There’s a great article in the New Yorker this week about a Buddhist monk named Nemoto who has dedicated his life to supporting suicidal people in Japan. More fascinating than the statistics about suicide in Japan (2x the suicide rate of the US, 9th in the world after places like Lithuania, Greenland, Belarus, and China) is the cultural landscape by which killing yourself (and even bringing your children or spouse into the afterlife with you) is considered okay or even honorable. I don’t know how true this still is, or how prevalent among the entire population, but the writer gives several examples to support her case:
When a cabinet minister under investigation for financial impropriety killed himself, in 2007, the governor of Tokyo called him a true samurai for preserving his honor.
Suicidal parents have killed their children, so as not to abandon them to an orphan’s life; by tradition, a mother who killed herself but not her children was thought to be truly wicked.
My favorite part of the article is when Nemoto realizes that the best way to help those who really want help is to encourage them to not just call in for help, but to visit his temple. For some, it turns out, just making the journey from their depressing reality to his safe haven is enough of a picker-upper to change their minds about taking their own lives.
Listen to a podcast about the article here.