Story published in Japan Times about suicides resulting from the Tohoku disasters. Online version can be found here
This was a tough topic to cover. I found it particularly difficult because the so-called “kokoro no care” groups that are apparently providing counseling support for survivors simply refused to talk (I tried arranging interviews with groups from Osaka, Kita Kyushu, Akita and Aomori). At first I thought this was purely because of the delicate nature of the subject, but after talking with a psychiatrist back in Tokyo about this I was left with a different impression. The care groups simply have little to say because they are terribly underused, the doctor suggested.
The reason may be simple. Having spent my first few Japan years in the Tohoku region I am aware of the stoic (some, like Nobel novelist Natsume Soseki, even say stubborn) nature of the people there, many of whom would not want to share their personal troubles with others — outsiders, especially. What’s more, I am told by Japanese doctors/psychiatrists and other experts that psychiatric care here is not as developed as in some countries in the West. “The national government pours millions into tackling Japan’s perennial suicide problem, but seems to fail to actually look at the roots of that problem,” said one.
Depression is a huge suicide trigger in Japan — the national police statistics show that. But there seems to be little effort made to tackle the issue at that level. So, instead of highly trained psychiatrists (of which there are few) we have money thrown at municipalities who spend it on “don’t do it” poster campaigns.
Another anecdote connected with this: For some years I have been documenting Japan’s notorious suicide forest (photos relating to this here), where dozens of Japanese go to kill themselves each year. Of the original measures considered to buck this trend, one of the more seriously considered ones was ….. to build a wall around the forest.
I think that just about sums it up really. Ok, so it didn’t come to fruition, but the message was pretty clear. Build a wall, and people won’t come to OUR prefecture to kill themselves. Fortunately we have some individuals who think differently than the powers in government. Hence the notices at the entrances to the forest asking people to think twice. And below a number to call to talk over your troubles.
The suicide issue here bothers me, not because the numbers are so high, but because nobody really seems to care. One suicide “expert” once asked me: “Don’t you think these people have a right to take there own life?” My answer: “Of course. But wouldn’t it be nice if they also had the right to choose to get help first?”
My six pen’orth for the day …