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November 08, 2009


Andrew Grimes JFP, JSCCP

Interesting post and I look forward to reading the book. Getting into debt in general and loan sharking do have an influence in some individual cases of suicide, but are not the fundamental causes of Japan's high suicide rates.

It is not something new that today workers in Japan are committing suicide because of depression and the stress of overwork. Karaoshi is death through overwork resulting in the worker literally dying on the job. The suicide of thousands of workers every year due to depression and overworking are two aspects of a problem that have existed side by side in Japan for over a decade. There was a major change in the suicide rate in Japan, but it happened over ten years ago.I am a JSCCP clinical psychologist and JFP psychotherapist working in Japan for over 20 years. I would like to put forward a perspective on some of the main reasons behind the unacceptably high suicide numbers Japan and so will limit my comments to what I know about here in Japan.

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 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 the new administration initiates very proactive and well funded local and nationwide suicide prevention programs and other mental health care initiatives, including tackling the widespread problem of clinical depression suffered by so many of the general population, it is very difficult to foresee the previous government's stated target to reduce the suicide rate to around 23,000 by the year 2016 as being achievable. On the contrary the suicide rate could even get even worse is more is not done to prevent this terrible loss of life.Unless the new administration initiates very proactive and well-funded local and nationwide suicide prevention programs and other mental health care initiatives, including tackling the widespread problem of clinical depression suffered by so many of the general population, it is very difficult to foresee the previous government's stated goal of reducing the suicide rate to around 23,000 by 2016 as achievable.

The current numbers licensed psychiatrists (around 13,000), Japan Society of Certified Clinical Psychologists clinical psychologists (19,830 as of 2009), 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) and mirrors at stations, and now lights at stations, 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.

I would also like to suggest that as many Japanese people have very high reading skills in English that any articles dealing with suicide in Japan could usefully provide contact details for hotlines and support services for people who are depressed and feeling suicidal.

Useful telephone numbers and links 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

Tokyo Counseling Services:


Jake Adelstein

I appreciated the comparison to STRAITJACKET SOCIETY, although I don't consider Japanese journalism to be as insane as the bureaucracy. I do think that a really good study of the reasons behind why Japanese people kill themselves should be done and certainly journalism in the West tends to pick up on the bizarre aspects of suicide without really looking at the reasons behind the numbers.

I do think that suicide is more romanticized in Japan than it is in the West and I think cultural attitudes definitely contribute to the higher rate. However, that doesn't explain everything.


Andrew I appreciate your concerns about suicide in Japan.

Jake I look forward to your appearance at Good Day Books in Tokyo next month I plan on attending your talk. I came to Japan after you but we're the same age and it may have made us both cynical for different reasons. I'm looking forward to your talk, and your upcoming books.

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