Day 652

Of all developed nations, Japan has one of highest suicide rates, third only to Hungary and South Korea. In the year that Saagar died, 25,000 people died of suicide in Japan, making it 70 people per day! Shockingly, this number is more than 3 times that in the UK. Male to female ratio is nearly 2:1 in Japan as compared to 4:1 in the UK.

Why is it so?

Japan’s long tradition of “honourable suicide” makes it a noble thing to do. It is perceived as people taking responsibility for themselves.

“Isolation is the number one precursor for depression and suicide,” says Wataru Nishida, a psychologist at Tokyo’s Temple University. This is particularly applies to elderly people. Many lone deaths of elderly people are never fully investigated by the police. The almost universal practice of cremating bodies here also means that any evidence is quickly destroyed. This also means that suicide is underreported.

The Oxford English Dictionary has recently added the word hikikomori . In Japanese this term describes a type of acute social withdrawal in which a person does not leave their home or room for a period of at least 6 months. In 2010, roughly 700,000 people were living as hikikomori in Japan. Their average age was 31 years. A recent survey of young Japanese people’s attitudes to relationships and sex by the Japan Family Planning Association, it found that 20% of men aged 25-29 had little or no interest in having a sexual relationship. Technology may be making things worse, increasing young people’s isolation.


Japan is a very rule-orientated society where young people have no way of expressing their anxiety or frustration. There is an acute shortage of psychiatrists. Treatment is essentially by medication as professional psychological support of good quality is not easily available.

Until the late 1990s, depression was not widely recognised in Japan as an illness. An advertising campaign run by a pharmaceutical company called it ‘a cold of the soul’ which helped raise awareness but is now blamed for employees faking depressive illness to take time off work.

This cartoon by Torisugari is his ‘manga therapy’ according to his psychiatrist but it does help improve the broader understanding of the condition.


{“The world that had supported me up until now is breaking up and falling away! I can’t even stand up any more!” says the character, Watashi (whose name means “I” in Japanese).}


The suicide figures have started to fall over the past 3 years but the absolute numbers still remain alarmingly high.


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