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Japan appoints a Minister of Loneliness amid the rising suicide rates

Hearing about suicides is something that trembles us to the innermost point of our souls. It is also not a lesser-known fact that the magnitude and frequency of suicides have drastically surged during the pandemic, with people locked into the troublesome four walls of their houses, forced to stay alone even if they are living with a family. A similar kind of thing has been happening in Japan as well. A tale of suicides neither heard before nor seen before, especially in a country which is known for its economic and social development and rich culture.

Japan has recently appointed something which I personally had never heard of before, a “Minister of Loneliness”. This step has been taken by the government of Japan as a response to the all-time high suicide rate of the country. It was for the very first time in the last 11 years that Japan’s suicide rate jumped up. Tetsushi Sakamoto has been chosen by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to head this new position and take care of this startling phenomena. Tetsushi is already working towards dealing with the country’s falling birth rate and towards taking appropriate measure to revitalise the regional economy.

Once he was handed over the position of the minister of loneliness, Sakamoto spoke about his views at a press conference. He said that he is looking forward to introducing measures such that no person in japan feels lonely and evils like isolation and social loneliness can be reduced if not eradicated. He also said that he wants to protect ties between people.

What is the current suicide rate in Japan?

In 2020, Japan’s suicide rate witnessed a shocking surge. According to the data collected by the National Police Agency, as many as 20,919 people took their lives in the year which saw unprecedented and stringent lockdowns and mandates social isolation measures such as quarantine.

But, why is Japan witnessing this sudden surge in cases of suicide? Does the rising suicide rate have a relation with the coronavirus pandemic?

Well, we still aren’t very sure about it.

However, a lot of experts claim that the suicide rate has been rising because of the culture of loneliness that the country has bestowed upon itself.

The total population of Japan holds a huge number of people belonging to the senescent category. More than one-fifth of its population is aged 65 years and above. This also makes Japan the country having the highest proportion for that category across the globe.

But, why is having more old people related to suicides?

Let me connect the dots for you. Out of the entire population, as much as 20 per cent of people are in the winter of their lives. This has created a void in the responsibility bearing of the society with numerous middle-aged and older people feeling despondent and stressed simply because they have no one to turn for help and no one to have fun and enjoy as well. Basically, no one to work with or have fun with majorly because most of the ageing people prefer to not socialise much and stay in their own senescence. Many of them prefer to die alone as well. We can say this because the bodies of such isolated people have been discovered after long periods of their last breath. In Japanese, this whole phenomenon is called ‘kodokushi’. (In English this translates to ‘lonely death’.)

So, Is the culture of loneliness prevalent in Japan behind the rise in suicide rates?

One can say so. This can be proven by taking a subtle hint to form their regular lifestyles. The term “KODOKU” is a common word in the Japanese local language used to describe both- solitude and loneliness. This simple line of indifference between staying alone has become severely blurred in Japan leading to all this.

Well, this is not all. There’s something more to shock you with all your withs. This entire idea of alienation has been so deeply indebted in the minds and souls of the Japanese people that they have been doing things that no normal social human being would do. They have gone beyond all levels of self-isolation. Well, if you think I am exaggerating, let me tell you, I am not. There are nearly “one million” people in Japan (try to ascertain the magnitude of it) who are spending their lives in absolute self-imposed confinement. These people have isolated themselves for we can’t even think how many years without any interaction or contact with the people or nature laying in the oblivion of the outside world. These people are called ‘hikikomori’. This term was coined by Japanese psychiatrist Professor Tamaki Saito in the year 1998 to refer to modern-day hermits who practice isolation in all terms —socially, psychologically, and spatially. A lot of people chose this route of complete isolation often after not being able to fulfil their educational aspirations or not being able to secure employment.

Do we know about any such person?

Nito Souji is one such person we know about. He is a game developer gaining increasing popularity via his YouTube channel. Recently, he also gained attention from the news publishers when it came to be known by the public that he has been following his principles of home isolation for the last 10 years. Yes, he has not left his apartment in an entire decade.

Is there any other reason for this?

Well, yes. The workload that has been adding tons and tons of pressure over the shoulders of the countrymen can be included in the probable list of factors behind this rise in suicide rates. Japan is one of the countries having the longest working hours. These escalated working hours gulp up the little opportunity and time that the Japanese might have to spend with their family or friends. Let alone, social interactions, they rarely find time for themselves to get rejuvenated or practice their hobbies, if any.

The Japanese labour laws state that the maximum limit for work is only 8 hours a day, extending up to 40 hours in a week. However, this is not really what practically happens in the country. During a 2016 government survey, more than one-fourth of the Japanese employers make their employees do overtime of 80 hours every month. Moreover, these extra hours of effort put in by the exhausted employees are often unpaid.

To determine the elevation of the problem one might note that there is a word called “KAROSHI” in the local language which means death due to overwork. Thrilling, right?

Furthermore, you can identify this by taking into note that there are many street corners in Japan that have the sign stating “Mind the sky”. This is to warn the fellow pedestrian of any person hitting a person falling from above as they jump off buildings to death.

Has the coronavirus pandemic had any effect on the crisis?

Well, the facts cannot deny this.

Pandemic has created circumstances of multiple people palming off their jobs along with the incessant exhortations and stress that they have to deal with while they stay at home. To dig deeper, the case for layoffs is more commonplace for women than men.

According to a survey conducted in December 2020 by Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK), a public broadcaster, as many as 26% of female workers reported having issues with jobs as against 19% of men. Moreover, 28% of women have reported dedicating more time to housework in comparison to 19% of men in a poll run by the NHK.

Although suicides by the male gender dropped last year, as many as 6,976 women took their lives making it a jump of 15% from the numbers recorded in 2019 as per The New York Times. In fact, the rate of suicides in females surged by an astounding 70% in the month of October last year.


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