In Japan, suicide hotlines have so much traffic that it can take up to 30 calls to get through to a live operator.
This fact is a sobering realization to the gravity of Japan’s suicide problem. High numbers of people contemplating suicide are straining access to help, revealing a chilling culture where ending one’s life is considered socially acceptable.
21, 897 lives were lost to suicide in 2016, which means that an average of 59 people took their lives each day. Even as Japan’s population shrinks, the suicide rate remains high, with Japan ranking the second worst among eight major industrialized nations this year, right below Russia.
In 2012, former Minister of Financial Services Tadahiro Matsushita reportedly hung himself in his own home and was found dead on World Suicide Prevention Day. He was not the first politician to have committed suicide in Japan.
Suicide is not a taboo nor deemed a sin in Japan. It is also often perceived as a means of apology, protest, and act of revenge or way of dealing with mental illness.
Furthermore, suicide has a deep-rooted tradition of being seen as beautiful or heroic. Japanese popular culture, through its literature and films, has glorified suicide by way of honor and romanticism.
Popular culture aside, contemporary news outlets and reports have attributed the country’s economic downturn and societal pressures as reasons for Japan’s high suicide rate.
According to Taiki Nakashita, a Buddhist priest, social activist, and counselor, most people commit suicide because they are unable to go on living. He highlighted the need to improve conditions for the underprivileged who struggle to live in Japan.
Men, going through financial woes or depression, make up the majority of those who take their own lives. This has been attributed to the pressure of supporting their families and difficulties in expressing their struggles within a culture that rarely complains.
Many sign up for life insurance and commit suicide shortly after in order to settle their debts and provide comfort to their families.
Depression or forms of mental illness also have a stigma attached to them in Japanese society. With no avenues to talk about their problems, isolation from society is prevalent and suicide is seen as an eventual way out.
While the Japanese government has strengthened their suicide countermeasures since mapping out several policies in 2007, awareness of mental illness within society and support for those struggling with mental health is still a work in progress.