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August 04, 1999 atimes.com
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Japan

Suicide rate takes a worrisome jump
By Edwin Karmiol

TOKYO - Japan is perhaps one of the few countries left in the world where suicide is considered an honorable act, but even the Japanese are becoming alarmed at the steep rise in the number of people taking their own lives in their country.

Official statistics show that last year, a record 32,863 Japanese and foreigners committed suicide in Japan, or a huge 35 percent increase over the 1997 figure.

Many of them were failed businessmen or jobless workers who could no longer cope with doing nothing, while some killed themselves because of work-related stress. In a disturbing trend, however, about 339 students committed suicide last year, largely because they were being bullied by classmates. Observers say the youngsters may have been taking their cues from adults, many of whom are being driven by the recession to choose death instead of facing reality or trying to figure a way out of an oppressive situation.

Many Japanese regard suicide as a show of sincerity to expiate their shortcomings, and view it as an act that would restore honor to their name, their family, or organization.

Such an attitude has made it possible for the macabre book, ''The Perfect Suicide Manual'', to consistently land in the local bestseller lists even five years after it first came out. The book, written by Wataru Tsurumi, a sociology graduate of Tokyo University, gives explicit instructions on how to commit suicide by hanging, self-immolation, electrocution, drug overdose and other gruesome means.

Lawmakers have apparently become so worried at the rising suicide rates that they recently designated the book a ''harmful publication.'' This designation was given last month, shortly after a 12-year-old girl used the manual prior to hanging herself.

Meanwhile, the Japanese public and the media are now up in arms over those perceived to be pushing people to take their own lives during these hard economic times - financial institutions and prosecutors who interrogate suspects in financial scandals too roughly.

Commented crime expert Akira Fukushima of Tokyo's Sophia University: ''Whenever prosecutors investigate a bribery case, someone ends up committing suicide.'' According to Fukushima, suspects - who are subjected to intensive grilling by prosecutors in an effort to break their will - resort to suicide to protect their superiors and to save themselves from shame.

At the same time, banks and financial institutions are getting harsh criticism for granting reckless and unrecoverable loans of several billions of dollars during Japan's so-called bubble economy - and then today refusing to extend credit to needy small and medium enterprises.

Last year, the suicide of three Tokyo business partners facing bankruptcy and who were unable to secure a new loan became the subject of much public discussion and dismay. Checking into a hotel, the three friends took a last drink before retreating to their respective rooms and hanging themselves.

In another incident, the president of a picture-frame manufacturing firm and his wife hanged themselves because they could no longer pay their nine workers.

At times, despondent parents have been known to take not only their own lives, but that of their children as well. Known as ''oyaku-shinju,'' the parent-child suicide is considered an act of mercy and the last demonstration of the parents' wish that their children do not become burdens to society.

But despite the current uproar over the mounting deaths, some observers fear that there will be no let-up in the suicides until the recession ends, or the Japanese begin viewing the act in a different manner.

As it is, there is a 2,400 hectare dense forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji that has become infamous for being a favorite suicide spot, after mystery writer Seichi Matsumoto described the woodland as ideal for the perfect death. In 1998 alone, the bodies of about 70 people were found in the notorious forest. Some of the victims were discovered hanging from tree branches, while others apparently swallowed sleeping pills or bled to death after having slashed their wrists.

Then there is the railway system, which has been the site of a rash of suicides as well. Close to 100 people jumped in front of trains last year. Ironically, though, Japanese Railways is now seeking compensation from the families of the dead - because of the delays caused by the suicides. Railway officials say they expect as much as $70,000 from each jumper's family.

(Inter Press Service)



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