Comic: Train Suicides in Tokyo

Texan in Tokyo comics living in Japan gaijin mangaka cartoon suicide on the train So this isn’t a funny comic (which is pretty obvious). But train suicides really are a problem in Tokyo.

In my two years in Tokyo, I’ve been on trains that have been delayed/stopped because of a suicide jumper half a dozen times. Delay-times range from fifteen minutes to several hours.

I’ve heard that the family of jumpers can be fined several thousand dollars (which usually doesn’t happen, but it can) – by the rail company, to compensate for delays and stuff.

I’ve never known anyone who has committed suicide by jumping in front of a train. The closest I’ve gotten is the family members of some of my Japanese friends.

In my experience, rather than a “this is so sad, they were so young…” it’s a “that was incredibly selfish, to kill yourself in a way that inconveniences so many people” attitude regarding train-suicides in Japan. 

But those are just my own experiences dealing with Japanese people mostly in their 20s and 30s.

In any case, I still find suicide (regardless of the age/country) incredibly sad.

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About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

38 Comments on Comic: Train Suicides in Tokyo

  1. Shingo Nakatani // 24 May, 2015 at 3:43 am //

    Hi,

    You might be interested in this latest news article in BBC.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-32857408

    Shingo

  2. In Poland people have same reaction. People are mad at this suiciders because hundrets of people can’t go home/work on time, passangers (incuding children) and driver become traumatized.

    I’m mad at them too. I’ve had depression and I planned my suicide but I’ve never thought about jumping under train.

  3. So first you lose a family member to suicide … and then you get fined for it?
    I’m speechless.
    That’s the worst thing I’ve heard since I read that in China when someone is executed by firing squad, the government bills the family for the bullet.

  4. There is an unwritten rule that almost every newspaper and TV station in the world follows: They do not report suicide by jumping on tracks unless the person is famous. The reason is that more people jump to their deaths after reading about it on papers or watching it on TV.

    Here is a new story about a Reddit AMA of a MTA conductor. Suicides happen two a week. Yes it is that frequent and you almost never hear about it for public safety reasons.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/mta-conductor-new-york-city-subway-job-2011-10?op=1&IR=T

  5. mychinesebf // 13 December, 2014 at 4:45 am //

    That’s a sad thought :( This comic reminded me about the Aokigahara, suicide forest.

  6. It really baffles me that in Japan someone would rather take their own life than ‘lose face’, it seems in western countries you would bring shame on your family if you were to commit suicide as it would be seen as running away from your problems instead of facing them and may be branded as coward. I also find it incredibly tragic that so many people can’t see anything worth living for anymore.

  7. Very interesting post, and a very sad one too :( I always read in the news about many people living in Asian cities taking their lives by jumping off buildings. Now that you wrote about suicide by oncoming train, it has reminded me of the few times I’ve heard about stressed out students and white collar workers jumping on the train tracks in Singapore where I used to live. Now in Singapore there are automatic gates guarding train tracks.

    Now I live in Melbourne, and we don’t hear too much of these incidents in Australia. When it does happen on the rare occasion, it usually slows down the entire train network here. Those people who commit suicide must feel very lonely and I do wish those who are thinking of doing it do find their support network before it’s too late.

  8. There was a case a few years ago where there was someone who was threatening to jump off a bridge and the people who were caught in a traffic jam behind him were calling radio stations and saying that they wished he would jump already. What a sad indictment on our world.
    A few years later I had my own brush with suicide when someone jumps off a building in front of me and landed about 5 metres away. I cannot say he died straight away but I hope so. As I looked into his eyes, I have never felt closer to someone. I could do nothing but wanted to do everything.
    We get so caught up in our own lives and having to get to our next appointment that we forget the little tragedies that are constantly taking place around us.

    • Ouch. That’s horrible.
      That kind of reminds me of that movie, “Man on a ledge” – where people were egging him on to jump…

    • This way of ending life is quite selfish. That person might have killed or demaged you.
      I’ve heard about a girl with broken spine who was in bad place when suicider decided to jump off the window.

      I’ve had depression and I planned my suicide but I’ve never thought about doing this in a way that coud demage others.

  9. When living close to a JR line there was a “human accident” every once in a while. I remember the first time it happened, everyone around me started making phone calls “sorry I’m going to be late” and grumbling about the delay, that was the most shocking thing because I thought, hey someone probably just died!

    Then the next time, it so happened the train stopped suddenly at a tiny local station and was not going to go on, and we were told to please use another line. It was late at night and I was still several stops from home. I called my boyfriend “help how do you get from OO-eki I can’t use the JR line because of a fatality…”
    And I realized I had become like every other person thinking only of the inconvenience. That was disturbing.

    I don’t think train suicides are done out of saving face…if the person has shamed the family/doesn’t want to cause meiwaku to others, trains don’t make sense, as many thousands are inconvenienced and the family will get a lawsuit.
    Train suicides are probably spur-of-the-moment, or planned with the intention of going out with a raised middle finger to their family, company, and/or Japanese society.

    Did you know about 30,000 suicides happen a year in Japan? That is like the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake happening twice a year. But it’s not really considered a tragedy in Japanese culture.

    • Oh wow, I Had no idea. Really? 30,000? That’s horrible…

      I know that many drivers suffer from PTSD because of hitting jumpers… that seems so sad :(

      I think I’m the same way – now when my train has been stopped or delayed an hour because of a suicide (and I’m going to be late for work), my first instinct is frustration, rather than sadness. And then, of course, guilt. It’s surprising how easily things can change…

  10. I definitely relate to this…basically all the times my train has come late it was because of a suicide jumper. Honestly, I was surprised just how common it is here. Even if you don’t actually hear what happened, the first thing to assume is that there was a suicide. I also think it’s quite sad, but at the same time, sometimes I do think it just becomes a strange situation since the trains then come late and make others late for appointments and whatnot.

    Actually, the first time my train was late, I had no idea it was because of a suicide and thought it was funny, since trains are usually on time.

  11. I was an Asian American Studies Major and my professor was from Japan…her family name is is an island in Japan…no not Iwojima. But I did ask the question, why do Japanese commit suicide? Losing face…death before dishonor…I knew what she meant and I was satisfied with the answer.

    There was a wooman named Fumiko Kimura (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1985-06-10/features/8502060678_1_first-degree-murder-suicide-fumiko-kimura) who committed oyako shinju (parent-child suicide). The reason? Because her husband had an affair. Ten days later, she and her children took a bus, went to Santa Monica Beach, she and her children walked into the ocean. Her children died and she lived. Her crime? Two counts of murder with special circumstance, which is California is either life without parole or the death penalty. Here is the end result: http://www.crimelibrary.com/blog/article/a-mothers-failed-suicide-and-the-drowning-deaths-of-her-children/index.html.

    She plead guilty to manslaughter, time served, went through psychological help and now is a counselor for Japanese women who are on the verge of, well, not doing well for themselves. So why do Japanese people commit suicide?

    //Oyako-shinju occurs in Japan because people feel that they are in a situation of losing face or that they are a burden to society, said Yoshiko Yamaguchi, a consultant to the San Fernando Valley Japanese-American Community Center.

    “In such a case, suicide is acceptable,“ she said. “If it`s not successful, it`s really a tragedy.“

    Kimura, believing herself to be a failure as a mother, a wife and a person, probably considered oyako-shinju to be the only honorable course to take, Yamaguchi said.

    “Committing suicide would be more acceptable than losing face,“//

    In the western culture, more times than not, suicide or attempted suicide is a me issue, while in Japan, suicide is the respectful way to not bring shame to the family. In Japan, a boy or girl may not commit suicide because they had a break up, because, break ups happen. If someone commits suicide because of selfish reason, it brings shame to the family.

    There was this story of a mentally ill man in feudal Japan who said he was a samurai. He had a wooden stick and said that he was a warrior. This claim would be a killing offense, but he was adamant. So a samurai told the guy, if you are a samurai, commit seppuku (disembowelment, harakiri or Harry Carrie) with his wooden sword. He did and he died honorably.

    Another story was a man who killed his wife for the insurance money. In 1981 (http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-japanese29feb29-story.html#page=1), he escaped to Japan and for 30 years, he was on the lam. A break came 30 years later when he was traveling and was in a country that had an extradition treaty. He was arrested and brought to Los Angeles. A few days later, he was found dead in his jail cell.

    I knew the second in command with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and I should have told him to keep an eye on him. Why? Because I knew that he was going to commit suicide. So why did he commit suicide? Because the only way to clear your name with honor is to kill yourself.

    Suicide, though wrong and possibly a mental illness is seen as a way to atone for your sins so that you would not bring shame to your family. There is this word in Japanese called kazoku (華族), which essentially means family. Family is important, as it isn’t just your blood relative but the people you socialize with. I used to be a Christian in a Japanese American church before being an atheist. Thing is, we believed in the Bible and stuff, but one thing we had an issue is is to forget. When one part of the family hurt, the others tend to stay away. Even as Christians, the Japanese values cannot be erased. When friends committed suicide, sure there was sadness, but there was a relief that the family is no longer blemished if the person who committed suicide did something wrong.

    Japanese people will commit suicide. No amount of God or Jesus will stop them if they brought shame to their kazoku. My professor said that if she caused harm to her family and she feared she lost face, she would commit suicide in a heartbeat. Not because she’s mentally ill, but because, like many Japanese, she thinks of the collective and not about herself…sounds almost Christ-like, so says the atheist.

    • Oh wow… I had no idea. That’s an incredibly in-dept answer to the question.

      I think you’re absolutely right about the differences in why someone commits suicide in Japan VS America. In either case it’s sad. I never liked those movies where a character would do some sort of suicide run to die honorably. It always left a sort of sick feeling in my stomach…

  12. Jumping and subway suicides are tragic all around, both for the individual who kills him or herself, and any bystander or passersby who witnesses the incident. There really is no right answer for how one should feel about a suicide, although I personally opt to feel sad for suicide victims, rather than having a hissy fit because I’ve been slightly inconvenienced (mind you, if I were to ever directly witness a suicide I might feel differently, I suppose). By the way, here’s a disturbing factoid: in Canada, train engineers are supposedly told that there is a 100% chance that they will kill somebody at least once over the course of even a mere 20 year long career. To anybody who reads this and may be contemplating suicide, by the way, please, please, please: tell somebody how you’re feeling before following through with your intention (the world needs you, and things get better sooner or later-sometimes even the next day)!

    • A couple years back I read a really touching and horrifically tragic story written by someone who was a train conductor in NY – and all the suicides he saw over his 40-something long career.
      Even now, I can’t help but think about his story when I hear about train conductors with PTSD and stuff…

  13. I will probably never understand people who commit suicide even though we had a case in my own family some years ago. The thing is that they also involve partly other people and I don’t mean now the passengers but those operating the train and those who have to come to try to safe them. In the end they also endanger others and this is the worst thing. Sure there are nearly hopeless cases but I believe the majority of suicides can be avoided by getting the needed help

  14. Sad indeed.

    Hey a new art style?

    Something I don’t like about subway trains in Tokyo, and New York, and a lot of big cities with old train lines… Is that they don’t seem to be safe. Newer cities that are developing more recently (such as in China) always have barriers that automatically open and close and it’s impossible to fall into the rails whether on purpose or not.

    One can see the contrast in places like Hong Kong, the busier more modern station are totally blocked off with the glass doors that only open when the train comes. But older stations there still have people walking with a big gap.

    Perhaps it’s expensive to install the kind of subways I’m talking about, but the older ones are extremely dangerous and I can’t comprehend how any city lets them stay like that. It’s a tragedy that there is such an easy way to end one’s own life available at every common transportation hub in cities like Tokyo….

    One of the arguments for gun control in America, for example, is that one week waiting periods on buying guns has saved countless lives. People wouldn’t know it from watching the sensationalist media, but 50% of gun deaths are suicides. Yet when people want to buy a gun for this purpose, and they must wait one week, the suicide rate drastically goes down. That’s because it is often a spontaneous decision and depressed people change their minds when they think about it. Social planning for creating more difficulties in citizens to hurt themselves makes a major difference in society.

    • Huh. Wow. I didn’t know about that. Interesting… I think having a one week waiting period would actually be really good, then.

      There are some stations in Tokyo that have those barriers, but it seems like most still don’t. I wish they did.

  15. I find it really sad when people commit suicide in general. It’s always sad to know that they had nothing to keep going for when it was that rough. I can understand what you’re saying about it being selfish to go out in a way that is inconvenient for others. One of the reasons I never go that far when I am that low is knowing that someone would find me, someone I LOVE would find out, they would realise it was too late and be so powerless. I feel like there should always be someone there to tell people that they will regret it. I saw a post somewhere that was talking about someone who had tracked down survivers of suicide jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge where each one said that on the way down they realise how each problem they had was solvable.

    • I struggled with suicidal thoughts through most of middle school. It really was a bad time for me – but I had a friend who was able to help “pull me out” and kept showing me the stories of suicide survivors. She kept telling me to just wait ten years and if I still wanted to go, I could.

      Now I can’t even imagine it. I’m so glad. It really does get better.

  16. Behind the Story // 11 December, 2014 at 2:02 pm //

    I know of two people who witnessed suicides, and, yes, it was traumatizing for both of them. My niece saw someone set himself on fire at the University of Washington, an event that was hard to forget.

    Years ago, my late husband was doing a “ride along” with my brother-in-law, who was a Seattle policeman at the time. Usually a few hours in a patrol car was uneventful. This time my brother-in-law got a call that someone had jumped off the Space Needle. He had to rush over there to keep the crowd back and tend to the very upsetting and messy aftermath. They have since installed kind of a wire mesh fence around the top of the Space Needle. I believe that was the last time anyone jumped from it.

  17. I think it is just so common that people don’t really care anymore. If there’s a jumper in where I am staying, everyone would get out of the train and station immediately. We’re kind of superstitious (sometimes not unfounded) when it comes to seeing death :/

  18. This is always a very sad problem in Japan. Last week it happend 3 times to me that somebody jumped and most of the people in the train were just complaining that they will be late. I was thinking about the jumper and the driver. So sad that so many young people (mostly) decide that their life is that bad that they don´t wanna live anymore. Moreover it is bad to involve other people like the driver or others who has to see those people doing suicide.

    I think a very big point (of course there are many) especially in tokyo for many suicide is the big lonleyless in a big city. I hear that so often that people getting depressed from too much work and no time for friends and family.

    • I can easily see that. Tokyo is one of the most lonely cities I’ve ever lived in – it’s all work and no time for family or relaxing.

      I wouldn’t mind getting out of Tokyo and moving to a much smaller, happier, and more relaxed city…

  19. When I lived in Taipei, none of the subway train tracks had ‘doors’ around the platforms. Fast forward to today, and they all have doors which open when the train stops (around the busiest stops anyway) and during peak times, they have people monitoring the amount of people going into the trains during rush hour so people won’t push their way onto the train (that’s what I am assuming anyway). I am assuming that these safety measures.

    • I actually remember seeing that when I was in Taipei a couple years back!

      In Tokyo, there are still only a couple stations that have those doors… some of the huge ones (like Shinjuku, Shibuya, etc) STILL don’t…

  20. In many, many cases the railway company just tells people that there was a ”human accident” aka someone jumped just because they are late for other reasons. So don’t be sad, it doesn’t really happen THAT often ;)
    Also if someone uses the emergency handle or the train suddenly stops, it doesn’t mean that someone jumped. Can be just a red light they oversaw. Actually I heard drivers are advised not to brake when someone jumps since it is more dangerous for the people inside the train since many don’t use the handles. The driver won’t see anything since there are blinds which close quickly in front of them.

    • Really? I had no idea about the blinds. That sounds like a really good thing.

      Hmmm, I guess “human accident” could just be something falling in front or some other reason someone pressed a button – not necessarily because it hit someone.

      • Yeah that’s true. I was told once that there are two different terms the railways companies use, one has only one Kanji for person (人) in it and the second two. The latter one basically means that someone jumped but I am not sure if this is true though because 人身事故 mostly refers to jumping too…
        If you didn’t see it yourself, you can never be sure what really happened ^^; (I have friends who witnessed it…)

      • And uhm, I just saw a video of Odakyu line and someone jumped and there were no blinds…might depend on the line. But the driver was pissed off and like “Ahhh jinshin daa… -.-” after it happened.. ugh I didn’t really want to see that..

  21. I’m even more sad thinking how traumatized people who operate those trains are :(

    • I know… I read a really traumatic and sad account of a man who had worked as a train conductor in NY for like 30 years… and the things that happened after he hit his first suicide jumper… :(

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