Friday, May 29, 2009

Japan's Internet Suicide Groups

There was a lecture at Sophia that I attended tonight. "In the Eyes of Others: Self, Society, and Suicide in Japan" given by Chikako Ozawa-de Silva of Emory Univeristy. I probably don't have to point it out, but it was a pretty dark, depressing talk...

Through her research and ethnography of Japan's internet suicide groups she came to three main conclusions:
1. Ordinariness
2. Wish to die in comfort
3. Wish to die with others

Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world. But Silva argued that group suicides are different because of the three reasons mentioned above. Annually there are about 32,000 suicides nationwide, but only 100 or so of them are group suicides, so they only constitute a fraction of the overall picture. But it was a place to start researching.

We saw clips from two contemporary movies on this. In "Suicide Club" (I forgot the Japanese name), it documents different group suicides. In the small clip that we saw, Shinjuku train station footage was showed, A huge group of girls were waiting for a train, among other people. I was trying to identify who was going to try to kill themself. It was so haunting though, because the group of girls, who you would otherwise suspect were just coming home from school or something, were actually a suicidal group. They looked happy and were chatting among themselves. But as the train approached, they became silent, held hand (like 20+ of them!), and jumped off the platform. All girls, probably no older than high school aged. The creepiest video footage I have ever seen...seriously....

The other was from an animated series that was entitled "Paranoia Agent." Apparently it aired 8 episodes from February-Marc 2004. It is disturbing in the sense that it is a really light movie, it isn't dark at all. In fact it makes suicide look normal. The series follows an old man, a middle aged man, and sadly a really young girl as they search for a way to end their lives together. It was sad how young the girl seemed and the fact that she seemed normal and happy, but didn't want to live anymore. It took the idea of suicide and their search of different methods so lightly it was creepy.

Probably the saddest point of this all is the fact that these people meet up because of the importance that cultural factors play in the desire of people to kill themselves together. Since Japanese society is very collective, an importance is placed on the self in realation to others. The self that people believe they have is living through the eyes of others. There is a need to share their world with a group of people and others. Their "mother of all fears" is social rejection, to be left out.

So in conforming to the norm, even in their last attempt to end their lives, some Japanese people feel the need of others. A need to be needed by others, in order to give their lives a sense of meaning. Collective suicide is essentially a shared experiance.

It was an equally insightful and depressing event. Definitely a downer on my Friday night. I can't help but to think how sad this is. Silvia read posts that she found on suicide sites. It is troubling because most of the participants are young and they aren't desperate like suicidal people are usually portrayed. They just seem lost or confused. Like one of the people posted, "I don't want to die, I just don't want to live."

After the event I was walking to the train station alone, I am so paranoid of witnessing a train suicide now...

I was just reading the plot of the Suicide Club movie and it creeps the hell out of me. That is exactly the kind of stuff that gives me nightmares...

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