In 2014 alone, more than 25,000 Japanese men and women took their own lives.
That amounts to almost 69 people for each day of that year, and most of them were men.
The dubious title of the highest suicide rate in a developed country belongs to South Korea.
Still, Japan presents a number far higher than any other wealthy country.
The Japanese have nurtured seppuku as a socio-cultural tradition prescribed and positively sanctioned as a role behavior in human classes.
This reason explains why it is common to find suicide in Japanese culture.
What Is Sepukku?
Seppuku has always been a popular subject in Japan’s literature and theatre.
Although the West typically approaches the topic using psychological and psychiatric theories, seppuku has been a time-honored form of suicide in Japan for centuries.
It is one of the keys to understanding the strong relationship between Japan’s culture and suicide.
So, what is sepukku?
Also called hara-kiri, which directly translates to stomach-cutting, seppuku is the traditional Japanese form of suicide where a person slits his stomach to die honorably.
During the unification of Japan in the Edo Era, hara-kiri became widely used as a form of the death penalty.
As written in the book of Bushido, ancient anatomy believed that the human soul and affection reside in the abdomen.
Committing hara-kiri during the time exemplified bravery and intensified an appropriate way to die to live up to one’s Bushido.
The word has gone through variations in translation that misspelling it with “sepukku” has also become a widely used term.
Why the Japanese See Honor in Suicide
The concept of seeing honor and bravery through suicide is ingrained among many Japanese people.
Although the government abolished seppuku in 1873, military personnel continued to see it as an honorable way to present self-determination.
The Imperial government of Japan brought back much of the Bushido scripture, including much of the honor killings, during the Second World War.
Kamikaze pilots started crashing their planes into Allied vessels, and many soldiers committed suicide during Japan’s surrender.
Suicide in Modern-Day Japan
The Japanese view on suicide has changed in modern-day Japan. So, why is the suicide rate so high in Japan?
Suicide remains a major social issue in Japan, and it needs a lot of work to turn around completely.
Japan suicide culture has evolved from being an honorary action to an easy way out for people with social and mental health problems.
Let’s look at the primary reasons why suicides are still rampant in Japan.
Poverty and debt are at the top of the list of the primary causes leading to suicides.
Because of financial pressures, some even think that the suicide rate in Japan should be higher than reported.
The local police never thoroughly investigate many deaths of middle-aged and older people.
Since the practice of cremating bodies is universal, the evidence that comes with death is almost always entirely and hastily destroyed.
Financial pressure is the leading killer of men aged 20 to 44 since they have lost all hope and do not have the guts to seek help.
While mental health issues are the number one cause for committing suicide, many suicides result from having incurable diseases and illnesses.
Some people can’t take the pain and the financial burden on their families, leading them to take their own lives or insist on euthanasia.
Household, Workplace, and Relationship Issues
Family, workplace, and relationship dynamics are influential to suicidal conduct.
The family unit has proved efficient in becoming a protective element and the first line of defense against suicide.
If a person’s family is distant, then a relationship would take its place.
Alternatively, a workplace that fosters camaraderie among its personnel shifts the pressure from the stresses of work and lightens up to become a healthier workplace.
Without these factors, depression can kick in and start a long chain of events that could eventually lead to mental health disorders and suicide.
Bullying and Isolation
Suicides are also alarmingly preeminent among the younger population across Japan.
In schools, students who receive a constant battery of bullying may be too afraid to seek help from their families.
Bullying also occurs in the workplace, with superiors and workers persistently throwing insults that can make a person’s mental health go topsy-turvey.
Japan suicide culture has allowed suicide pacts that leave people jumping off a building or in front of trains.
Any person could avoid these problems if family relationships were intact.
Otherwise, a person dealing with bullying might resort to complete isolation, which eventually ends up in the loss of appetite for life and the sad decision to die.
Acute Social Withdrawal
Although relationship problems and bullying can cause someone to become isolated most of the time, technology also has its way of stringing you up for seclusion.
The Japanese culture of not complaining adds to the problems of financial anxiety and insecurity.
Since it is a rule-oriented society, people grow up in small boxes with minimal avenues for self-expression.
As a result, the ways to express anger and frustration are very limited.
People who do not want to submit to the norms of society tend to withdraw into isolation.
In Japan, there is a condition called hikikomori.
It refers to total withdrawal from society by seeking extreme degrees of confinement and social isolation.
There are an estimated half-million hikikomori youths in Japan, and the number seems to be larger among middle-aged individuals.
All of the abovementioned factors tend to result in depression among people experiencing similar societal problems.
The medical sector classifies depression and related illnesses as mood disorders.
They affect people socially, interpersonally, educationally, and occupationally.
Because of the primordial Japanese culture of not complaining, those who experience depression tend to shun help from almost any source.
Why Is the Suicide Rate so High in Japan?
The numbers of 25,000 suicides per year have fluctuated but remained rampant following the problems left by the economic crisis.
The Japanese suicide culture of seppuku and the permissive attitudes towards suicide still remain in modern times.
Furthermore, the economic downturn has caused a trend in unemployment, especially among middle-aged men.
Because of the integration of suicide in Japanese culture, people seem to ignore the facts about fixing things for people on a personal level.
More often than not, families and friends are not aware of the pre-existing conditions that would ultimately lead to a final decision to commit suicide.
What Is Overwork Suicide?
In Japan, there is such a thing called karoshi.
It translates to “overwork death,” which relates to sudden mortality in the occupational sector.
Most of the common causes of karoshi are stroke, heart attack, stress, and starvation.
While deaths due to overworking are not typically intentional, continuous mental stress can also push employees to take their own lives.
This form of suicide is called karojisatsu, or overwork suicide.
Are Japanese Workers Really More Susceptible to Suicide Than Other Groups?
In Japan, a person considered to be the model employee of his or her company may also be the most susceptible to depression.
There is a sense of rivalry in any corporate setting, and those at the top receive the most scrutiny from envious colleagues.
While being a model employee can be very rewarding, it takes a toll on a person’s mental health due to isolation from family, friends, and colleagues.
Model employees in Japan become socially reinforced individuals who suddenly crack under pressure if they do not meet work expectations.
Because of all the preset expectations, they tend to yield a despondent premorbid personality.
As a result, they are more likely to snap when depressed and possibly decide to commit suicide.
This trend is also true with overworked employees of many developing countries.
Besides Japan, the rates are highest in Russia, South Korea, and China.
What Has Been the Role of the Government in Dealing With This Crisis?
The Japanese view on suicide continues to hamper the creation of policies to help address the issue.
So far, Japan has mitigated overworking by requiring companies to lower the maximum overtime each employee has to accomplish.
The Japanese government aims to reduce the number of employees who work more than 60 hours each week to five percent of total workers.
Additionally, the Japanese government began to expand unemployment insurance and improve safety nets for economically disadvantaged families.
While this is a great start, the rest of the world is still waiting for an exceptional plan to avoid unnecessary losses.
What Has Been the Role of Japanese Psychiatry in Dealing With This Crisis?
Since the rise of the suicide rate across Japan, the Japanese psychiatry sector has started to bring mental health services to where it is badly needed.
To date, however, there is not enough data to analyze the role of the suicide prevention efforts of the psychiatry sector in decreasing the suicide rate.
There are continuous efforts to reach out, especially to high-risk groups, and results are yet to emerge in the foreseeable future.
Suicide in Japanese Culture
While it remains rampant across the country, Japanese suicide culture has evolved from being an honorable thing to a drastic measure resulting from years of mental health issues.
Even with the recent surge in deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic, the suicide rate in Japan is still high.
The threat of dying from the coronavirus disease is another reason people want to take their own lives, and the Japanese government has to step up its efforts.
Japan may have a world-class response to the ongoing pandemic, but it will need the same to thwart all the problems relating to suicides.
All these issues aside, the Japanese culture has a more vibrant side.
Learn Japanese from zero up and immerse yourself in all things Japanese if you want to understand the dark and bright sides of Japanese culture.