In Fukushima aftermath, suicides soar


KOBE, JAPAN – MARCH 11: A woman prays as commemorates victims of Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in front of Kobe’s light of hope memorial on March 11, 2014 in Kobe, Japan.  (Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)

Following the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in March, 2011, troubling tales of depression and suicide started to trickle in. “One man I know went back to check his house,” a woman told CNN last year. “When he didn’t return his family went to find him. His car was parked outside. He had hanged himself. I think he’d given up, he couldn’t see any future.”

But now, those trickles have turned into a steady stream, the National Police Agency said Thursday morning.

Thirty-seven suicides — linked either to the power plant’s meltdown or the Tsunami that proceeded it — occurred last year in areas near the plant. That figure represents a dramatic increase from last year when there were only 13 disaster-related suicides, according to the Japan Times.

Suicide is a deeply-ingrained aspect of Japanese culture, and according to academic research, the influx in Fukushima-related suicides reflect broader societal currents.

Many Japanese still consider suicide to be an honorable way of death. In 2007, Cabinet member Toshikatsu Matsuoka killed himself following accusations of corruption, and one governor said that action proved he was a “true samurai.” Today, something called “internet pact suicide” has grown in popularity among then nation’s youth.

Still, despite suicide’s cultural relevancy, the increase among those affected by Fukushima has alarmed local activists. “Many people may be feeling stressed for not knowing when they can go back to their homes, being unable to find transport or feeling isolated from people around them,” Yasuyuki Shimizu of the Life Link support center told the Japan Times.

Officials linked the deaths to Fukushima through suicide notes and interviews with neighbors. Deteriorating health contributed to 22 suicides, money problems to nine more, and family issues drove five people to take their own life, the National Police Agency says.

Roughly 30,000 suicides have occurred inside Japan in each of the last three years, and government research shows that suicides generally surge around this time of year, as winter gives way to spring.


Source: National Police Agency ‘Suicide statistics,’ prepared by the Cabinet Office, Government of Japan. Graphic: The Washington Post.

 

 

 

Terrence McCoy is a foreign affairs writer at the Washington Post. He served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Cambodia and studied international politics at Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter here.
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