What causes such despair and loneliness? The pressure to work? Japan is infamous for the “karoshi” phenomenon after all – a term invented in the 1970s that means “death from overwork,” arising from the number of deaths caused by work-related stress, long hours, and poor diet.
This cultural pressure to work impacts families and relationships in several ways – from everything to not taking vacation days to simply not having the time to find a mate to suicide.
Japan’s Sudden Surge in Female Suicide Rates
Japan has struggled with high suicide rates for years. With the lockdowns especially, the number of people taking their own lives rose in 2020 for the first time since 2009, with rates among women growing by more than 14%. More than 300 children took their own lives in 2020 in the eight months leading up to November. During the pandemic, women were said to have been affected predominantly due to “increasing unemployment caused by Covid, alongside facing disproportionately more burdens at home, including child supervisions.”
Over the years, Japan has seen a significant increase in single women living alone, many giving in to the belief that it’s a better alternative to marriage. Due to this new culture of independence, countless young women are far more likely to be experiencing employment struggles.
For a long time, Japan had the highest suicide rate in the developed world.
A growing number of young women in Japan are not marrying anymore, which means most can only depend on themselves – this leaves the mounting suicide rates among women almost inevitable, with many hopeless and alone in times of great hardship, especially during the lockdowns. In October 2020, 879 women in Japan killed themselves – this was over 70% higher than the same month in 2019.
Nevertheless, even with lockdown suicide rates aside, Japan has had a significant suicide problem for a while. For a long time, Japan had the highest suicide rate in the developed world. Though, pre-pandemic, Japan seemed to be improving greatly with decreasing suicide rates, many are still left to ask what it is that makes such a technologically advanced and developed nation fail so strongly in social satisfaction and wellbeing.
Japan’s Broken Men
In 2014, more than 25,000 people in Japan took their own lives (around 70 every day), and most of these suicides were men. These figures didn’t make Japan the most suicidal of the world’s developed nations as this ill-fated title has long gone to South Korea – a country that, much like Japan, has raised a generation of the finest, most educated, and industrially advanced, but also the most critically depressed and hopeless.
For a long time, the fastest-growing suicide demographic in Japan has been young men, suicide being the single biggest killer of Japanese men aged 20-44. The suicide rates first began their drastic increase after the Asian financial crisis of 1998, climbing again after the 2008 worldwide financial crisis.
Suicide is the single biggest killer of Japanese men aged 20-44.
Financial and employment issues remain fatal issues, as suicide rates have long been directly linked to Japan’s increase in “precarious employment” – a newer practice of employing young people on short-term contracts. While older people can still enjoy job security and benefits, around 40% of young people in Japan are unable to get stable jobs. When living in a country once known as a land of lifetime employment, it’s no wonder Japanese men feel such great failure when unable to find work. Alongside this, evidence over the years also suggests many young men have killed themselves due to the lack of help and resources available.
Japan’s New Age of Lonely Lovers
Beside vast employment depressions, it seems Japan has also raised a generation of lonely lovers, giving young people a greater lack of meaning and social satisfaction.
Those without jobs spend their days desperately trying to find one, and those with jobs work long, demanding, grueling hours, leaving them little time for personal freedom and leisure. In Japan, people experience less human connection. About 1 in 4 adults aged 20-30 is a virgin, leaving Japan trying to cure what their media calls “sekkusu shinai shokogun” (celibacy syndrome).
Japan’s youth appear to have lost interest in conventional relationships. Millions are no longer dating, and an ever-increasing number of the population can no longer be bothered with sex. This has also led to a national calamity – Japan has long had one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Its population, which has already been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge by a further one-third by 2060.
61% of unmarried men and 49% of unmarried women aged 18-34 were not in a romantic relationship.
To make birth rates in Japan even worse, the last decade has also seen a rise in “otaku,” a demographic of Japanese men who have high interest in manga, technology, and hentai while believing themselves to be in relationships with “virtual girlfriends” rather than female human beings. These men are different from the men who drive themselves to near suicide trying to find employment; instead, they lack the ambition of the traditional Japanese man. They have no interest in becoming salary men – their screens are their entire source of contentment.
A Life That Lacks Meaning
The number of single people has long been reaching record highs. Surveys conducted in the last decade have found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of unmarried women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship. As of 2013, as many as a million young people in Japan are believed to be holed up in their rooms, some for decades at a time. Many young people across Japan have forgotten what it’s like to feel human touch and fear intimacy, and as a result, have adapted to being without them.
Many in Japan have forgotten the importance of love. Love is not simply something that makes our lives better; love is what gives our lives meaning. Love is more important than money. Of course, we may desire money, we may even, in some ways, love money, but money can’t compensate for a loveless life.
Along with love, it seems the younger generation of Japan has discarded the value of family, as many no longer view it as an end goal. So many have drowned themselves in great piles work but have forgotten why people do this in the first place – to build a stable home, to provide for someone other than themselves, to create and sustain a family.
So, is this the inevitable fate of love in the Western world too? Possibly. With a growing culture of hard work and little pay off, involuntary celibacy, fear of intimacy, porn addiction, negative attitudes towards the family, growing unaffordability of the family, rising suicide rates, technology-driven depression, and widespread hopelessness, it seems the West is doomed to share the fate of well-developed nations like Japan – a country so prosperous at first glance, yet occupied by such broken spirits.
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