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August 6, 2014 10:45 PM   Subscribe

A Buddhist monk confronts Japan’s suicide culture. A profile of a monk who provides therapy to suicidal and depressed people in Japan, but is not himself suicidal.
posted by viggorlijah (26 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
 
Beautiful. Thanks for posting.
posted by absqua at 11:55 PM on August 6, 2014


Thanks; this is interesting. The last bit is very nice.
posted by Anitanola at 12:06 AM on August 7, 2014


Just for some perspective, the Japanese suicide rate per 100,000 is 21.4. The murder rate in the U.S.? Around 4.8 per 100,000. Suicide is rampant in Japan and what this priest is doing is an amazing act of service.
posted by wuwei at 12:21 AM on August 7, 2014 [7 favorites]


What wuwei said.

Great article - moving. This monk is doing something special.

It's tragic that the suicide rate is so high in Japan. I wonder why that is. Could it be that the Eastern way of placing the self - the core of one's identity - in subordination to the group as a primary sense of worth has negative psychological impacts when one's circumstance or personal preferences keep one from fitting in. If one doesn't fit in, one is "nothing", but still alive.

I have heard that when therapy does occur in Japan, it often includes the ill person along with others. I read about Morita Therapy some years ago; it's an interesting therapeutic adaptation.
posted by Vibrissae at 1:10 AM on August 7, 2014


wuwei: "Just for some perspective, the Japanese suicide rate per 100,000 is 21.4. The murder rate in the U.S.? Around 4.8 per 100,000."

It's a little weird comparing suicide rates to murder rates. Comparing suicide rates to suicide rates, though, it's still very high (double the US suicide rate, according to the article).

Vibrissae: "It's tragic that the suicide rate is so high in Japan. I wonder why that is. Could it be that the Eastern way of placing the self - the core of one's identity - in subordination to the group"

I don't really think the whole "subordination to the group" thing is a huge factor. As the article points out, "for most of the past hundred years the Japanese suicide rate has been similar to the rates of most countries in the West." That wouldn't be true if it were because of some intrinsic characteristic of national psyche.
posted by Bugbread at 1:59 AM on August 7, 2014 [9 favorites]


Why not then compare nations with very high suicide rate3s with those with low rates. Israel, for example, with constant turmoil in Middle East wars and issues, has one of the lowest suicide rates in the world. Why?
posted by Postroad at 3:55 AM on August 7, 2014


As someone who's been in a very very dark state the last couple days, wow. Still reading, I'm slow. But I'm old, and been here lots. Reading about young people, feeling the way I do, is unexpectedly helpful, because compassion.
posted by Goofyy at 4:01 AM on August 7, 2014 [14 favorites]


Postroad: The article points out that suicide rates are reduced during war.
posted by Goofyy at 4:03 AM on August 7, 2014


From the article: "These are large changes, tracked over decades, but often the difference between death and life depends upon the difference between two o’clock and four o’clock—upon tiny infrastructural adjustments and barely perceptible shifts in situation."

A complementary article about an American doctor who is incorporating these shifts into a new model of suicide risk with the goal of early intervention in high-risk situations.
posted by Occam's Aftershave at 4:35 AM on August 7, 2014


I interpreted the letter with all of the "LOL"s as being nervous laughter. Too bad there isn't a popular acronym for that.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:28 AM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was left wishing there was a way to help Nemoto.
posted by koucha at 6:56 AM on August 7, 2014


All [the man] had ever thought about was wanting to die; he had never thought about what he might want to do with his life. But if he had never really lived, how could he want to die?

Wow. What a great insight.
posted by warm_planet at 7:02 AM on August 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


The Sea of Trees is large, fourteen square miles, so bodies can lie undiscovered for months; tourists photograph corpses and scavenge for abandoned possessions.

Oh my god, that is horrifying.

I wonder if this kind of "tourism" is committed only by very few, or if suicide has become so commonplace in Japanese culture that many are desensitized to it.
posted by inertia at 7:47 AM on August 7, 2014


inertia: "I wonder if this kind of "tourism" is committed only by very few, or if suicide has become so commonplace in Japanese culture that many are desensitized to it."

Definitely the former. The word "tourist" is being used here like it is in Fight Club, not like it is in a travel brochure.
posted by Bugbread at 7:54 AM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just for some perspective, the Japanese suicide rate per 100,000 is 21.4.

The reference to Greenland being the country with the highest suicide rate was even more surprising, with 107 per 100,000, and with research saying as much as 20% of the population has attempted suicide at some point in their lives.
posted by chambers at 8:25 AM on August 7, 2014


...but is not himself suicidal.

It could largely be because he has found something he is passionate about. This service provides him with fulfillment and a drive to keep on going. We should all be so lucky to find something like that in our lives.
posted by Fizz at 8:35 AM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why not then compare nations with very high suicide rate3s with those with low rates



Incidence of suicide tends to be under-reported due to both religious and social pressures, and possibly completely unreported in some areas. Since the data might be skewed, comparing suicide rates between nations is statistically unsound.

Perhaps this is a reason why it can be difficult to make international comparisons accurately? Though I don't presume any expertise...
posted by Sedition at 8:59 AM on August 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Perhaps this is a reason why it can be difficult to make international comparisons accurately?

Yes, absolutely. In countries where suicide is more highly stigmatized (in Christian countries suicides were once denied burial in consecrated ground) there can be strong pressures on doctors to rule deaths as accidental if possible.
posted by yoink at 9:07 AM on August 7, 2014


I wonder if this kind of "tourism" is committed only by very few, or if suicide has become so commonplace in Japanese culture that many are desensitized to it.

Definitely the former. The word "tourist" is being used here like it is in Fight Club, not like it is in a travel brochure.

I've actually known people planning visits to Japan from the US that seriously discussed visiting this forest to see it, so it's definitely become at least something of a tourist draw.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:23 AM on August 7, 2014


The question is whether it's tourism committed by only a very few, or if suicide is so common in Japanese culture that people are desensitized. I'm guessing that even if it's become a tourism draw in the US, it's still very few people. And, even if it is a huge amount of people, we're talking American tourists, so that wouldn't be evidence of desensitization inside Japan.
posted by Bugbread at 6:00 PM on August 7, 2014


Oh, and the head researcher / supervisor / whathaveyou of the STAP cell fiasco killed himself the other day. It was all over the news. There was nothing that indicated that people were desensitized or considered it ordinary.

This is one of the difficulties with comparing prevalences between countries: If something is very rare in one place, even if it's only half as rare in another place, that doesn't mean it's extraordinarily common. It's still rare, just not as rare.
posted by Bugbread at 7:07 PM on August 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


There's this perception, repeated often in the article and in comments here, that Japanese culture itself tends to more suicides. But two things were mentioned in the article:

for most of the past hundred years the Japanese suicide rate has been similar to the rates of most countries in the West.

Japan ranks ninth, behind Guyana, Kazakhstan, Belarus, China, and Slovenia, and is tied with Hungary. Sweden,

I don't think that anyone considers China, Hungary, or Sweden to have cultures that are more conducive to suicide, so maybe we shouldn't make this assumption with Japan. Maybe there's something else going on.
posted by eye of newt at 8:46 PM on August 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Here is a documentary about the Sea of Trees. Please be aware that this video shows images of people who have committed suicide.
posted by poxandplague at 1:20 AM on August 8, 2014


I thought suicide was linked most strongly to economic recessions? And Japan has been going through a slow grinding recession for some time. In NZ, it's young rural men who kill themselves the most, and in Singapore, although the numbers are suppressed, it's supposed to be children and teenagers from exam stress. Japan has the old people factor as well, seeing it's one of the most rapidly greying nations in the world, and the elderly kill themselves often.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:39 AM on August 8, 2014


viggorlijah: "Japan has the old people factor as well, seeing it's one of the most rapidly greying nations in the world, and the elderly kill themselves often."

Yeah, I'd like to see some number crunching there. Japan might have suicide rates for individual age brackets that are identical with those of other countries, but if it has a higher number of people in the high suicide rate age brackets, it would statistically come out as having a higher suicide rate. That wouldn't be super meaningful, any more than finding that people in a certain area have a higher than average incidence of hair graying, and then discovering that that area has a giant retirement community in the middle of it.
posted by Bugbread at 2:15 AM on August 8, 2014


wuwei's numbers are somewhat inaccurate.

South Korea has a high suicide rate, and Finland is in the top 10. So...

Suicide is simply more socially acceptable in Japan than it is in, say, Canada. There is a huge romantic element to it, and a ton of literary celebs have decided to die that way.

I also think there is, to some extent, a culture of "no second chances" in Japan. Screw up your high school entrance exams? You have screwed up your life.

Get laid off from your career-track job? You have screwed up your life.

On top of that, for better or for worse, there is not much mental health support in Japan compared to the States, where there seems to be therapy and meds for everything.
posted by Nevin at 8:26 AM on August 11, 2014


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