Day 826


This forgotten book-mark in a book being revisited after two years is an origami crane – a symbol of healing in Japan. A school kid had given it to me at Hiroshima as a token of gratitude for helping him practise his spoken English.

Paper folding started in China in the first century and reached Japan in the 6th century. Here it was cultivated as an art of understatement. Origami suggests. It implies without announcing outright. It intimates without brashness. In Japanese folklore, a crane is fabled to live for a thousand years and is held in high esteem. It is believed that folding 1000 paper cranes brings the folder’s wishes come true.

A young girl called Sadako Sasaki survived the Hiroshima bomb when she was only two years old. Less than 10 years later she was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow. The disease progressed rapidly and the prognosis was not good. She set out to make a thousand paper cranes. She could complete 644 before she died on Oct. 25, 1955, less than a year after being diagnosed. Her classmates, family and friends made more to bring them up to 1000 and buried them with Sadako.


Her story captured the imagination of the country and the world. Today, we recognize the crane as a symbol of peace and hope.

“She let out both the pain of our parents and her own suffering with each crane.”
“Her death gave us a big goal. Small peace is so important with compassion and delicacy it will become big like a ripple effect. She showed us how to do it. It is my, and the Sasaki family’s responsibility to tell her story to the world. I believe if you don’t create a small peace, you can’t create a bigger peace. I like to gather those good wishes and good will and spread to the world,” said Masahiro, her brother.

Peace and hope to Sadako and to us all.

Day 796

Who said hard work won’t kill you?

They have a specific term for it in Japan – ‘Karoshi’.
It means death from overwork. One fifth of the workforce in Japan is at risk of it. 2000 people die of work related stress every year and many others due to heart attacks, strokes, suicides and other serious health problems, giving rise to resignations, law suits and calls to tackle the problem. Japanese salarymen work significantly longer hours than their counterparts in other modern economies.

Ichiro Oshima, a 24-year-old Dentsu (an advertising firm with a notorious reputation) employee, killed himself in 1991 in Japan’s first recognised case of karoshi-related suicide. Oshima had not had a day off for 17 months and was sleeping for less than two hours a night before his death.

The number of suicides and attempted suicides in the City of London (the financial district) has doubled in the first 8 months of this year, particularly from bridges. Could that have something to do with the brutally competitive atmosphere in the Square Mile? Officers are making more use of Section 136 of the Mental Health Act to take people to a place of safety, usually a hospital. Ambulances are often unavailable so officers resort to using police vans, almost criminalising people by transporting them thus. Invariably when patients are assessed they are not deemed to meet the threshold of admission to a mental hospital and released. Police are asking NHS Trusts to provide details of patients so they know if they have been released so that they can be put a plan in place to safeguard them.

City police have also set up a Bridges Working Group including officials from NHS mental health trusts, the Samaritans, the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute) and the Coastguard.

Only a small percentage of employers in the UK have family-friendly policies or personal support services in place so as to achieve a good work-life balance. Although it is improving, we still have a long way to go.


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.