According to the National Police Agency (NPA), Japan’s annual total of suicides dipped below 30,000 people for the first time in 15 years in 2012 — to 27,766. While the fall is great news, part of me wonders: Has there really been a drop in suicides or should we look at it as a drop in homicides?
According to the government’s 2012 “White Paper on Suicide,” in 2011 there were 30,651 cases recorded of people taking their own lives. The motives listed were in the following descending order of problems related to health; daily life; family; and work.
But here’s an odd thing: The reasons for the suicide were only determined in 73 percent of cases — in more than 25 percent of cases they were for reasons unknown. Many of those cases perhaps presented no reason because they weren’t suicides at all.
According to the NPA, since 1998 there have been 45 cases of murder initially ruled by police to have been due to natural causes or suicide. Among those, one was a man from Nagano Prefecture whose murder in 1980 was treated as a suicide until the killer confessed in 2000 — after the statute of limitations had passed.
The NPA has admitted that in Japan only 10 percent of suspicious deaths result in an autopsy. However, when a death initially appears to be due to suicide, only 5 percent are autopsied. The lack of a comprehensive use of autopsies was only brought to the public’s attention after several cases of “missed murders” came to light. The 45 known cases may just be “the edge of the graveyard” as some cops have put it. For the rest of the story, please continue to original The Japan Times column
There’s definitely something a little odd about Japan’s high suicide rate. It may not quite be what it appears to be. And the factors driving the high suicide rates are not always what you’d expect. We asked Kaori Shoji, our favorite 図解ジャーナリスト (illustrating journalist) to break it all down–with cute pictures. She even added cultural references for fans of Japanese literature.