In Japan, there are approximately 21,000 people who die by suicide every year (as of 2020).The suicide rate, especially among the younger generation, is much higher than in other countries.
This time, YOMOYAMA members (international students studying at Japanese universities and YOMOYAMA editorial staff members who were born and raised in Japan) talked about “suicide”.
We at YOMOYAMA would like to think about this topic and consider the issue in depth.
Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us today.
It was reported on NHK (Japan’s national broadcaster) that the total number of people who committed suicide in the last year exceeded 21,000 nationwide, the first increase since 2009.
The number of suicides among women increased by 15%, and the number of suicides among children up to high school age was the highest ever. The Japanese government seems to think that this may be due to increased social unrest caused by the new coronavirus.
However, over the past few years it has become clear that there are other factors besides coronas that are causing suicides in Japan. I would like to talk with you about how to deal with this problem, based on the current situation in Japan as I will show you.
I would be very happy to hear your own stories, if you don’t mind.
Thank you for joining us today. Suicide is a very sensitive topic, but there is a lot of news about it in Japan that cannot be overlooked.
The fact that so many people are choosing to die is an extraordinary situation. What is happening in Japan, a country that is supposed to be peaceful and safe?
The first topic is “[Q1] In Japan, suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged 15-39. What do you think of this situation?
I think it’s shocking to know that suicide is the top reason why people die at a young age.
It’s very unfortunate and sad having such high rates of suicide in Japan, more preventive efforts and policies need to be taken to address this issue.
I think I’ve become numb to it, but when I hear about such incidents on the news, I tend to ignore them. To be honest, I have a strong feeling that it’s someone else’s problem. At the very least, I would like to take care of my family and friends to prevent such misfortunes from happening to them.
Shocking, isn’t it? My feeling is similar to Mr. Suzuki’s, but I think that we have become accustomed to too much news like this. Many Japanese people do not take these facts and figures as a serious problem. This brings us to the next question: is this situation unique to Japan? Let me ask you the second question with the following figures.
Among the developed countries (G7), Japan is the only country where suicide is the leading cause of death among 15-34 year olds. What do you think about this situation? And why do you think the situation is like this?
I’ve known about this situation and I think it’s pretty bad.
The reasons for this definitely relate to the fact that Japan is a high-context culture, meaning people don’t say things straightforwardly.
Especially in Japanese companies, people are expected to keep the harmonious environment that they conceal their emotions to a great deal.
I personally think it’s the main reason to this situation. Another reason can be traced back to Japanese long-history of Samurai, who kill themselves if they failed or lost to somebody (so as I’ve heard).
I think modern generations also inherit this trait as they tend to punish themselves for failing.
I think that what is needed is less materialism and more of faith and empathy. Failure should not be seen as a tragic event, but more as something that we can learn from and a sign of developing.
Social pressure should be reduced, and blame shouldn’t be put on oneself, as many times the problems in the environment around is the main cause of troubles.
I believe part of the reason is the harsh working culture added to the social pressure, and fear of failure. Also loneliness, and the lack of proper guidance and the sense of a bigger purpose and meaning of life makes it easier for people to take such tragic decision.
Japan has one of the most aged populations in the world, with only a small number of young people. In such an environment, it is a great loss to society and to the economy if people choose to die young.
It seems to me that the world to which each person belongs has become extremely narrow, both at work and at school, and that the negative aspects of digital tools such as SNS and LINE, which are supposed to enhance human potential, are becoming more and more noticeable, creating a huge vicious circle.
Many young people think that their home, school and club activities are the place where they belong, but the moment it becomes painful for them to be there due to bullying, they start to push themselves into thinking that it is painful but there is no escape and that they have to die.
I think we need to remind people that we have infinite choices.
Yen, I have heard that Vietnam is also a hard working and serious nation, but is there any work or social pressure that crushes the individual like in Japan?
Vietnam is not as much a high-context culture as Japan so I don’t think the situation is that serious. We have strong work ethic but I think every employee is straightforward to each other, even the subordinates to their boss. I hope I answered your questions!
I also think that, as Salah says, faith is a big part of it.
Many Japanese people are not religious.
If they had been able to look at their lives through religion, they might have found other options than suicide.
Salah, what do you think about this point?
I totally agree, reevaluating life and rethinking society from a religious point of you would solve much of the problems in Japan, including causes of the high suicide rates…
Having a purposeful life with a bigger goal, and an insightful understanding of it will definitely help.
Moreover, daily worship and prayers help to reinforce these meanings when someone is weak, lonely, or suffering; as someone could reach an understanding about life and our role in it at some point in their lives, but might not recall that meaning in hardship, as he/she didn’t nurture this realization over the days, nor lived by it; Like a plant that dies without keeping to nurture and water it…
These issues and more are addressed perfectly in Islam…
For example, In Islam we have a bigger purpose in life, we need to seek acceptance in the heavens through this life, Quran tells us that everything is a test, and even reveals to us that there are hardships in this life.
Through he examples of Prophets’ stories -the most favorable humans to God- we see how some were killed, others were fought against, some thrown in the fire, or forced to leave their home countries, kidnapped… and so on
and yet they were patient and understood that by their patience they’re being rewarded more and more…
Islam also values life so much, Suicide is one of the biggest sins, it’s not our right to take ourselves’ lives, as our souls and bodies are deposits from God and we have to look after them, and we will be asked about them in the day of judgment.
It’s worth mentioning also that Islam reshapes society for the better, as we are all equal in the eyes of God, no matter what race, ethnicity, or social background we have…
God chose to test each one of us through different circumstances,
For those in power or higher positions at work and society, their positions don’t make them more favorable to God, it’s their test, they’re instructed to be merciful, fair, and humble…
and they will be asked about how they treated their subordinates and followers…
And as for low-ranked people, they should also be fair, honest, and deliver services in the best way possible but only within their limitations, as God himself doesn’t ask us to exceed our limitations and instructs us to be considerate of our mental and physical health…
The last thing I would like to highlight is that also Islam organizes contracts among people…
Under no condition, an Employer is permitted to abuse his/her employees and their financial needs.
If a contract states 40 hrs work per week, for X money, then only this what constitutes the relationship, no extra hours for free, no waiting for the boss to leave the office, no additional work at home -unless the employee is voluntarily accepting with 100% consent, and not because of social and financial pressure-, and courts should intervene if any of the parties violate the terms of the contract…
So your impressions of Japan are not so different: strong social pressure on the individual, repressive tendencies. On the other hand, what about the situation of young people in your home countries, Vietnam and Syria? And now I would like to ask you about your own experiences.
Have you ever had thoughts of suicide or suffered from physical or mental illness in your daily life? Would you like to talk about how you have dealt with or overcome this?
I got depression when I broke up with my partner at the time. It was so painful and sad that sometimes when I stand in the balcony of my parent’s apartment in a high building, I thought about throwing myself through the banister just to end my life and the misery that I was going through. I was so mentally unstable that I started to fill the void by smoking too much.
I even lost my appetite with food and also my sleep. It happened during the firs 2 weeks after the breakup. After that, I tried to get out of negative thoughts by changing my surrounding environment.
I went travelling a lot, met new people and express my feelings with them (sometimes). I tried to focus on myself and what I liked to do.
Finally, I was able to come out of it and became stronger. I’m actually proud of myself for surviving that nightmare.
Of course everyone in this life will encounter some tragic events, whether in work, school, or daily life. We also need to accept that death goes always together with life by default, and that we -sooner or later- would encounter the loss of a dear one.
Personally, and as a result of war, many tragic events have happened, many of my dearest friends were killed, others were detained and later died under torture, I had to flee my country leaving my beloved family behind…etc Resorting to faith, prayer, and to Quran the book of God, that always tell us about the purpose of life and that it’s by default a place for testing us, and that we are being tested with good conditions to see if we would be thankful, and with hardships to see if we would be patient.
Also accepting destiny and fate, knowing that our plans and striving toward something might not always turn out the way we wished. Moreover, knowing the story of our prophet Mohammad Peace Be Upon Him also teaches us how to relax the social pressure, and to focus more on how God perceives us, even if everyone around is accusing us with false claims.
Salah, many young people who choose to commit suicide tend to keep it to themselves, unable to talk to anyone about the painful things that have happened to them.
What can we do to help those who are suffering alone and have no one to turn to, such as the Qur’an for Salah?
Of course, the feeling that God is with us and seeing us, and can hear us whenever we talk to him or pray, is very relieving.
At the same time, in any society, we must look after the weak, the vulnerable people, and the underdogs..
It’s a social responsibility to give guidance, support, and solidarity…
This should start with a shift toward spreading a culture of care and mercy among us, that starts from the individual and spread into the family, neighbors, friends, and colleagues; I already learned that Japanese culture has a lot of these meanings embedded, but the harsh capitalism and extreme materialism altered these beautiful meanings and traditions…there’s a need to reinforce them…
In addition to that, there’s a need for NGO’s and community centers to address these issues, and maybe a 24 hrs Hotline service to handle these cases…
This should go hand in hand with better regulations and an enhanced working environment by the government…
How about Toyofumi？
I once took a three-month leave of absence from work due to physical and mental exhaustion caused by overworking.
In Japanese society, especially in male society, there is still a tendency to boast about being tough enough to work long hours, such as “I worked all night” or “I was so busy that I didn’t have time to sleep”, although this is becoming less common.
I couldn’t adapt to such an environment and as a result I got sick, but as I took time off I came to think that it was for the best.
When I started to take time off, I remembered what my boss had said to me: “Other people are working as hard as you” and “You are not the only one who is suffering”.
But after I stopped comparing myself to others and realised that the company I work for is not the only thing in my life, I became a little more positive. I think it was because of this that I was able to start the Yomoyama project.
Toyofumi, I understand that you work for an advertising company that is famous for its hard work. As the deaths of workers due to overwork have become a social problem in recent years, policies to protect workers, such as working hour regulations, are gradually being put in place.
It is true that regulations such as those limiting the maximum number of overtime hours per month have seemingly improved the situation, but the reality is that little has changed.
In Japanese companies, and perhaps only in our industry, we are often told by our bosses to “get on with it”. If your working hours are about to exceed the monthly limit, or if you have to work late into the night to complete a proposal, you should normally apply to your manager for approval.
But if you approve all the applications from your subordinates one by one, the authorities will point out that nothing has changed in terms of working conditions. So only vague instructions would be issued, saying, “Do that part well.
In other words, there are unspoken instructions that say, “If you need to do it, we want you to do it, but we don’t want you to apply for it, and you can adjust for it by taking time off at other times.
Salah mentioned “contracts”, and in Japan, contracts don’t work very well. I think it is necessary to rethink the concept of a contract, which is the cause of both employers and workers.
This is the last theme.
If society as a whole wanted to reduce the number of people suffering from suicide or mental or physical illness, what do you think would be the best way to do this?
I think the best way to reduce suicide in society as a whole is to create a new culture of sharing and caring.
People need to know that expressing their emotions is fine and should be welcomed in the society.
As individuals, I think family and friends play a big role in spotting and supporting people with mental illness. Parents should create a trusting feeling among the family and friends should reach out to check on their friends once in every while.
Adjustments to the work culture and rules, prosecuting bullying and abusive managers, having a hotline to receive complains, enabling a service for psychological consultations, not tolerating unpaid extra hours and excessive workload.
And more focus on the individual as the very first seed of the society, reducing materialistic trends, enabling NGO work and creating specialized centers to tackle these issues.
The first step is to prevent excessive work and excessive oppression. However, the current “working time regulations” promoted by the government will only have a certain effect and will not help to reduce the number of suicides.
Rather, I think it is more important for the government and local authorities to expand the so-called safety net so that individuals can have a wider choice of ways to work.
Also, from my personal experience, it is important to avoid dependence on any one thing, such as a company. If you rely solely on the company for your income and relationships, you will have no way out when problems arise in the company. For example, it is important to have more than one source of income and to be able to leave the company at any time.
I think it is necessary not to create an environment of dependence on only one thing, such as friends, lovers or family, and to diversify our emotions.
This time we had a talk on the difficult topic of suicide, and we heard many different perspectives. The issue of suicide is so closely linked to school and work that it is difficult to find a quick solution, but I hope that by talking about it in this way we can take one or two steps towards a solution.
Thank you all very much for your time today.