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Japan: A surge of suicides

Over the past few weeks, the Japanese media have been extensively reporting suicide cases associated with the use of hydrogen sulfide gas, providing detailed description of ingredients and methods used, as well as victims’ profiles. The recent media reporting has been so extensive and sensationalized that the Japan Suicide Prevention Association requested that media organizations be more careful with their reporting [jp]. The phenomenon has stirred up conversation among Japanese bloggers, who hold differing views on the topic.

Blogger Misuto comments on the recent phenomenon:

一日に約、90人
が自殺により命をおとすようです
年間3万人
自殺原因第一位は、鬱によるものらしいです
勿論先進国のなかで一位
それにしても多いですね、驚いた
最近なんかはニュースで
硫化水素自殺のニュースが非常に多いですよね
これから自殺者が年々減っていけばよいのですが・・・。

About 90 people per day commit suicide.
30,000 people in a year.
The number one reason for suicides is apparently depression.
Of course this is the highest among industrialized countries.
Anyway, this is a lot, I'm surprised.
Recently, there have been a lot of news reports about cases of suicide by hydrogen sulfide gas.
I hope that the number of suicides will decrease…

Blogger hakobe writes:

自殺を防ぐ(=生きたいと思わせる)には
その人自身が必要とされているという実感

必要とされたいと思えるような相手(社会,人…etc)
が必要なんだと思う.

To prevent suicides (i.e. to make people want to live),
the actual feeling that one is needed,
and
the somebody one wants to be needed by (society, people…etc)
are needed, I think.

硫化水素自殺が流行っているらしい.
硫化水素を発生させるための情報や薬品の排除がすすめられているようだけど,「今」「硫化水素で」自殺する人が減る「かもしれない」だけの対症療法.

“対症療法”をいくら重ねても,こんな世の中のままじゃ自殺予備軍はきっと減らないよ.

I hear that suicides by hydrogen sulfide gas are spreading.
Although the removal of chemicals as well as information on how to produce hydrogen sulfide gas is being carried out, this is only a stopgap measure which “might” reduce the number of people who commit suicide “by hydrogen sulfide” “now”.

No matter how many measures may be taken, if society remains as it is, the number of potential suicides will probably not decrease.

poster
Poster for an anti-suicide campaign by an local municipality in Tokyo: “We want you to live”

Some bloggers are critical of the media's handling of the cases. This blogger suggests that the media stop reporting suicides altogether:

自殺の連鎖を食い止める方法をなんとかせないかんの違いますかね?

Isn't it that we have to do something to stop the cycle of suicides?

人はなぜか、「やって!」というとやらないで、
「しないで欲しい」っていうと、やってしまう。。。
そういう傾向ってありますよね。

だから、メディアでやめてくださいみたいなことをいうと
やっちゃう人でてくるんじゃないっすかね?

For some reason, there is a tendency where people don't do things that they are asked to do, and do things that they are told not to do.

So, when the media say “don't do this”, then there will be people who do it, won't there?

そのメディアも、たしかに真実を伝えるっていうことは重要ですが、
逆に硫化水素自殺の報道を一切やめるっていうのはどうでしょうかね?

Certainly it is important for the media to report the truth,
but how about stop reporting hydrogen sulfide gas suicides altogether?

日本ってのは情報に流されやすいのか、
テレビで取り扱わなかった場合ってあっという間に飽きられると
私は思うんです。そう。飽きっぽい。

ちょい前に「韓流ブーム」とか、「ハンカチ王子」とかあったでしょ?

放送しなかったら途端に忘れちゃう人が多いと思うんです。
※本当に好きな人は別で。

Japanese are easily swayed by information,
and things get old really fast when they are no longer seen on TV, that's what I think.
That's right, people get tired of things easily.

A while ago, there were the “Korea boom” and “Hankachi Ōji (Handkerchief Prince)”, remember?

I think that there are many things that people would forget about if they were not broadcast.
*except for those people who really like these things.

「毒ギョーザ事件」

ほら。忘れてたでしょ?

The poison dumpling incident

See, you forgot all about it right?

まだ問題は解決してませんが、うやむやのまま流れていくんです。

私も含め、そういう日本の特質というんでしょうか
飽きっぽいのは悪い癖だと思うんです。

The problem has not been solved yet, but will be left unsolved.

This is a kind of characteristic of Japanese people, myself included
I think it's a bad habit.

んじゃ、硫化水素のこともメディアで取り扱わなかったら
その自殺の連鎖も止まるかもしれません!!
そうだ!マスコミがその鍵を握っているんだぁぁぁ!!

。。。ふぅ

And so, if the media do not cover hydrogen sulfide cases, then perhaps the circle of suicide can be broken!!
That's right! The media hold the key!!

…phew

Blogger taishibrian discusses how the Internet has become the target of blame and points out that the Japanese media do not comply with the guideline set by WHO for media reporting of suicide cases:

オープンかつフラットなネットの世界においては、例えば漂白用に使う硫化水素の発生リスクについて書かれたページもあれば、硫化水素よりも致死性が高いであろう有機系の薬品に関する記載もあったりします。ただしその情報は、目的を持って検索されなければ普通の人の目には触れるはずのないものであり、マスコミがその情報に到達させるようなヒントを流しているというリスクも考えなければいけません。そしてそれを削除せよなんて後手の対策はいたちごっこでしかなく、練炭の次は硫化水素、その次は。。。という悪循環に陥るだけです。

In the open and flat world of the Internet, there are, for example, sites about the risk of hydrogen sulfide gas in bleaching, as well as sites describing organic chemicals with much higher lethality than hydrogen sulfide. However, this information cannot be exposed to ordinary people's eyes unless they purposefully search for it, and it should be taken into consideration the risk that the mass media might provide a hint about how to get to the information. And a follow-up measure to try to delete it is just a cat-and-mouse game and only creates a vicious cycle: [first you have] briquette coal, and next is hydrogen sulfide, and next is…

WHOでは自殺予防ガイドラインとして、メディアが遵守すべき自殺防止への報道のあり方を定義しています。
http://www8.cao.go.jp/souki/tebiki.pdf(PDFファイル)
●写真や遺書を公表しない
●自殺の方法について詳細に報道しない
●原因を単純化して報じない
●自殺を美化したりセンセーショナルに報じない
●宗教的・文化的な固定観念を用いない
●自殺を責めない

これらは逆に現在のマスコミの報道姿勢をそのまま示している感じすらするような内容です。[…]

As guidelines, the WHO defines the way in which media should report the news in order to prevent suicides:
(see here for English version)
*Don't publish photographs or suicide notes
*Don't report detailed description of the method used.
*Don't give simplistic reasons
*Don't glorify or sensationalize suicide
*Don't use religious or cultural stereotypes
*Don't apportion blame.

These points almost seem like they are describing what the current state of the mass media is.[…]

9 comments

  • Wow that is so sad, and the out come of last weeks disaster it is so sad. I feel so bad for those people. Or any one sad enough to commit suicide. I pray for all those who hurt. Hopefully other prayers together will change the prospectives of people when they feel alone and hurt.

  • Well, has someone looked into the data that developing countries like India have?

    Due to the sheer population size, any day the number of total suicide would be very high when compared to smaller countries. Though, this logic does not justify a reason not to look into the rising rate in Japan, which ought to be investigated.

    What do I want to convey is, we should work for the globe if we consider th Earth as a village.

    Regards,

  • Tony Bevan

    You don’t need to be a psychologist or anthropologist to discover the source of Japan’s lemming tendency. You need only a heart and a touch of empathy.

    Prosperous, egalitarian, safe, and industrious: these are some of the beliefs encouraged by Japan’s modern myth makers.

    But scratch the surface, ever so lightly, and you’ll uncover Japan’s psychological desert – a mental environment in which multitudes live without meaning and hope.

    In this densely populated brand swapped island lurks a pandemic of loneliness. Fierce engulfing devouring, the isolation kills.

    Infamously, the long hours work culture separates husbands from wives. While the after school cram schools separate children from parents. Japan’s families are ripped apart.

    Economic migration, cultural inhibition, and hierarchical personal relationships make friendship a rare commodity.

    And accompanying the strangulating loneliness stands the stark lack of personal power or even the daydream of change. There is no meaningful democracy. No union power. And the general population is politically apathetic to the point of negligence.

    If you cannot find meaning in the mall or workplace, Japan has nothing to offer.

  • Sue

    Pay attention people, for whatever reason these people chose h2s as their means to end their life. Is it merely coincidence, or are they giving us a warning? It is unfortuneate to report that many are suffering and dying from hydrogen sulfide toxicity. I live in a small community in the U.S. and am dealing with overexposure myself. Overexposure to hydrogen sulfide results in an early death preceded by tormenting symptoms. God Be With Us.

  • Ben

    Sue (#4):
    “Is it merely coincidence, or are they giving us a warning?”

    Yes, please help out. The suspense is killing me.

  • Sue

    There is a web of laws to protect the integrity of the environment and to prevent some toxic exposures to humans from industrial activities. But, because exemptions have been granted to the oil and gas industry from some environmental laws and regulations that require
    them to identify and mitigate the impact of their activities on human health through ari, water and soil contamination, toxic exposures can take place. Despite the extraction activity under way, the toxic impact on the human and animal populations of the resource areas is unevaluated. There is no public health oversight. There is no database of those exposed at work or as residents. No surveillance of the health impact of the activities on worker families, adn other resident populations near the extracton and processing sites is underway or planned. No meaningful evaluation of exposure of these persons to such toxics as crude oil or its components, benzene, toluene, xylene, and naphthalene, of produced mercury or arsenic, of hydrogen sulfide(sour gas and its co-riders,) nor of MTBE, barites, or any drilling chemicals used in the industry is done. Add to this, unregulated uranium mining….

  • I am a JSCCP clinical psychologist and JFP psychotherapist working in Japan for over 20 years. I would like to put forward a perspective on the real reasons behind the unacceptably high suicide Japan from Japan and so will limit my comments to what I know about here in Japan but would first like to suggest that western media reports on suicide rates in Japan should try harder to get away from the tendency to ‘orientalize’ the serious and preventable problem of increased suicide rates here over the last 10 years by reverting to stereotypical ideas of Japanese people in general.

    Mental health professionals in Japan have long known that the reason for the unnecessarily high suicide rate in Japan is due to unemployment, bankruptcies, and the increasing levels of stress on businessmen and other salaried workers who have suffered enormous hardship in Japan since the bursting of the stock market bubble here that peaked around 1997. Until that year Japan had annual suicide of rate figures between 22,000 and 24,000 each year. Following the bursting of the stock market and the long term economic downturn that has followed here since the suicide rate in 1998 increased by around 35% and since 1998 the number of people killing themselves each year in Japan has consistently remained well over 30,000 each and every year to the present day.

    The current worldwide recession is of course impacting Japan too, so unless the new administration initiates very proactive and well funded local and nationwide suicide prevention programs and other mental health care initiatives, including tackling the widespread problem of clinical depression suffered by so many of the general population, it is very difficult to foresee the previous government’s stated target to reduce the suicide rate to around 23,000 by the year 2016 as being achievable. On the contrary the numbers, and the human suffering and the depression and misery that the people who become part of these numbers, have to endure may well stay at the current levels that have persistently been the case here for the last ten years. It could even get worse unless even more is done to prevent this terrible loss of life.

    During these last ten years of these relentlessly high annual suicide rate numbers the English media seems in the main to have done little more than have someone goes through the files and do a story on the so-called suicide forest or internet suicide clubs and copycat suicides (whether cheap heating fuel like charcoal briquettes or even cheaper household cleaning chemicals) without focusing on the bigger picture and need for effective action and solutions.
    Economic hardship, bankruptcies and unemployment have been the main cause of suicide in Japan over the last 10 years, as the well detailed reports behind the suicide rate numbers that have been issued every year until now by the National Police Agency in Japan show only to clearly if any journalist is prepared to learn Japanese or get a bilingual researcher to do the research to get to the real heart of the tragic story of the long term and unnecessarily high suicide rate problem in Japan.

    I would also like to suggest that as many Japanese people have very high reading skills in English that any articles (or works of fiction which I appreciate this is) dealing with suicide in Japan could usefully provide contact details for hotlines and support services for people who are depressed and feeling suicidal.

    Useful telephone numbers and links for Japanese residents of Japan who speak Japanese and are feeling depressed or suicidal:
    Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):
    Japan: 0120-738-556
    Tokyo: 3264 4343

    Tokyo Counseling Services
    http://tokyocounseling.com/english/
    http://tokyocounseling.com/jp/

    http://www.counselingjapan.com

  • Nimbsky

    Andrew Grimes JFP, JSCCP, with respect the solution to Japan’s alarming suicide rate is not well funded mental healthcare services. At best they may be a sticking plaster and prevent some poor depressed people from final acts, but they do nothing to tackle the social conditions that mean the loss of a job leads to such despair. Depression is a natural and normal response to unemployment in a deeply materialistic culture in which survival and status are almost totally dependent on what you have rather than what you intrinsically and holistically are.

    You argue that the increase in suicide rates is related to increasing economic uncertainties and hardships. Tell me if I’m wrong but aren’t these societal problems? While I’m the first to accept that everything is interrelated, and that social disfunction is often internalized by individuals, attempting to tackle the \mental health\ problems that arise fails to stem the flow. Would it be too much to hope that clinical psychologists see beyond their own business interests and put people first? To use an analogy, a lock gate on a canal is a more intelligent solution to keeping the waters back than having an army of half-wits trying to save a few of the droplets with paper cups.

    You complain of people not seeing the big picture and seeking effective solutions, of poor and fictitious journalism, but aren’t you being a little myopic and disingenuous yourself? Your solution does nothing but maintain the status quo. To solve a problem perhaps one ought to try solving the problem.

  • […] seperti penghalang dan lampu LED biru di platform stasiun kereta api (melompat ke kereta adalah metode ‘mengakhiri diri' yang disukai) belum terbukti efektif dalam pencegahan bunuh diri, beberapa menganggap bahwa, di era blog, […]

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