Essay 2 – Suicides in Japan

Essay 2 – Suicides in Japan

Suicide is not unique to any one specific culture but for Japan, suicide does have different connotations than the rest of the world. In this essay, I will go over the history and place of suicide within the Japanese culture, the various reasons for why a person or family would feel the need or desire to commit suicide and what impact it has on the rest of the society and family units.

What is Shinjyu?

For those who may be familiar with anime or manga as a form of entertainment, the idea of a suicide pact may not be unknown to them. It’s common for Japanese entertainment to address the concept of suicide pacts and it’s not always addressed in a negative manner. The suicide pact or Shinjyu, has been around a very long time and was limited to very close friends and family. Shinjyu in Kanji means ‘the center of the heart’ or ‘obligation to others’, this implies a duty to those close to you and something deeply meaningful to yourself. The Shinjyu has positive connotations in this way and is meant for those who may feel that their lives cannot be fulfilled in this world and wish to fulfill themselves through death, or the afterlife. In today’s digital society, there has evolved a new version of this called the Net-Shinjyu, or online pact. Even though these pacts can be related to, they are still defined as separate from Suicide Clusters. Which are suicide and attempts that occur due to another person’s recent attempt. It’s considered contagious by the U.S.’s Center of Disease Control.

There are four distinct types of shinjyu:

  • Ikka-Shinjyu

The family suicide, either of entire families or parent child. Normally individuals killed their family and then themselves.

  • Muri-Shinjyu

This is slightly different than Ikka-Shinjyu in that those killed first did not wish to be killed.

  • Ato-oi-Shinjyu

This refers to close friend, family, lover commits suicide, which then causes a second person to do so. (Think of Romeo and Juliet)

  • Net-Shinjyu

This is the newest type of shinjyu in that it relies souly on technology and meeting through online groups and that those involved would not necessarily know each other in any other way.


Let’s look at why this suicide is viewed as honorable and positive. The earliest known shinjyu was in 1703 Osaka, the Sonezaki Shinkyu. A soy sauce company sales assistant fell in love with a harlot, but due to their social status difference they were not permitted to marry. They decided to commit suicide so their souls could be together in eternity. Not a month after their death, a famous playwright heard of the tragedy and created a marionette drama about the lovers. The people of Osaka fell in love with the story and in turn the tragic love story. They were viewed as heroic, dying for their love. This may not have happened, if it had occurred at any other point in the Edo period. As the people of Osaka and Japan were living quite well. They were able to explore entertainment and appreciate life to the fullest. This example of forbidden love crossing the social status was indication of that. But due to the contagious nature of suicide and how many people committed shinjyu after the play, shinjyu drama was prohibited in 1722.

Of all the types of shinjyu, the Net-Shinjyu is the most distressing. Their very being is to gain as many new members as they can and have as large a group of suicide as possible. Since 2000, the number of bulletin boards and chat rooms dedicated to Net-Shinjyu has spread all over Japan at a tremendous speed. There are several known cases of group suicides that all were connected to these suicide groups.

These cases are such an issue that Japan’s police departments have changed internet service providers policies to be open twenty-four/seven, in order to assist with tracking down potential suicide victims. Since the evidence is that they will in fact commit suicide within 1 to 71 hours of first messaging these Net-Shinjyu groups. This is a huge social problem, especially among the younger generation that is familiar and comfortable with technology. (Katsuragawa)

What Factors Are There?

But let’s look at why people may want to turn to Net-Shinjyu. The factors that may contribute to high suicide rates differ for males and females. For males, there is a correlation between mental illness and high unemployment rates. Whereas with females, its low household income and low livelihood protection that contributes to their suicides. What this generally means is low income has a significant impact on whether an individual decides to commit suicide or not. We already know that the majority of Net-Shinjyu are younger adults and teenagers. But it’s not limited to the young, as the bubble economy burst; all of Japan has suffered economic hardship. But the younger generation is the most likely to turn to this particular type of Shinjyu.

Mental Illness was also found in many suicide victims. There is little evidence on whether mental illness is attributed to unemployment, which leads to suicide. Or if they are two casual factors. There are not enough studies currently to determine. (Nishiyama)


How Do They Do It?

There are differences in how Western and Asian cultures commit suicide. Western cultures prefer firearms, whereas hanging and poisons seem to be used more frequently in Asia. For Net-Shinjyu, carbon monoxide suffocation in vehicles is the most used way to commit group suicide. But they are not limited to this, as swapping toxins and poisons is also used. However, that is localized to Japan. When searching for ‘Asia’, it’s shown that South Korea has the highest suicide rate among Asian countries –this was surprising as you do not hear about South Korea’s suicides as much as you would Japan. There are also different methods depending on location, such as Singapore and Hong Kong’s preference for jumping. They are very dense populated areas with high rise buildings, so jumping is more often used. Hanging is also a common method among Japanese, especially the elderly. But hanging is also popular among Western cultures too. (Chien-Chang Wu)

Alcoholism or alcohol poisoning is also a popular choice for young men, this has only recently been discovered. The alcoholic beverages used range widely but all consist of spirits, wine, and beer and were correlated with unemployment rates. (Norstrom, Stickley, Shibuya)

Suicide Prevention Methods

Prior to 1998, Japan did not feel that suicide in their country was a major issue. It wasn’t until the suicide rates, prompted by the internet community, that they began to see a change. And since then, efforts to prevent suicides have risen. There are organizations and committees determined to bring this trend to a stop. Mental Health professions have increased, police task forces specifically handling suicide, have been created, and prevention plans have been put in place.

But this is a tricky concept. Japan cannot take away basic rights from people due to suspicions that they are suicidal. But that does not mean they cannot monitor or categorize risk factors and offer support and help to those that seek it. The risk factors are as follows:

  • Depression or depressed behavior
  • Alcoholism
  • Unemployment
  • Financial distress or low income
  • Age (juvenile, adolescent, young adult, elderly)
  • Uniquely – men in their 50’s who work (accounting for 30% total suicides)
  • Community events for elderly

Human rights dictate that police and prevention groups not step in without due cause. Sometimes, they step in too late. This is not due to laziness or lack of compassion but legality. Once a suicide has been attempted, the individual is given medical treatment, psychiatric help, and prosecution when it’s applicable. Even in the case that a person commits suicide successfully, these prevention organizations can continue to help and potentially prevent further suicides by helping the friends and family of the deceased.  The sense of community can be helpful but also detrimental to the rest of the family and community, as they then become at risk for suicide behavior. (Ritsu)


In conclusion, Japan’s suicide rates and epidemic can be lessened by the employment and financial struggles that the individuals face. Culturally, they feel the burden that they cannot provide either for themselves or their families and are better useful to them dead. This is a bleak but widely believed notion. Thankfully prevention groups know what signs to look for and what methods can help either the victims or the relatives of suicides. Overall, I feel that the financial issues that plaque Japan would be the best direction for these prevention groups and government to go. If they attack the economic hardship, they will notice a relief in suicide and depression in their country. But until that can be solved, prevention groups and police departments must stay alert.


Katsuragawa, Shuichi. ‘Family and Group Suicide in Japan: Cultural Analysis.

Japan. WCPRR. 2009. Print.

Nishiyama, Akira. “Exploring Suicide in Japan: In the Light of Mental Illness and Socioecomonic Factors.”

Keio University. Kanagawa. 2010. Print.

Chien-Chang Wu, Kevin; Chen, Ying-Yeh; Yip, Paul S. F. ‘Suicide Methods in Asia: Implications in Suicide Prevention.’

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2012. Print.

Yamamura, Ritsu. ‘Practice for Suicide Prevention in Japan – Focusing on Varieties of Risks.’ Web. Sep 26. 2013.

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Norstrom, Thor; Stickley, Andrew; Shibuya, Kenji. ‘The Importance of Alcoholic Beverage Types For Suicide in Japan: A Time-series Analysis, 1063 – 2007.’ Drug and Alcohol Review. 2012. Print.


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