Immortality Clubs

       Ever since its crushing defeat in World War 2 Japan has grown in the worlds conscience. It was and to a certain extent still is a closed and exotic place. Yet, it is a place that wants to be loved and feels a divine right to a seat at the top tables. As with the other big economy in the world it buys into itself to a huge extent. As an effect of this its fashions, technologies and trends spurt out. The appetite for all things Japanese grows ever greater even as the government there slowly slides towards its more xenophobic side.

        The biggest export of all is technology with a large number of computers, games consoles and DVD players hailing from technological giants such as Sony, Nintendo, Sharp, Panasonic and Toshiba. Japanese cartoons have long had a following outside of Japan but in recent years this has grown exponentially. Anime has become perhaps the first word borrowed from English twisted in Japanese and then exported back into English. More recently Japanese food has begun to pop up all over the place.


     But has a social trend been exported? A most unwelcome social trend.Since July 2004, when I came to Japan, I have read occasional and disturbing news articles in the local papers about mass suicides. Japan has already one of the worlds highest rates of suicides. On average between 30,000 and 35,000 people take their own lives each year. The majority seem to be jobless Salarymen who have lost their Life-jobs and felt shamed. Another big group of suicides are bullied school children. It is telling that Japans romantic tradition is one of suicide pacts born out of doomed love.

       Yet, with the rise of internet social sites so has there been a rise in suicidal people banding together to take their lives en mass. Towards the end of 2004 26 people died in two months in this manner. Suicide clubs and social sites have sprung up so that the suicidal may meet one another and arrange their deaths. Such suicides are meticulously planned using sleeping pills, sealed vans and charcoal burners. The biggest single event was seven people just outside of Tokyo. The people who took their own lives came from all over Japan.


     Then today I learned that 7 people in Brigend, Wales, have taken their own lives in recent months. Within hours of each persons death a memorial website has been erected online. As well as the 7 successful suicides there have been many failed attempts. The common factor, apart from being in the same social group, is the social website Bebo. This and the memorial sites bring an extra level of disturbance to an already appalling series of events.

      The Japanese suicides were by relative strangers who were already suicidal and who used the internet to find similar people. Each had their own reasons for suicide be it financial ruin, ill-health or other emotional problems. Often it is said that people were egged on by other suicidal people or fell into a group mentality with the momentum that goes with it. These suicides can be linked to a rare mental disorder known as folie a deux.

       Yet, in England, which has no such tradition of suicide as there is in Japan, it is all the more disturbing because it is affecting previously unsuicidal people. These people also seem to be sociable unlike sufferers of folie a deux. This is not the most disturbing aspect either. It would appear that the people are aiming for immortality via these memorial websites. Has the desire for our 15 minutes of fame come to this?


       If the answer is yes then we know our youth is in serious trouble. Do we really wish to see our youth seek fame at any cost? There can be no prize worthy of such a cost. The immortality brings with it the end of life, not immortality, just death and the void. It brings ruin on relatives and friends, true friends who would never wish someones death. It cuts short all of someones potential to live life, love and create.

       As with many such fads and group trends, those who originate it, spread the ideas on the internet and create the sites, those who do that are still here in this world. They do not believe in any moral reason for suicide just the fame it accords them in having set the ball rolling. I wonder how they square such a burden knowing they encouraged someone, maybe a true friend, to kill themselves for fame. Lets hope that in such a world this act still generates guilt. For if it didnt we would truly be in trouble.

      How do we stop these things? We could get draconian and shut down the likes of Bebo, or force them to remove the Memorial Pages. We could force only over 18s to be able to join such sites. But, would it help? We need to find a way to stop such things seeming like a good idea, to stop people feeling that its acceptable to do it and we need to be able to know these things are about to happen so we may engage with those kids. I will not pretend to know what to do only to state that we have to think of something.


6 Responses to “Immortality Clubs”

  1. Complex social issue indeed. Teen suicide has been on the rise in Australia for at least a decade and is only just being recognised as an urgent issue but I hadn’t heard before about these organised group ones. One thing we could question is whether there is any immortality in a couple of web pages which will soon disappear into the vast databank of unlooked at’s. But it’s so complex apparent solutions will cause other problems. More exercise and fresh air has been shown to have an amazing effect on the psychology of young adults but how do you get them to do it?

  2. These kids seem so normal. I read a new article in the papers today online and a kid who knew them all in Brigend said it was seen as a cool thing to do. It was morbid curiosity mixed with kudos and the temporary fame of a few online pages. Sad and tragic, a real waste.

  3. Yes there was a report on this very subject this morning but I do think you need to be cautious as to what is reported and what is the basis behind individual stories. A reporter this morning spoke to a mother of one of the suicide victims in Bridgend and she was very much dismissing the reporters leading questions to try and blame Bebo but the fact is it is everywhere on the internet. There are sites telling you how much rope to use to hang yourself, how much paracetamol you should take to avoid just vomiting it back up. Such sites bring suicide into the everyday norm for kids who are still learning. I swear to you, as I type this there is a funeral carriage outside, white, pulled by white horses containing the young girl over the street. She lies in a whicker coffin and her family are all wearing white… I don’t know how she died but any young life is such a tragic waste when they have never been able to fulfill their potential. It chills to the bone but it happens too often. My daughter is now 13 and has already been touched by a suicide in her old school – a girl hung herself with her own dressing gown belt. She was 12. I just keep talking to my children, showing her I care and what normal life is about outside of these terrible things that kids do – but the internet is a real presence in their life and there is little we can do to police it. The most frightening to me was a gallery website for kids to post photos of their self harming ‘handiwork’ with a comment board for people to say how cool it was on a scale of 1 to 5. Terrible.

  4. Ahh now that sort of site is just predation by older people, the self harming one, and despite my loathing of censorship, perhaps a bomb in their server would be the go. But I think you’re right Narnie, the people best placed, in fact probably the only people in a position to counter these things are parents whose job just seems to get harder and harder.

  5. i just wanted you to know I have been here reading.

  6. I have wondered if I should try to stop these people being so foolish. But it scares me that it could go so horribly wrong. Should we try to intervene?

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