Opinion / Cai Hong

Japan must reduce the suicide rate among students

By Cai Hong (China Daily) Updated: 2016-09-19 07:47

The jagged cliffs of Tojinbo in Fukui prefecture on Japan's west coast are unfortunately popular among people who commit suicide. On average 25 people jump off the cliffs to end their lives every year.

A Fuji TV program reported that the cliffs, which have been occupied by Pokemon Go players day and night these days, saw a drop in suicides in August. Tojinbo is believed to have drawn crowds from afar in an attempt to catch some rare digital creatures, or Pokemon, as it is one of the few Pokestops in the region.

The free augmented reality game that uses Google maps and a smartphone has fueled public safety fears, from traffic accidents to distracted pedestrians and dangerous trespassing in Japan and rest of the world. In Tojinbo, it appears to be saving lives.

But Japan still has one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world. The news of two middle school students' committing suicide in August sent shock waves across Japan. A 12-year-old Japanese schoolboy hung himself on Aug 19, leaving behind a 10-page suicide note that indicated he had been bullied at school. And a 13-year-old schoolgirl jumped in front of a moving train in the town of Fujisaki, Aomori prefecture, on Aug 25. A suicide note on her smartphone asked the bullies to "never bully (anyone) again".

The parents of the boy and the girl said bullying is one of the main reasons that the children committed suicides and requested the authorities to launch a thorough investigation into the matters.

Japanese schoolchildren's suicide rate increases when summer and spring vacations end, with most of the cases reported on Sept 1 when most schools reopen for a new session, according to the official figures from 1972 through 2013.

Experts' explanation for this: Teens who are bullied fear returning to school.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among 15-to 40-year-olds in Japan. The results of a poll released on Sept 7 by the Tokyo-based Nippon Foundation said that one in four people in Japan had seriously contemplated suicide, and more than 500,000 attempted to do so last year alone.

The survey showed that people are at higher risk of committing suicide if they have been exposed to domestic abuse and violence, or poverty, or are alcohol dependent.

In 2013, the suicide in Japan was 21.4 deaths per 100,000 people-well above that of other high-income countries (12.7 deaths per 100,000 people), according to the World Health Organization's 2014 report. Japanese National Police Agency's statistics, however, show 24,025 people killed themselves in 2015, compared with 32,863 in 1998.

Pushed by non-governmental organizations such as Lifelink, the Japanese government started a national campaign on suicide prevention in 2006. Suicide rates among middle-aged men and senior citizens are falling in the country. But the rate of suicide among young people is still high-and reducing it remains a huge task.

The root causes of suicides are hard to pin down. But economic woes are believed to play a big role. Suicide rates increased sharply in the mid-1990s as Japan's economy stuttered. Moreover, the nation needs to address cultural and social issues that have made Japanese more tolerant of people committing suicide. According to one Japanese tradition, committing suicide can absolve people of their guilt, cancel their debt, restore their honor and prove their loyalty.

The author is China Daily Tokyo bureau chief. caihong@chinadaily.com.cn

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