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Workplace Suicide – Why Do Japanese Business Persons Kill Themselves?

November 10, 2011

2,376 – The National Police Agency of Japan has just announced the monthly statistics of suicide for October 2011. At the current rate, it will most likely reach at 30,000 by the year end. The annual total has been exceeding 30,000 for the consecutive 13 years. Japan’s suicide rate, the number of suicides per hundred thousand people, is known high at 25, ranked in the top 5 in the world. The US and India are ranked around 40, or 10 suicides per hundred thousand.

So, you may ask why. Let’s look how suicide has been regarded in the Japanese history.

Harakiri – the Responsibility

Historically, the Japanese society has not been intolerant to suicide. Rather, in some cases in the past, suicide was encouraged as the final performance of one’s virtue. Harakiri or Seppuku can been seen in many Samurai films, where a Samurai warrior kills himself to take a full responsibility of his or his subordinate’s misconduct. Apology by death is considered an honorable act and he was forgiven in most cases. Even in the modern Japan, managers with a strong sense of responsibility, especially the business owners, tend to follow the same path, when the situation turned to be a severe failure.

Kamikaze – the Loyalty

Kamikaze is another Japanese word related to suicide, as is Kamikaze attack. Although nowadays suicide bombing is a common tactic of the terrorists, it is terrifying to know that Japan employed this deadly act as a systematized military action. While the Japanese suicide attack is symbolized by the Kamikaze airforce, who flew at the target with a small airplane fueled only for a one-way flight, there were many more suicide attacks by the ground troops without adequate equipments or supplies. Those people were smart and knew they would lose the battle, but nevertheless they decided to fight until the last bullet. It was a suicidal act, but fighting for the country to death was honored before saving their own life. Today, some Japanese business warriors are so loyal to the company that they would work to death instead of quitting.

Banzai – the Escape

At the end of the War, Japan made more suicides in another form: Banzai suicide. In the beautiful Saipan island on the Pacific ocean, there is a tourist place named Banzai cliff, where a cornered Japanese troop as well as civilians decided to kill themselves, instead of being captured by the enemy and live in the shame. When they threw themselves into the ocean 80 meters below, they shouted Banzai, a gesture to celebrate the Emperor, the country and themselves. When the Japanese Emperor announced the surrender, many Japanese in the battle field, soldiers and civilians alike, also killed themselves to escape the capture. They were taught that being captured alive is worse than dying. It is the same mentality when a stressed Japanese business person kills himself. He saw killing himself as the only solution to escape from the tough reality.

Of course, these are the stories in the past. You can only find them in the movie (or on the cocktail menu at the party.) Although that’s the case, however, there are a lot of things we can learn from the past.

Today’s Lesson:

Harakiri, Kamikaze, and Banzai – only enjoy drinks, not the real ones.

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