A From-The-Train Observation
Published Friday February 27th, 2009 from 5th floor computer lab, TUJ, Tokyo, Japan. Listening to DI.fm Premium's Replay Channel on my iPhone, feeling good.

I woke up today and as I do every morning, peeked through my blinds to see what the weather was like. This morning, I saw dew; my window was covered in it and I could not see out. A bit more effort revealed that it was snowing outside, the temperature around 2-3 degrees Celsius. While the snow flakes were rather large, they appeared to be quite watery and definitely did not stick once on the ground. It was pretty, nonetheless!

Earlier, on my way to school, I saw out through the train window workers working on or around the many rail road tracks that exist in Tokyo. Most noticeably, or what really brought attention towards them was how they stood as my and other trains passed by. Just to the side of the tracks, they stood completely motionless, with their left arms raised at, and in acknowledgment of the conductor in the oncoming train. I suppose that being a train conductor in Tokyo, Japan, one would be most appreciative knowing that the people on or around the train tracks were not planning on committing suicide.

In popular belief, it is not uncommon to think of Japan when the topic is suicide. Indeed, about 90 Japanese commit suicide per day (about 1 every 15 minutes) in Japan; about 24 per 100,000, or around 30,000 per year [1][2][3]. However, contrary to popular belief, Japan does not have the highest suicide rate of any wealthy country [4]. In fact, countries like Austria, Finland, Switzerland, France, New Zealand, Germany, and Denmark each have, on average, higher suicide rates than Japan [3].

What may amplify the rate and propagate popular belief, besides the usual sensationalism brought by the media and the Japanese history with seppuku or kamikaze pilots, is the population density where many of the suicides occur and how they occur in Japan (i.e. jumping in front of a train.) By human nature, if one is not either directly or indirectly affected by something, it is much less likely to be concerned with that something. If one commits suicide in their home, no one but family, friends, and the police know about it, thus no one else is exposed to it. When a Japanese salary-man jumps in front of a rush-hour commuter train in Tokyo, it can easily disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

So far, in two months time, I've experienced suicide-related train disruption once, indirectly. I found myself on the platform waiting for my rush-hour train, but it didn't come. More and more and more and more.. and more commuters made their way onto the platform—so many that you really have no room to move. Imagine a large concert (e.g. a Justin Timberlake concert) just ended and everyone is standing on the same platform waiting to get on the same train. The overhead screens flashed a red message consisting mostly of Kanji I cannot yet read. The Kanji, I'm sure, is inherently much more descriptive than the English translation of "accident" that is provided by the screens. After a long time, the train finally comes.. but then you have to get on the train with more people than actually fit.

Ah, what a macabre blog entry. Hopefully, in the months and years to come, I won't be writing about a suicide-related train disruption I experienced directly. Imagining a rush-hour train jam-packed full of people coming to a screeching halt does not sounds like a good time. If you're interested, the referenced articles 1,2, and 4 make for some interesting reading on the subject of suicide in Japan. Reference 3 provides interesting statistics on suicide in the global context. The NationMaster site also has all sorts of other interesting statistics.



  1. "Suicide in Japan" by mauler
  2. "90 suicides a day spur Japan into action" by Leo Lewis
  3. "Suicide rates in ages 15-24 (most recent) by country" by NationMaster
  4. "TPR Spotlight #1: Suicide in Japan by the Numbers" by Garrett DeOrio
Posted by No Name @ 21:48, February 27, 2009
Yes the suicide issue is unbelievable and extremely sad at the same time. I just can't get pass the fact that in such a blessed country with so much opportunity, clean water, food, etc....that so people decide to take their lives every day. I understand the stress and the many issues in peoples lives, but I remember living across the street from squatter areas around Manila and even though the people had absolutely no food or water, suicide is usually not even thought of. Ironic.