Originally, Part 3 of my Life in Japan series was going to be about the real life zombie apocalypse, either talking about the penchant of people to walk with their heads buried deep in their smartphones, or about the majority of the population being (literally) zombies over the age of 80. However, events last night on my way home made me stop and think about what my next piece should be about, and it’s a rather serious topic that needs to be addressed, for Japan has a severe problem when it comes to this particular subject. This is not for the faint of heart, so continue at your own discretion.
Japan is one of the countries that ranks the highest in non-violence-related suicides. In a 2016 World Health Organization survey, compiling data from Australia, China, Japan, the United Kingdom and the US, Japan leads the pack with an average of 14.3 suicides per 100,000 population. Factoring into that average, 20.5 suicides are men verses 8.1 suicides of women. With a population of 127 million in 2016, the numbers work like this:
It factors out to about 78,802 male suicides in Japan in 2016, if the math worked correctly.
The United States isn’t too far behind with 13.7 average suicide rate, 21.1 being male and 6.4 being female deaths.
Australia follows at an average 11.7 suicide rate, 17.4 male versus 6 female.
The UK follows with 7.6 average suicide rate, with a much more insignificant population compared to the next country listed. 11.9 suicides are male, 3.5 female.
China is last, with an average of 8 (7.9 male vs. 8.3 female). With the highest mean population in the world, even though the average is higher, the ratio of suicide:population is minuscule compared to most countries.
Being in Japan for as long as I have, I completely understand why suicide is the highest of any country, especially for men. I, myself, have fallen prey to the negativity surrounding a man’s life in Japan and the demands placed upon him. For reasons of my own, I too have thought of taking my own life, I’m not afraid to admit it. The fact that I struggled on and continued the good fight, as well as writing this blog, proves that the thought never manifested into action. For some men in Japan, it may seem that there isn’t much of a choice.
Factor 1: A man’s role in Japan is to hold a stable job.
If a man continues to fail at being stably employed, it is a huge stigma according to society. In my first Life in Japan piece, “The Good Soldier,” I outlined why being a “jack of all trades” is seen as the worst possible thing you can be labelled as. If an individual can’t find a role to play within their company that contributes to the company as a whole, that individual is cut off. The loss of a job, a loss of purpose, perhaps with no options available professionally, makes a man in Japan feel useless. Thus, samurai commit sepuku (ritual suicide) when their usefulness is at an end, or they have dishonored their family or clan. It’s the same feeling and same idea, so men take their own lives.
Factor 2: Family Trouble
The second most common reason for men to do themselves in is trouble at home. Usually, it involves an unfaithful wife. A housewife, after seeing the husband off to work and the kids to school, will “go out and play.” A good wife usually hangs out with her girlfriends, while the lonely wives seek out male companionship. Sometimes they take English conversation classes in-house and give the teacher an education. Often, though, it’s an ex-lover, a service provider or a childhood friend. Whatever the case may be, men know that they are on the losing end of any dispute over marriage. They lose everything, by default, and a cheating wife is seen as spousal neglect on the part of the husband (not adultery on the wife’s part). Hence, men lose divorce cases, every time. It’s a dishonorable thing and ends up with the husband taking his own life.
Factor 3: Failing Society’s Expectations
Be a good husband.
Be a good worker and contribute to Japanese society.
Be a good person and be stable.
Failing that, kill yourself.
These are the edicts of Japanese society and their demands upon men. For most, it is entirely impossible to do all of these things. Being a samurai warrior in life, as expected, is not an easy task to undertake. Not even the best men completely succeed, save for the Prime Minister and the Emperor, who are born into wealth and power. Men who feel they have not been able to accomplish all of these will take their own lives as quickly as they came into the world.
Factor 4: Blue Balls
All joking aside with the name of this penultimate factor I’ll discuss of suicide among men, this is actually the most damning of all. A man’s life is so busy and so demanding that there is little time for sex, especially for life in Tokyo. From sunrise to sunset, a man is working (slaving away) for the little money he makes to support his family. On the weekends, if he has time off, he’ll go home to his wife, who is so tired from taking care of the little children all day, she won’t even look at his naked form when he takes a bath.
Usually, a man will go out in the evenings (assuming he’s in Tokyo) to Kabukicho, Dogenzaka (Shibuya) or Ikebukuro and avail himself of a fuzoku girl for a few hours to let off some steam and stress. The problems arise when their wives find out and divorce results. Unlike when she steps out on him, he’s accused of adultery. Again, the man can’t win in family court in Japan, thus adding more pressures upon him.
Factor 5: Domo Arigatou, Mr. Roboto
Not just the name of a popular cult song, a man’s life is what has been described as a “death march” (the Japanese, dessu maachi, is the exact same thing). It is a lifetime of routine after routine, always on repeat with very little to no deviation from that. It becomes so pointless to some men that their psyche literally drowns in it and they take their own lives, often not feeling anything due to the numbness of which their lives consist (no feelings of pain or pleasure).
There are a few reasons why I’m focusing on men in this area. While I do not downplay the troubles of women in Japanese culture, which in and of itself is another post I feel I might need to make in the near future, the demands of the Japanese man or the foreign man who has integrated into Japanese society, are the heaviest burdens anyone can carry on their shoulders. Literally, men are made to feel that they need to be Atlas and never shrug, with a world on their backs their bodies were never meant to handle. Their psyches are so fragile that they could crack at any time.
Another way Japanese men try to get away from their lives is through crime. The majority of Japanese men are good men who just want to do their part and don’t normally commit to a life of crime. However, this does account for many instances of chikkan (groping of women). Not just for sexual release but men also do this in the hopes they’ll get caught by the police and sent to jail. Being too much of a burden on society to commit suicide, or the overall fear of death overcoming them, men will resort to sexual assault to they can be sent to prison and never have to face their lives again.
I am not making the above statement as an excuse for sexual assault. The fact that the majority of sexual assaults go unreported in Japan is a testament to how society thinks of women.
This segways into an already long post about the problem of suicide in Japan. Women have been fighting for rights in Japan for an excruciatingly long length of time. Needless to say, their rights seem to have been diminishing in the modern age. If ever #TimesUp and #MeToo were needed, it’s today in Japan. The west complains of the non-existent wage gap, gender inequality and the debunked sexual assault statistics. What SJWs are actually doing is carrying over Japan’s very real wage gap, gender inequality and sexual assault statistics over to forums where none of those exist in the numbers they protest about (let’s face it: the protests are only because “Orange Man Bad”).
Significantly, Japan and China share almost the same rate of suicide rates among women at 8.1 and 8.3 per 100,000 population, respectively. China, where not only the population of women is significantly lower than men, has strictly enforced family laws placed upon households, especially with the well documented cases of forced abortion kidnappings. Japanese women have it bad, as well.
Outside of the family court in divorce cases where women hold 100% of the power over their husbands, no matter if the wife is at fault or not, Japanese women have many demands placed upon them. They are expected to keep a household by cleaning, cooking, raising children, and basically ending their social lives and dreams upon marriage. Today, more and more women are trying to break free from that role of the “good wife,” but with waiting lists for daycare centers stretching into the years (current public waiting list in my town, for example, has remained unchanged over the last six years. Six years ago, the wait was six years long. Today, it’s almost seven years, and I live in an elderly-majority town), women are finding it difficult to go back to work.
Women in the office are seen as the kitchen maids. If a man has to do tea service for guests (unless the man is a foreigner), it’s seen as demeaning. Women also rarely hold positions of power in the company. In the rare occasions that a woman holds any kind of authoritative status, even the lowest of company newbie males can put their supervisors into submission. Most women who choose to climb the corporate ladder also give up having a family, and get their sexual needs satisfied in-shop or they don’t at all.
As a result, women sometimes take their own lives after finding out their husband has stepped out on them. Rather than having her proper revenge in divorce court, if she too isn’t stepping out, Japanese society tells her she is a failure in the house. She’s not a good mother and an even more terrible wife who neglected her husband’s needs. Depending on how traditional and hardcore her family is, her parents will shun her, being disappointed that she wasn’t able to maintain the house.
This also adds more pressure on women to be completely submissive in bed. Enjoyment of sex becomes pointless, so long as her husband is satisfied in the end. Rarely, she will initiate sex with her husband, but in the end, it’s more of “going through the motions” than genuinely being in the mood.
Women statistically earn less than a man, and not because of hours worked. Women work alongside their male coworkers, sharing in all responsibilities. Even working overtime, which is a staple of Japanese corporate life. Their paychecks are significantly less than a man’s and there is a very real wage gap. The respect of status of women, along side the low wages, can be seen evidently.
In 2011, the Japan Women’s soccer team won the world cup. Japanese society’s payment for their efforts: return flight back to Japan in coach, while their male managers enjoyed business and first class. [citation link]
Given all of these things, it’s no wonder women feel like they can’t escape. Usually, women see suicide as a last resort when all goes wrong. Most women who get sick of living in the shadow of Japanese society and will hook up with foreigners, hoping they’ll take them away from Japan. Others will simply run away, but eventually will lead to suicide.
Yesterday, an individual killed themselves on the Seibu Shinjuku Line, causing an almost 3 hour delay on the line while police cleaned up the mess. Suicide method of choice is death by train, since it’s supposedly quick and painless. For the family members, depending on the train line, they face hefty fines for the suicide of their loved one, not condolences.
Suicide, anywhere, is a very serious problem. As part of Japanese culture, it’s very significant. Japanese society offers very little in the way of getting help through suicide prevention. Larger companies have counseling for suicide prevention, but some services are either insignificant or non existent, along with poor mental healthcare, inflames the problem at hand. It’s a sad but unavoidable fact of life (or in this case, fact of death) in Japanese society.
For foreigners who integrate well, they are sure to get a good taste of it. Foreigners, like myself, who have a family to look after, feel the burdens of society upon our shoulders, but most definitely, not as bad, as we have the magical “gaijin card” we can play. Japanese have no such luck, and it’s an unfortunate fact of life that, if you come to Japan, you need to accept and deal with.
If you are a foreigner in Japan and feel the need to off yourself, seek help! You have the resources of your embassy and your home country that can give you counseling you need to talk your problems out. If you know anyone who is has been vocal about offing themselves, get them help! Suicide is a very serious epidemic and needs to be curtailed. It affects everyone left behind in more ways than anyone can imagine. Seek help! Seek a way to live!