari-kari’ or ritual suicide by self-disembowelment on a sword, practiced by samurai in the traditional Japanese society contributes to the high suicide rates today.
  • The ‘copy-cat’ principal is equally at play… the problem with a suicide problem is that they’re contagious; suicides breed more suicides… especially among young people. There’s a very scary trend online now where young people kill themselves online. How terrible is that?!

Sorry for the depressing post…. I do appreciate how traveling really does literally show you what is going on in the world. Anyways, I promise to make up for this with something lovely and pretty to look at tomorrow!

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2 responses to “Tokyo: Earthquakes and train suicide.

  1. Sombre reading indeed. I’m sure the historic ‘tradition’ accounts for much of the attitude; is it that the tendency there may be to value life according to externals – money, position? – rather than accepting each life as intrinsically precious. Much to pray about.

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