The Suicide Diaries
The Japan suicide statistics 自殺
Japan's National Police Agency recently announced that 32,249 people killed themselves in Japan during 2008.
This is a decline of 844 from 2007. 6,363 of those were aged in their 50s; 3,438 were in their 30s - which is the highest in that age bracket since records began; 611 were under 19; and 64 were elementary school or junior high school age.
Officials have recorded over 30,000 suicides per year since 1998. Doing the math, it means there is a suicide every 15 minutes. 25 of every 100,000 Japanese orchestrate their own departure.
Suicide seems to be a pastime in Japan. History notes a ritual act called 'hara-kiri' or 'seppuku' ("belly cutting") dating back to 1192. This was deemed an unquestionable demonstration of one's honor, courage, loyalty, and moral character to avoid death at the hands of the enemy. These principles are understood to be factors still in modern times. Troubled days with one's company, family, finances or with the world in general all contribute.
Suicide in Japan - first hand
I have been in Japan since June 2006 and have had the experience of witnessing all or part of three suicides all involving men in their 50s dressed in corporate suits and ties. The first and last incident involved trains, the second incident involved a man jumping from the ninth floor of my office building.
In my first experience I was in the front carriage of the train which mowed the soon to be deceased individual down as he stood between the tracks on a concealed corner. The driver simply made an audible screech, mowed the man down which I imagine rendered him somewhat deceased, we all listened as the body went under the train and hit the underside of the floor boards, the driver gently applied the brakes as if we had arrived at the station and then we all sat and waited.
Because we weren't far from the station, we exited the train via the emergency exits and walked the short distance to the platform. The remains of the deceased were a fairly tidy affair. His limbs were removed from his torso. You'd think there would be a smear of bodily liquid about the place, but no. The complicated part was his torso was wedged under the boogie of the third carriage. Probably just had to back the train up a bit to get it out.
The second incident was a man who elected to end his time here and jumped from the ninth floor of the office onto a pavement of pedestrians. His body was intact besides some minor fluid leakage from his facial orifices. The arrival of the paramedics showed his heart to be in ventricular fibrillation and following a short stint of ineffective CPR he was in asystole (flat line = dead!). Japanese CPR methods haven't a chance at saving anyone but I will save that story for another day.
Train station suicide
The most recent incident of departure was at my home train station. The man launched himself off the platform in front of an express train. He came out much the same way as the one who jumped from the building, with a slight leakage of bodily fluids through various orifices and no meaningful signs of life.
Suicide - the physical damage
Many are fascinated as to how the recently deceased look, but at the same time would be put off their dinner for a week if they saw pictures. I will share my observations, as I'm quite hard hearted. Please remember I chose to see all of these scenes - if you don't like this sort of thing no one is forcing you to look further than what you might see if a similarly unfortunate event unfolds in front of you. In the case of train accidents, those that place themselves on the tracks at concealed corners, for example, are more likely to be messy.
In most cases the person will be knocked down and go underneath the train. Contact with the steel wheels will likely render them minced. In cases where the individual launches themselves off the platform into the path of a passing train, they are usually damaged by blunt trauma, almost like a bird hitting the car windshield. It isn't likely that the deceased will go underneath the train. Similarly, those that jump off buildings suffer from blunt trauma if they hit pavement but rarely end up in pieces.
Suicide - the aftermath
The incidence of suicide is taken almost nonchalantly. There is no pandemonium, no passers-by interfering. Train passengers don't look away from their papers. The emergency teams are well versed. They arrive, remove the deceased, and life resumes as normal for the rest of us. There are never usually any lengthy cordons or forensic examinations, no police snooping wondering if the deceased was in fact pushed. Never any effort to keep people well away. No one is panicking. Looking at the Japanese who pass by you would think this was the fifth they had seen today. All going well there are never any signs of what happened 30 to 60 minutes later.
People end it all for a variety of reasons. The National Police Agency go on in their release to say that last year 6,490 acted on depression, 5,128 were distressed by illness, and 1,733 were overcome by debt. Many of the school age children committed suicide because they had been bullied. The balance I am sure is spread over many categories but I imagine there are many who are classified as 'other' those who took their own lives for reasons only known to themselves.
Every single suicide represents a tragedy. They involve people the deceased is never the only victim family, friends, acquaintances and colleagues are all involved in some way. It is important however that to function in Japan you just have to accept incidences of suicide as a part of life. I don't think anyone could successfully argue suicide is in any way right, but society's acceptance of it in Japan is different to much of the rest of the world.
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