This week I want to talk about the recent increase of train “accidents” in my neighborhood. An “accident” is a polite euphemism the Japanese use to describe suicide by train. For one reason or another there have recently been a lot of suicides on my line and it’s gotten me thinking. I’d like to share some of this with you.
To begin with, Japan has consistently had the highest suicide rate of any country in the world. A quick wiki search suggests that 26 out 100,000 Japanese people take their own lives every year. This amounts to a suicide every 15 minutes. The suspected reasons for such staggering statics are far and wide, and I will not discuss them here. What I do want to talk about is death by train. And to make it more real I want to share a personal story.
I was fortunate because my first eight months in the country I was isolated from these things. I heard others talk about the delays they experienced. Here I should say that only foreigners shared their stories with me. To date, I’ve never heard a Japanese person bring up the topic. These circumstances helped keep me in an isolated world for a long time. However this bubble was popped in the last two weeks.
For some reason beyond me, there has been a significant increase in suicides on my local train line. In a two-week period I was delayed eight times. Luckily during the delays I wasn’t on a train. I know people who have been stuck in a train for over an hour while the mess was cleaned up. Still, it can be very frustrating when your day is delayed because of one person. My frustration reached a boiling this week when I was late to work because of an accident.
In case you’re wondering, it seems to me very easy to take your life by a train. As I understand it, you simply jump from the platform in front of a moving train. If the initial impact doesn’t end you, then the fall to the tracks below and the passing train surely will. I’ve never actually seen someone jump, and I hope I never do.
Back to my story. I was going to work on a Wednesday this week and walked to my station. I arrived to a congested lobby. Dozens of people stood outside the gates that were turned off. On the other side of the gates was a single line of passengers. They each had to speak with a station attendant before they could leave. I stood in front of the congestion and surveyed the situation. Outside the ticket gates was a large sign with plenty of Japanese. I had no clue what was written but I quickly guessed it a suicide. I called the office and told them I would be late. Then I started to pace around the area.
After sometime the gates opened and we were allowed down to the platform. I was red in the face with irritation. “Offing yourself with a train is a cowards way out,” I thought. “It’s selfish and inconsiderate!” Without knowing who had jumped or why, I quickly found myself hating the person. Soon the first train arrived. The conductor pulled into the station very slowly and held the horn down the whole time. I thought to myself, “it’s a little late to be preventing a suicide, isn’t it?” I chuckled aloud at this thought. I boarded the train and the doors hissed shut behind me. My chuckles grew into full on laughter. An old man standing next to me slowly inched away. “Hahahaha,” I continued laughing.
The train pulled into the next station and the doors opened. Standing right in front of me was a police scene. My laughter stopped and I stood still in my tracks. The other side of the platform was swarming with police officers. Police tape was everywhere. Photographers were taking photos of everything. Policemen measured distances and took notes. I saw station attendants on their hands and knees, scrubbing at the floor. I grew goosebumps. My breath was shortened. I remember thinking, “wow, that was an actual person. And now they’re gone.” I lowered my head and turned to walk away. At the end of the scene I turned around for one more look. The situation wasn’t funny anymore.
Later that night I ate dinner alone in my apartment and thought heavily about the whole thing. It was tragic. But it also seemed so far away. Where I’m at in my life, where I’ve been and where I think I’m going, must be very different from the man who jumped. I can’t imagine taking my own life. It’s too drastic, too permanent. And mostly it’s just too selfish.
My weekend was much sunnier than Wednesday. Literally. I went to the beach with my buddy Trevor. Saturday after work we went out and celebrated his birthday. Countless beers and a taxi ride later I was home and in bed. I woke up early Sunday and emailed my friends from the night before. Moto, Emma,Trevor and everyone else felt like I did. Hungover. “Play hard, then play harder,” I thought. I collected myself and set to putting my life back together. Chores, errands, train station.
I met Trevor and a friend early in the afternoon and we took a train to the beach. Before long we had laid out our towels and were enjoying the sun’s rays. It didn’t lake long for my skin to warm and the water to call my name. I walked in to the surf and admired the scenery. Last weekend I was standing on Japan’s tallest mountain, this weekend I was at the beach. Life’s not too bad here.
The remainder of the day was spent playing frisbee, swimming and strutting down the beach. Beautiful Japanese women were everywhere. Tiny little women in tiny bikinis. I tried sparking up a few conversations with little success. It wasn’t a problem. I was more than content with the day. The sun started to dip behind the mountains. We packed up our camp and visited a bar near the shore. We ordered a cocktail and sat on the balcony watching the sky change colors. We didn’t say very much during that time. But we didn’t need to. It was enough to sit and relax.
The Japanese have this weird obsession where they attach straps to everything. As far as I know, these objects are referred to as straps. For example, they hang charms and trinkets from their cell phones. Straps are applied to everything. Phones, bags, clothes, animals you name it. I’m still a little weirded out when I see a very serious business man pull out his phone and there’s a Hello Kitty strap dangling below his hand.
Yet I guess I’ve bought in to this trend. I’ve bought charms from numerous shrines. And now all of my bags have good luck charms attached. But hey it’s justifiable, they’re for good luck. And recently I’ve had a lot of luck.