suicide in japan

good lord:

“In 2009, the number of suicides rose 2 percent to 32,845 exceeding 30,000 for the twelfth straight year and equating to nearly 26 suicides per 100,000 people. This amounts to approximately one suicide every 15 minutes. However, this figure is somewhat disputed since it is arguably capped by the conservative definition of ‘suicide’ that has been adopted by the Japanese authorities, which differs from the WHO’s definition. Some people thus suggest a rather larger figure of 100,000 suicides a year. Currently, the conservative per year estimate is still significantly higher than for any other OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) country. In comparison, the UK rate is about 9 per 100,000, and the US rate around 11 per 100,000….

“Typically most suicides are men; over 71% of suicide victims in 2007 were male. In 2009, the number of suicides among men rose 641 to 23,472 (with those age 40–69 accounting for 40.8% of the total). Suicide was the leading cause of death among men age 20–44. Males are two times more likely to cause their own deaths after a divorce than females. Nevertheless, suicide is still the leading cause of death for women age 15–34 in Japan….” [source]

genes contribute to suicide, of course (to paraphrase dennis, how could they not?) — 30-50% of the variance in suicide rates can be accounted for by genetics.

as an extension of that, ethnicity clearly plays a role in suicide. For example: “[I]n the U.S., non-Hispanic Caucasians are nearly 2.5 times more likely to kill themselves than African Americans or Hispanics.” and, of course, there’s the finns and ugrics.

perhaps suicide is altruistic — a person removes his genes from the gene-pool when he feels he has failed in some way (failure presumably negatively affecting one’s inclusive fitness). certainly in japan they have had long traditions of taking one’s own life in connection with one’s honor and, perhaps most tellingly, the honor of one’s family.

or maybe they just don’t handle alcohol.

an interesting side note: suicide has not been documented in any other animals.

(note: comments do not require an email.)


  1. If there the decision to commit suicide is influenced by genetics, then I would suspect genetic drift or stabilizing selection before leaping to altruism as an evolutionary strategy, but not having a personal subscription to Springer or an institution that has one, I can’t read the paper and thus can’t comment fully.

    Of course, there’s always the possibility that a change in environment could bring out a genetically-influenced trait that didn’t previously manifest itself. Heritability, after all, is partially a function of the sample you have (height being more heritable, for example, in societies that are properly nourished than in those stricken with frequent famine), and whatever genes are associated with higher suicide rates in the modern era may not have presented as such previously. Of course, given that Japan has a history of ritual suicide as a part of Bushidō, that explanation seems unlikely.


  2. Most animals have lurking predators. Intentional exposure to predators could be a cryptic suicide mechanism. All you have to do is behave conspicuously (or just waitquitely, if patient) and then not flee.


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