Suicide boom in post-nuclear Japan

As well as killing thousands, Japan’s natural disasters caused a leak of dangerous amounts of radiation into the environment. Meanwhile, many of those who survived are struggling with their own nuclear nightmare.

­A triple disaster on a scale the world has never known caused damage, destruction and uncertainty, forcing tens of thousands of Japanese refugees to leave their lives behind and seek shelter anywhere they can.

“Some people do evacuate,” says Komae Hosokawa, a nuclear sociologist. “But the problem is they are the minority and they have been accused by their neighbors, by their classmates and of course by official personnel that they are causing unfounded anxiety among people, which is not good.”

Though primarily a move towards self-preservation, this idea of desertion is defined by many as characteristically un-Japanese and has earned those who have evacuated the dishonorable title of traitor.

“Of course is hard to hear that,” says Suenami Sato, one of the refugees. “We have family, neighbors… We think about our health, but in other words we ran away. We escaped because we are scared of radiation. But there is no example in the world of something similar and the consequences are still ongoing.”

While those who have moved to shelters here in Tokyo are facing pressure to move back home there are others who have lost everything, cannot handle the overwhelming change and are facing even darker demons.

Japan already has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and following the disaster in March the government has issued a warning about a possible nationwide epidemic of depression.

“We hear some organic farmers committed suicide, because you know for organic farmers soil is everything,” says Komae Hosokawa “They nurture the good soil after many years of hard work and it is just contaminated in one night or two you know. So some farmers committed suicide and I am very sad to hear the news. And many other farmers are also very much depressed.”

A recent national survey in Japan performed by Dr. Hirohito Hirose, a disaster psychology specialist, and his team shows that suicide rates in Japan have in fact increased in the months since the disaster compared to the same time frame in the previous two years, but the demographics are not what one might expect.

“The rate increases not in the epicenter, disaster epicenter, but in the peripheral areas,” said Dr. Hirohito. “Because survivors who have to reconstruct their life, they have no time to [contemplate] suicide.”

This disaster has certainly taken its toll on Japan’s economy and such constant reminders of an intense topic can harm the collective psyche of the people who live here as well.

“Because of the tsunami disaster and the nuclear disaster many people have actually lost their jobs or their working conditions have crashed, so they have so many good reasons to commit suicide,” said Komae Hosokawa.