Japan's Lost Generation
Finds Solace In Suicide
By Justin McCurry in Tokyo
The Guardian - UK
On the surface little seemed amiss in Ms A's life. Her marriage to a rock musician had failed, but at 34 she had no money worries and she loved her two children. But she wanted to die. Earlier this month, after several failed attempts, she succeeded.
The woman, whose name is being withheld by police, was one of seven people, including four 20-year-olds, found dead two weeks ago in an estate car.
They were participants in Japan's biggest online suicide pact.
Police discovered the bodies, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, just after dawn in the mountains of Saitama prefecture, north of Tokyo.
Next to Ms A, police found a note to her children: "Mummy is going to die now, but I am happy that I gave birth to you."
None had wanted to die alone. Thanks to an emerging internet subculture they didn't need to.
The ease with which people can arrange their deaths has shocked Japan and underlines a disturbing social trend.
The country is trying to respond to record suicide rates, a phenomenon linked to what has been described as Japan's "lost generation".
Aged 15 to 34, the group is made up of people with few skills who drift from job to job or choose not to work at all.
The health ministry estimates that there are more than 500,000 of these so-called neets and the number will rise.
Ms A was not a neet, but when her pact was discovered, there were calls for the police to crack down on internet suicide sites which, critics say, entrap young people and encourage copycat attempts.
The authorities have so far resisted, citing constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech.
Though they received widespread media coverage, the 34 internet-assisted suicides recorded in Japan last year were only a fraction of the overall toll of 34,427, according to the national police agency. There have been 20 internet suicides so far this year.
Online pacts entered the public consciousness last February when a man and two women were found dead inside a vacant apartment near Tokyo.
The messages on such sites are a mixture of meaningless banter and serious invitation.
"I have had no luck ever since I was born, so I want to die," said one.
Another said: "It's hard to die alone. Is there anyone out there who can die with me?"
One site opened with an image of a graveyard beneath a stormy sky, bearing the title, "Suicide: how, where, when".
Yukiko Nishihara, director of the Suicide Prevention Centre in Tokyo, said: "Many of these people don't feel like they are truly alive. We tell them not to feel that they are alone and that they can work out their problems together, but there aren't many places they can go for professional help."
Her concerns are well-founded. People over 60 were the biggest group of victims in 2003, accounting for 33% of the total, followed by those aged in their 40s and 50s: often men who have been laid off during the recession or have fallen foul of loan sharks but there were also increases among those in their 30s and among children.
Suicides among the under-20s rose by 22% from 2002. This group is most likely to turn to the internet for suicide advice.
"Young people who feel suicidal are scared of dying alone," Ms Nishihara said. "They prefer not to talk to friends because they are afraid they might be talked out of it."
The centre's helpline receives an average of 30 calls a day, a growing number of which are from teenagers and people in their 20s. But such services are rare in Japan, where there is a deep-seated cultural aversion to discussing personal problems with strangers.
Japanese history, in contrast, treats suicide as an honourable act under certain circumstances which range from the samurai warriors who committed ritual disembowelment, to the kamikaze pilots of the second world war.
Government funds for suicide prevention were made available only in 2001 as part of plans to cut suicides to 22,000 a year by 2010.
Ms Nishihara said the government needed to do more, and criticised the media.
While she did not call for a ban on suicide sites, she said extensive reporting of their content was encouraging young people to log on. But postings on these sites offering advice on how to live suggest their purpose is being challenged.
Nevertheless, some fear it is only a matter of time before they bring together an even bigger group of people.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004 http://www.guardian.co.uk/japan/stor...336686,00.html