You want to be sensitive with a subject like this, but there are times when silence is itself a form of malice...Is anyone in Japan paying attention to Japanese suicide! Your neighbors, co-workers, grandfathers and nieces are killing themselves, do you wonder why?
And part of the problem in Japanese culture is a kind of overly-bureaucratic, sociological view of Japanese suicide. I cite a recent editorial in the Japan Times Online as a perfect example a certain view of suicide in Japan:
"It is likely that poor business conditions, overwork, unemployment, debts and depression lead people to contemplate suicide. Government and non-government organizations should work together to establish an efficient network in which unemployed workers can easily obtain counseling and advice."
Oh, gee thanks for this sensitive, empathetic analysis! Are we talking about municipal budget shortfalls here, or are we talking about human beings deciding it's better to be dead than alive? It's precisely this kind of dull, press-release sounding response which typifies the Japanese approach to Japan suicides.
And then, of course, the solution is that more "government and non-government organizations" should help out. What does that mean? How can a government give people hope? Is the UN supposed to come in and distribute self-help books and schedule counseling visits? I don't want to be glib, but the point must be made that we're not talking about tax issues here, but real spiritual and moral problems in Japanese culture.
I'm not a mental health professional, but I suspect that a bad economy, unemployment and debts don't generally cause people to kill themselves - these are 'final straw' issues if you will - but it is a long embedded despair which is the real culprit. A bad economy and severe unemployment describes the daily life of millions of people in Africa, Latin America and India, but we don't see the despair that we do in Japan.
Despair is the absence of hope. And hope is something that buffers people during hard times. When you have hope, you naturally look toward the future. One byproduct of hope is choosing to have children. Is it any surprise that the population in Japan is plunging, because Japanese people have stopped having babies?
I believe that this Japanese despair has much to do with its profoundly material and secular view of life. All of this makes sense coming out of the wreckage of WW II, but once people achieved great materiel wealth by the '70s and '80s, it was like, now what? Then came the bursting of the Japanese financial bubble in the '90s, and now the global recession that is starting to hit Japan. Money comes and goes, but hope, virtue and faith is something no economy can steal from you.
Though personally not a huge proponent of psychology as it's practiced these days, there certainly needs to be more acceptance of this tool in Japanese society. People should be able to say, "You know, I need some help here," and be able to get counseling without all the cultural taboos. But the larger survival of Japanese civilization involves having faith in something beyond themselves and material prosperity.
Let's hope and pray that the Japanese suicide rate starts plunging downward faster than the Japanese birth rate. And who knows, perhaps tough economic times may bring back an appreciation of family life, children and more simple pleasures; for only with family changes, can you expect significant changes to the society as a whole.