Suicide note as a literary form

Jayan of Brain Drain draws my attention to an interesting piece about Japanese literary suicides:

In Japan, longstanding tradition has perpetuated several honorable categories of seppuku, or ritual suicide; a fact reflected by the Japanese language, which contains many terms for specific forms of shi, or death. Shinju is the word for suicide which fulfills a pact between lovers. Roshi refers to death from old age, while gokuraku-ojo is the death (of a woman) through prolonged sexual intercourse. Senshi is what death in war is called; junshi designates the suicide of a warrior who follows his lord to the grave. Perhaps the best-known exemplars of this code of martial martyrdom were the Samurai, adepts of the art of Bushido, who were emulated in spirit by the members of the ikosyu, the Japanese suicide squadrons of World War II: the kamikaze, kaiten, and aoka pilots who rammed airplanes, midget torpedo-submarines, and manned missiles into enemy craft.

Japanese culture is probably the only one in which, besides leaving a last will and testament, a concomitant tradition of writing a jisei—a death poem, or “farewell to life”—has arisen, and in which the suicide note is cultivated as a literary form.

Take a look!



2 Responses to “Suicide note as a literary form”

  1. andrewtokyojapan Says:

    Mental health professionals in Japan have long known that the reason for the unnecessarily high suicide rate in Japan is due to unemployment, bankruptcies, and the increasing levels of stress on businessmen and other salaried workers who have suffered enormous hardship in Japan since the bursting of the stock market bubble here that peaked around 1997. Until that year Japan had an annual suicide of rate figures between 22,000 and 24,000 each year. Following the bursting of the stock market and the long term economic downturn that has followed here since the suicide rate in 1998 increased by around 35% and since 1998 the number of people killing themselves each year in Japan has consistently remained well over 30,000 each and every year to the present day.

    The current worldwide recession is of course impacting Japan too, so unless very proactive and well funded local and nation wide suicide prevention programs and initiatives are immediately it is very difficult to foresee the governments previously stated intention to reduce the suicide rate to around 23,000 by the year 2016 being achievable. On the contrary the numbers, and the human suffering and the depression and misery that the people who become part of these numbers, have to endure may well stay at the current levels that have persistently been the case here for the last ten years. It could even get worse unless even more is done to prevent this terrible loss of life.

    The current numbers licensed psychiatrists (around 13,000), Japan Society of Certified Clinical Psychologists clinical psychologists (16,732 as of 2007), and Psychiatric Social Workers (39,108 as of 2009) must indeed be increased. In order for professional mental health counseling and psychotherapy services to be covered for depression and other mental illnesses by public health insurance it would seem advisable that positive action is taken to resume and complete the negotiations on how to achieve national licensing for clinical psychologists in Japan through the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and not just the Ministry of Education as is the current situation. These discussions were ongoing between all concerned mental health professional authorities that in the ongoing select committee and ministerial levels that were ongoing during the Koizumi administration. With the current economic recession adding even more hardship and stress in the lives its citizens, now would seem to be a prime opportunity for the responsible Japanese to take a pro-active approach to finally providing government approval for national licensing for clinical psychologists who provide mental health care counseling and psychotherapy services to the people of Japan.

    During these last ten years of these relentlessly high annual suicide rate numbers the English media seems in the main to have done little more than have someone goes through the files and do a story on the so-called suicide forest or internet suicide clubs and copycat suicides (whether cheap heating fuel like charcoal briquettes or even cheaper household cleaning chemicals) without focusing on the bigger picture and need for effective action and solutions. Economic hardship, bankruptcies and unemployment have been the main cause of suicide in Japan over the last 10 years, as the well detailed reports behind the suicide rate numbers that have been issued every year until now by the National Police Agency in Japan show only to clearly if any journalist is prepared to learn Japanese or get a bilingual researcher to do the research to get to the real heart of the tragic story of the long term and unnecessarily high suicide rate problem in Japan.

    Useful telephone number for Japanese residents of Japan who speak Japanese and are feeling depressed or suicidal: Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):

    Japan: 0120-738-556 Tokyo: 3264 4343

    Andrew Grimes

    Tokyo Counseling Services

  2. andrewtokyojapan Says:

    There were (not “are” ) samurai warriors who, as part of their honour code, committed seppuku (the correct term in Japanese and not the colloquial misnomer “harakiri” often misused and misunderstood in English media reports) is performed by plunging a sword into the abdomen and moving the sword left to right in a slicing motion. Seppuku was officially abolished as a means of judicial punishment in Japan in 1873. Voluntary seppuku did happen on a sporadic basis from then until the end of the second world war. The last recorded incident of seppuku as a means of committing suicide in Japan took place in 1970 when the novelist Yukio Mishima committed seppuku after failing in his attempt to incite military forces to stage a coup d’etat. That’s 49 years ago.

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