Japan’s suicide rate has increased in the last 30 years. In 1982, the rate increased, then gradually decreased until 1997. In 1998, the rate jumped again, and remained high after 1998. Both 1982 and 1998 were recession years, but 1998 was special. In November 1997, Sanyo Securities, Hokkaido Takushoku Bank and Yamaichi Securities Co. went bankrupt. In October 1998, Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan went bust and in December Nippon Credit Bank followed suit. Japan became mired in a severe recession in 1998. After that, the suicide rate became over 35 per 100,000 from 25 before 1997.
Over time, the groups who commit suicide in Japan varied. The male rate for elderly people was high in the past, but it recently declined, though the level is still high. On the contrary, the suicide rate among younger people recently increased. In particular, the rate for 55 to 59 year olds jumped in 2000, and is still high. It is thought that people committed suicide after losing their jobs in the recession of 1998. A report by the National Police Agency shows that suicides sparked mainly by economic problems increased in 1998.
The trend in female suicide rates is similar to those for males, but there was no increase in the rates for women age 40-60 in 2000. This is because females were not the main bread earners until recently, and they were not prompted to resort to suicide by economic difficulties.
In short, after 1998, Japan’s overall suicide rate increased, but among the aged it decreased. The increase in the average was due to the rise in the rate among middle-aged people, explained by economic difficulties. The decline of the rate among the aged is explained by the expansion of social security.
Japan has always had a troubled relationship with suicide. From glorifying seppuku in the distant past to a bestseller book in 1993 entitled The Complete Manual of Suicide, it has always been unique. And for many Japanese, committing suicide is part of a ritual, as annually over 70 discovered bodies are found in a forest, next to Mount Fuji, the Aokigahara. This forest is now packed with signs both in Japanese and English that try to prevent people from committing suicide.
The trend doesn’t seem to stop anytime soon, and at the moment deaths from suicide in Japan are seven times bigger than deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents for instance.