The Tojinbo cliffs and Aokigahara forest are among popular sites for Japanese who choose suicide, more than 80 in the country each day — a rate nearly double that of the United States.
Suicides rose in tandem with Japan’s economic woes beginning in the late 1990s. Bankruptcy, job loss and other financial stressors felt especially by middle-aged men appear to be factors.
“The suicide rate has remained stably high, and that is just unacceptable,” says Dr. Alan Teo, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University and researcher at Veterans Affairs Portland Health Care System.
He is an organizer of “Saving 10,000,” a free event Feb. 5-7 presented by the U-M Center for Japanese Studies. It is co-sponsored by the Consulate-General of Japan in Detroit and the Japan Business Society of Detroit.
The program combines film, lectures and discussion forums. It opens at noon-1:30 p.m. at the School of Social Work with “Beyond Seppuku: A Multidisciplinary Context to Suicide in Japan.” Seppuku is a ritual form of suicide that was traditionally used by samurai. The program features four brief presentations by Japanese-studies experts and U-M faculty. Presentations are followed by a panel discussion.
Even though seppuku originated hundreds of years ago, those concerned about the suicide rate worry that attitudes even today in Japan contain vestiges of the view that suicide is acceptable.
“Instead, those of us working to improve the mental health and well-being of Japanese and Americans alike want society’s beliefs to shift to understanding suicide as an unfortunately permanent ‘solution’ to a temporary problem,” Teo says.
The award winning documentary “Saving 10,000: Winning a War on Suicide in Japan” (Japanese with English subtitles) will be shown from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 6 at the Palmer Commons Forum Hall. It is also scheduled for 10 a.m.-noon Feb. 7 at the Holiday Inn, 17123 N. Laurel Park Dr., Livonia. The Feb. 7 program is in Japanese.
Each showing will be preceded with a short lecture by Teo, with tips on how to recognize and help a person at risk for suicide. An expert-panel Q-and-A session follows the film, with speakers addressing medical and psychological treatment and more.
“Given the large population of Japanese-Americans in Southeast Michigan, we hope the forums and film screening will help raise awareness about depression and suicide. If we can help prevent even one suicide locally, the event will be a huge success,” says Dr. Michael D. Fetters. He is director of U-M’s Japanese Family Health Program, and an event co-organizer.
For more information on the CJS and the events, go to www.ii.umich.edu/cjs or call 734-936-7621.