The Dark Side of Japan: Hikikomori and Suicide

BY CYNTHIA HOANG

As an anti-porn activist, my interests within the field of psychology are the psychological, neurological, and social damaging effects of pornography especially in this day in age where technology is growing at a rampant rate. The common goals for most anti-porn activists are to disapprove of porn use, dismantle the porn industry, and to redefine our pornified (porn-influenced) culture into a healthier culture where people prefer real intimacy instead of artificial sexual stimulation, as well view all women and children as human beings rather than sex objects sold for male pleasure.

In this report, I’ll be referring to an online news article, by Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, on why Japan has such a high suicide rate. Underneath all the upbeat music and peppy depictions of cute anime characters in Japanese media within Japan lies a dark side. The high suicide rate, growth of depression, and increasing number of single people in Japan has become a major underlying problem in Japan for the past couple of decades. In 2014, more than 25,000 Japanese people have taken their own lives. Japan is one of the top wealthy nations with the highest number of suicides, with South Korea surpassing that. Economic collapse or financial trouble is a very common reason why people commit suicide in Japan, even worldwide. The fastest growing suicide demographic within Japan is young men who are between the ages of 20 to 44. Some experts of suicide in Japan think that the increase of “precarious employment” or the practice of employing young people on short-term contracts is to blame. “While many older people still enjoy job security and generous benefits, nearly 40% of young people in Japan are unable to find stable jobs.” Financial pressure isn’t the only reason to blame though for the high suicide rate in Japan. There are a myriad of other reasons.

In addition, the growing technology such as the Internet and smartphone follows a huge increase in one peculiar lifestyle, the hikikomori or socially reclusive shut-in lifestyle. The hikikomori lifestyle isn’t only limited within Japan, it also commonly exists in other industrialized countries such as North American countries as well some parts of Europe and Asia. Those with hikikomori disorder isolate themselves, typically at home alone or in their bedroom, from the outside world. In 2010, the Japanese government stated there are 700,000 individuals living as hikikomori with the average age of 31. The vast majority of those with hikikomori disorder are identified as otakus, “geeks” or “nerds” typically with a strong interest in anime, comic books, and video games. Nowadays with the Internet and for the social recluse, the virtual world is a replacement of the real world. Problem is, isolation over a certain period of time leads to higher rates of addiction, anxiety, and depression; all three of that are highly correlated to suicide. Because isolation decreases exposure to in person interaction as well the ability to socialize with other human beings, there is a vast growing number of Japanese males who prefer 2D female anime characters to real women. This situation has become so bad to the point where men, especially in Japan, are marrying sex dolls, sex robots, or anime characters plastered on laptops, paper, or body pillows. In January 2015 the Japan Family Planning Association published a statistic, which found “20% of men aged 25-29 had little or no interest in having a sexual relationship”. Wataru Nishida, a psychologist at Tokyo’s Temple University, mentioned that the Internet and pervasive influence of online pornography are to blame. Because a growing large number of young men replace real life interactions with virtual life, a growing number of young women are left single and not by choice either. These are one of the few major reasons why there is a large growing population of single young men and women within Japan, as well a skyrocketing decrease in sex and marriage. Not only in Japan but also for many young people across the world today, virtual life including virtual romantic and sex partners have replaced real life including interaction with real human beings.

Those who isolate themselves from nature outside and embrace technology over real human interaction are less likely to seek help for their mental problems. “Evidence suggests these young people are killing themselves because they have lost hope and are incapable of seeking help.” In the words of Dr. Nishida, “Isolation is the number one precursor for depression and suicide.” Not only does Hikikomori lifestyle lead to social suicide, it may eventually lead to actual suicide. As the saying goes, only love can truly heal. Pixels can never love a person back let alone hug them.

Finally, there are other reasons why there is a high suicide rate in Japan. For one, there is amae, a Japanese expression to describe the pleasant feelings one experiences when allowed to emphasize his or her often-inappropriate dependence on another. Those who often grew up with amae may have become very dependent on their parents or caretakers to the point where they are independently debilitated and unable to find employment; this connects to the situation of financial pressure. For two, the high suicide rate is partially due to western influences where young people become more distant from their elders and focused on their own personal lives. “Now it’s more and more common to read stories about old people dying alone in their apartments,” Dr. Nishida says, “They are being neglected. Kids used to take care of their parents in old age in Japan, but not any more.” For three, dating back to the age of the samurai, seppuku or suicide was considered a honourable thing to do and because of this, many people believe that tradition is the reason why the suicide rate in Japan is high. Dr. Nishida agrees, but only to an extent.

According to Dr. Nishida, another reason why for the high suicide rate is because of a lack of religion such as Christianity in Japan. Religion and spiritual practices give a person higher purpose and provides more meaning to life. Christianity generally regards suicide as a sin but because Japan is an overall atheist country, many Japanese do not consider suicide a sin, “in fact, some look at it as a way of taking responsibility.” Japan is known for having a very lax insurance system when it comes to paying out for suicide. For this reason, there is an immense pressure on the elderly that the most loving thing they can do is take their lives in order to financially provide for their family. Last of all, many would agree that mental health being a major taboo to talk about is the reason for the high suicide rate. Many Japanese feel too stigmatized to share their personal problems with others so instead they choose to bottle them up. This of course will do more harm than good to their mental health and would increase isolation. There is also a lack of psychiatrists and a lack of cooperation of them with clinical psychologists. Japan is well known for their advance technology. Healthcare? Not that much. What I learned from this article is how certain western influences can have a rather damaging impact on Japan. It was thanks to American media including American porn as to why Japanese culture has shifted and its media became hyper-sexualized. Individualism influenced by the west has also lead to a decrease in collectivism, which meant an increase of rebellious attitudes among Japanese youth and less care for the elderly. As well, mental health being a large taboo within Japan as with many other Asian countries doesn’t help the suicide rate either. Japan can certainly improve with its mental healthcare system and provide more emotional support for one another.

Source of online article: Wingfield-Hayes, R. (2015, July 3). Why does Japan have such a high suicide rate? BBC News, Tokyo. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-33362387


(This report paper is copyrighted by Vancouver Anti-Porn Society.)

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