Suicide is a hard subject to talk about. Especially when your Western culture has very little idea on how to talk about it, or anything else related to death. The English stiff upper lip has lead to many subjects being deemed as taboo. However, when you find yourself in a situation where you have to speak of it, about it and to it, you have to get into the mucky, emotional areas and, for me, knowledge and understanding is power.
My husband died by suicide nearly four years ago. I, myself, had an attempt 18 years before. Although we were very good friends at the time, our experiences were totally unrelated. I was 23, unhappy, heart broken and feeling trapped. He had a badly managed chronic disease. Of course, this is over simplifying a very complex situation. I feel I have come to know suicide on a pretty personal level.
So, I write about Japan, so where is this blog going? Well, the Japanese also have an intimate relationship with suicide. I truly believe that my love affair with the culture of Japan is, in part, that through trying to understand a different culture, I have developed a greater understanding of myself. You find suicide interlaced through Japanese literature, anime and movies and, of course, through history.
Ritual suicide, or seppuku, was a way for samurai to retain their honour in death. If a samurai were to be executed or captured in battle, a highly ritualised suicide, which included following a number of actions, including bathing, the wearing of white kimono and the writing of a death poem, would allow the family and the samurai to maintain their dignity and status. Seppuku was not seen as a dishonourable act, but as part of bushido, the code and way of life followed by samurai. Japanese society, as a result, is probably more tolerant of suicide and it is an intrinsic element of their historical culture.
During World War II, the Japanese kamikaze pilots, famous for their pilot guided missile suicidal attacks, were enshrined in Yasukuni Shrine, in Tokyo. This was considered a great honour, as the Emperor visits twice a year. These men wrote death poems, before their missions, just like the samurai before them.
Nowadays, the suicide rate in Japan is reasonably high, 70 people per day, around about, take their own lives. You may have heard about Aokigahara, suicide park, or of the internet assisted group suicides. Although the rate climbed steadily until 2009, in the last 8 years it has begun to decline again. I believe that many Japanese see suicide as a way of taking morally responsible action. Whether it is failed business and financial pressure, bullying, educational pressure or karo jisatsu, suicide from overwork, it follows the cultural “tradition of death instead of defeat… or perceived shame”. (Wikipedia)
Considering my own experience, I would have to agree that this was the way I felt, although I could not have articulated it at the time, and in fact, it has taken me 22 years to come to the realisation, I thought I was broken beyond repair, and that I was a burden. It was all about personal responsibility, but, for some reason, our culture looks to find blame and guilt for others. In cases of bullying, I believe it is the result of actions of others, but in many other cases, it is a last ditch effort to restore honour to those you love. Seems really warped now, and I am an optimistic and happy person, who enjoys life and tries to squeeze as much out if as I can. But, the road to get to this place was paved with much experience.
So, I will continue my study of understanding, by reading Japanese history, by reading my beloved Murakami, by watching heart-wrenching, but relateable, Japanese anime. And, I will continue reflecting on how wonderful my life is, and what an amazing opportunity I have been given for self growth and empathy and understanding.
Feel free to comment. I am open to conversation, and think it is something we do not speak of enough.
Featured Image attributed to: By Illustrated by Native Drawings.Reproduced in Fac-simile by Means of Chromo-lithography. – Project GutenbergProject Gutenberg: Sketches of Japanese Manners and CustomsProject Gutenberg: THE SACRIFICE (picture), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=371860