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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #126: May 1, 2003

Japan moves to curb horrific suicide rate

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Japan moves to curb horrific suicide rate"
(By Elaine Lies, Reuters) Swissinfo


The all time most watched TV drama in Japan is "Oshin" which was broadcasted from April 1983 through March 1984 on NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation). It attracted a whopping 62.9% rating at the time. This program in fact seems to be also the most watched Japanese drama in the world. Following the domestic broadcast, an international edition was created for distribution worldwide. It was eventually aired in 59 countries, and 200 million people in China alone were reported to have watched it.

The story is about a girl named Oshin who suffered hardships in the early years of life but overcame every obstacle to become an owner of a supermarket chain. The drama covers the heroine's life from age seven to eighty-three. Throughout the story, the theme is endurance and will. Audience sympathizes with Oshin in bearing adversities, which resonate with people's sentiment that endurance and strong will are the key factors in life.

The article introduces recent efforts in Japan by voluntary groups to control and curb suicides, and that finally the government is beginning to take up the issue.

In the old days, killing oneself under certain circumstances was considered as an act of responsibility and bravery. That circumstance could be when unsuccessful in accomplishing an assigned task or failing to meet others' expectations. Until the end of WWII, Japan's soldiers were actually instructed to kill himself rather than to be taken as a prisoner. Even in business environment, someone who could not meet the deadline in, say, repaying a loan to commit suicide was an accepted way of expressing apology and the heirs would be relieved of the debt.

The sentiment still seems to linger. Few years ago, a former chief of a major bank killed himself when a scandal at the bank was revealed. But such story has become rare reflecting the change of philosophy among Japanese people, and the attitudes of not only the people but also the governments are changing, as stated in the article. Various reports indicate that recent suicides are not committed out of sense of responsibility but from despair. In this context, the pattern of suicide in Japan is becoming more akin to those of developed countries.

Although the article apparently intends to hint the suicide rate in Japan is high, closer analysis indicates otherwise. It is true that the number of suicides in Japan relative to population is about twice that of the US or Canada, but it is pretty much in par with such countries as France and Australia, which is significantly lower than Finland, and half that of Russia. It might be also interesting to note that the number in Mexico is less than half that of the US.

Having said that, it is encouraging to know the government has finally acknowledged that suicide is not strictly a personal affair which should be treated quietly in a secluded manner, but it is a loss to the society where public efforts should be allocated to prevent such incidents. Traffic accidents kill 10,000 people each year in Japan while suicides kill three times that. Efforts to decrease this number would not only be saving the lives of individuals, but would benefit the society as a whole.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications