As a follow-up to last week’s demographic update from Japan, I would like to share with you today a sobering story about teen suicides from that country. According to this Reuters story, Japanese teen suicide rates (those taking their lives under the age of 18 years old) have remained steady while overall suicide rates have been falling relatively quickly. According to the National Police Agency, since 2003 the number of Japanese citizens committing suicide has fallen by over a third from since 2003. In that year 34,427 suicides were reported, while last year only 21,897 took place. At the same time, the number of youth suicides has held steady in the 300-350 a year range since 2007. In 2016, the number was 320. It must be remembered that this is during a time in which the overall population is falling and the proportion of the population under the age of 18 is also declining.
Now, Japan does not have the worst suicide rate in the OECD (South Korea, Hungary and Lithuania rank higher than it) but to be ranked fourth is still very worrying, as is the stubbornly consistent youth suicide rates. Schoolyard bullying is said to be behind many of these suicides: one of the latest cases involved a 13 year old girl “who jumped in front of a train after enduring more than a year of bullying by classmates, including being labelled a ‘pest’ and repeatedly told to die”. Apparently there are four yoth suicides currently being investigated for their link to bullying while in 2013 the Japanese Diet passed anti-bullying laws essentially compelling schools to report cases of serious bullying to local and central government. According to the Ministry of Education there were nearly a quarter of a million reports of school bullying in 2015-16. This represented a 19 per cent increase from the year before, although this could be in part (or largely) due to the requirements of the new law and heightened awareness of the issue.
Reuters notes that:
“Officials and experts say bullying is especially bad in Japan because of its homogeneity, and a deeply fixed mindset of conformity in which differences are often singled out for attack. Japanese bullying differs from that in others countries in that it is mostly carried out by groups as opposed to two or three people against one individual, experts say.”
There is also the fact that teachers did not often take active measures against bullying since they viewed it as part of normal childhood quarrels. Some schools are trying to change the culture of bullying by casting it beyond the social pale, essentially using the conformist mindset to attack bullying. If a bully is seen as different to the mainstream then he or she will fear being seen as outcasts. (But let’s hope they are not bullied for it!)