Suicide: a Review of Japan

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HS1003 Assignment 2
Name: Tay Hongjie Joash
Matric Number: U1130441E
Introduction
Suicide occurs when an individual voluntarily and intentionally takes his/her life. Everyone is said to have a “suicide potential” which translates to the differing degrees of the individuals’ inclination to end their lives. (Durkheim, Spaulding and Simpson 1951) This “suicide potential” is very much affected by the collective social actors which have a reality sui generis – unique; of its own kind, and not a mere subset of biological or psychological factors. (Durkheim et al. 1951) Moreover, these collective social actors are exclusively found in each differing society which underscores the stark contrast of suicide rates between countries and even towns. (Durkheim et al. 1951) Whilst suicides in lower societies tend to depict the manifestation of the collective social conscience through the individuals with little regard for their lives, suicides in higher societies are mostly dictated by exigencies that disconcert the conceptualization of habitual social sentiments that individuals have grown accustomed to, resulting in anomie. (Durkheim et al. 1951) Therefore, this essay seeks to understand the causes of suicide with reference to a globalized city, and how the proliferation of globalization exacerbates this social problem.

The Case
In the 21st century, Japan holds a well-known reputation in the modern technological arena, pioneering a plethora of medical and technological advancements. However, Japan also holds the dubious track record of being a suicide nation. During the 11th century, when the Samurai rose to prominence, there was a concomitant rise in the acceptance and act of suicide known as Sepukku – a ritualized suicide by disembowelment of oneself as a means of avoiding capture and preserving one’s dignity and honor in the face of defeat or failure. (Fusé 1980) It has then been “socially and culturally prescribed and positively sanctioned” as an institutionalized form of suicide in Japan. (Fusé 1980) Though Sepukku itself is rarely practiced in modern Japan, suicide pertaining to one’s role-performance is still rampant. (Fusé 1980) In 2009, Japan had a total of 32,845 suicides, which translated to 1 suicide every 15 minutes, ranking 5th on the world’s suicide rate with 24.6 suicides per 100,000 people in 2010. (The Guardian Aug 3, 2010; World Health Organization 2011)

Table 1 – Source: World Health Organization: Mental Health To further understand the causes of suicide in a globalized city, Tokyo will be used as a specific case study. With the mentioning of “Tokyo”, it brings to mind a highly urbanized environment with a huge concentrated populace encapsulated by an array of technology and mixed cultures. According to Wirth (1938), a city is defined as “a relatively large, dense, and permanent settlement of heterogeneous individuals.” A large population would mean multivariate individuals who display a lack of personal relationship with a tendency to compartmentalize human relations. (Wirth 1938) This highlights a modern ennui in urban city life as urbanization has brought people closer in proximity to each other but instead breeds impersonal and superficial acquaintanceship. (Wirth 1938) A proliferation of heterogeneity also encourages mobility at the expense of stability and security, forming social groups that have tangible, pecuniary benefits with quick turnovers in membership, renouncing strict social structures. (Wirth 1938) Irrevocably, Tokyo also displays a similar disposition of these characteristics that delineates the above notion of a city. Of the 5,747,460 households in Tokyo, 2,444,145 are single person households, which accounts for 42.53% of the population in Tokyo – the highest rate in Japan 2005.

Table 2 – Source: Statistics Japan: Prefecture Comparisons| People Living Alone Similarly, of those 3,303,315 non-single person households, 92.15% of them are nuclear families. By nuclear families, the...
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