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Travel, Teach, Live in Japan

How to Stop a Running Train in Japan
By:Josh Shulman

Japan's train system is one of the world's most advanced and timely, yet there is just one obstacle that stands in its way - physically. Not a day goes by in the otherwise peaceful country of Japan without an announcement of an "human accident" causing a certain route to be temporarily blocked to the disappointment of a frustrated (yet accustomed) mob of neatly dressed corporate businessmen and women. "Human accident" is, in fact, a subtle way of saying that someone deeply depressed, stressed out, disgraced, in serious debt, or all of the above has thrown him/herself onto the tracks as a train was approaching. I'll let you picture the result.

Suicide bombings are a common phenomenon these days in our war-torn world. Life in the affluent Japanese society is quite detached from the bloody conflicts in Chechnya, Iraq, India, and elsewhere, news of suicide bombings being viewed as alien events or something that prevails only in virtual computer games. Suicide, however, is not a foreign concept in Japan at all. It is a long standing cultural act that has been practiced to save an individual or family's fame. Suicidal act in Japan is unique as it has often been accompanied by meanings of vindication and valiance. Japan at times even promoted suicide, in order to implant the vocabulary as a way of saving fame and to prevent probability of rebellion against the government.

The Japanese have attempted (and "succeeded" in) peculiar forms of suicide throughout history. The "Hara-kiri," an act of cutting oneself open with a sword or knife, was once the privilege of Samurai warriors, performed in order to protect themselves from being killed by executioners. Another form of suicide called "Shinjuu," would be committed by lovers to romantically end their lives. Military suicide, commonly known as "Kamikaze," was prevalent during Japan's imperial years, when warriors and soldiers would sacrifice their lives for the sake of victory and glory.

As per studies conducted by Japanese national police, the numbers of suicide cases in the year 2000 were 24 per 100,000 people, rising to 27 in the year 2003. The high suicide rates in Japan became the subject of debate, especially during times of economic recession and dearth in the social welfare system. Only in recent years has the government allotted billions of Yen to curb the suicide rate, and the numbers have been improving.

It is often questioned whether the acts of Kamikaze and Hara-kiri should be considered as suicide, as they are claimed to have been obligatory deaths due to overly strict social norms and harsh circumstances. The same perhaps could be said for the present situation in Japan, where certain actions remain unpardonable in any other way and the stress of everyday life could be overbearing. At least the Japanese know how to accept responsibility for their actions - that's more than what could be said about politicians, CEO's of large corporations, and people in general elsewhere.

Josh Shulman, Author of All-You-Can Japan - http://smartjapantravel.wordpress.com

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