Subject: [cwj 47] Japan Suicide Rate Clings Near Record High
From: Corporate Watch in Japanese <>
Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2000 15:23:13 -0700
Seq: 47

Friday June 30, 2000

Japan Suicide Rate Clings Near Record High

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - In November last year, an unemployed Japanese factory
worker drove his car into the sea near Tokyo, taking his life as well as
those of his wife and three young children.

This incident was far from isolated. Statistics show that more than 30,000
Japanese killed themselves last year--the second highest figure on record,
and a grim sign that social and economic turmoil still rocks a nation once
known for stability.

And while the greatest number of suicides were by men in their 40s and
50s--the ages most likely to be hit by corporate restructuring--the suicide
rate for people in their late 30s rose to a postwar high.

Analysts blamed a complex mix of factors, including Japan's flagging
economy, a breakdown in social values, and the loss of family stability. In
1999, divorce hit a record high. ``There has just been too much violent
social change,'' said Biten Yasumoto, a social psychology professor at
Sanno University near Tokyo. ``This has given birth to a huge number of
problems.'' Figures released by Japan's Health Ministry on Thursday showed
31,385 people killed themselves in 1999.

While this is not a record--that was set in 1998, when 32,863 people
committed suicide--it is high by international standards. The United States
has roughly the same number of suicides a year but its population is twice
the size of Japan's.

Analysts said cultural differences were important. No religious
prohibitions exist against suicide in Japan, and it is sometimes seen as a
way of escaping shame or saving loved ones from embarrassment or financial

But the lion's share of the blame lies with Japan's struggling economy,
only now showing signs of crawling out of its worst recession in decades.

The number of suicides was highest among men in their 50s, rising to 7,873
in 1999 from 7,699 the year before. Men in their 40s were next, with 5,006
taking their lives.

Men in those age groups have been hit the hardest by the wave of
restructuring and layoffs that Japanese companies have been forced to
undertake by difficult economic conditions.

``These people were hired in the expectation they would be with their
companies for their entire working life,'' said social psychologist
Takanori Akiyama. ``Now, no one feels safe.''

They were also most likely to be in management positions and thereby feel
responsible if a company got into financial trouble. In April, a top
executive handling a major department store's attempts to crawl out from
under a mountain of debt hanged himself, apparently in
despair over the company's financial woes.

Managers are not the only ones feeling the pinch. Last Saturday, a
21-year-old student at one of Japan's most prestigious universities threw
himself under a train in Tokyo, apparently distraught at being unable to
find a job.

One of the health ministry's most disturbing findings, however, was that
suicide was the leading cause of death for people in their late 20s and
30s, although the fact that younger people die from illness more rarely
than older age groups also needs to be considered.
Some 3,267 people in their 20s, and 3,569 in their 30s, took their own
lives in 1999.

More sobering still, the suicide rate for people aged 35 to 39 hit a
post-war high of 23 per 10,000.

While economic factors such as corporate restructuring played a role here
as well, this age group was more likely to suffer from a greater degree of
social confusion.

``In the old days, there was one pattern for the future: study hard, go to
a good university, then be hired by a good company,'' Yasumoto said. ``But
this no longer guarantees anything, leaving people floundering as they try
to choose a different path.'' 

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