Suicide epidemic grips Japan

Suicide epidemic grips Japan
By Paul Wiseman, USA TODAY
TOKYO (July 21) A suicide fad is sweeping Japan: Hundreds of Japanese have killed themselves this year by mixing ordinary household chemicals into a lethal cloud of poison gas that often injures others and forces the evacuation of entire apartment blocks.

The 517 self-inflicted deaths by hydrogen sulfide poisoning this year are part of a bigger, grimmer story: Nearly 34,000 Japanese killed themselves last year, according to the Japanese national police. That’s the second-highest toll ever in a country where the suicide rate is ninth highest in the world and more than double that of the USA, the World Health Organization says.

Japan has long been known as a “nation of suicide,” notes sociologist Kayoko Ueno at University of Tokushima. Samurai warriors famously chose seppuku disemboweling themselves over surrender. Japanese kamikaze pilots crashed their planes into targets during World War II.

“Suicide is not considered a sin,” says sociologist Masahiro Yamada of Chuo University in Tokyo. “We’ve made it a bit of a virtue.”

Authorities are alarmed now that suicide has reached epidemic levels. Reasons:

A decade of weak economic growth and the unraveling of Japan’s system of lifetime employment have left many middle-age and elderly men unemployed and in financial ruin. Among Japanese suicides, nearly 71% are men, more than 73% are 40 or older, and more than 57% are jobless.

For an unemployed, former “salary man,” suicide can be “a rational decision,” Yamada says. When a man commits suicide in Japan, his beneficiaries can still collect his life insurance. And insurers pay off Japanese home mortgages when a family’s breadwinner dies even if the death is a suicide. “If he dies, the rest of the family gets money,” Yamada says. “If he continues to live without a job, they will lose the house.”

(…) “If just one person decided not to do it, that would be great,” Tsukino says. “They might go on to get married and have children.”