In his online journal, Tomoyuki Hoshino (pictured here) addresses a wide range of political, social, literary, and cultural concerns and questions. Recently, he has written quite a bit about suicide, nationalism, and globalization. The following journal entries were translated by Brent Lue, who is currently working on a translation of Hoshino’s first novel, The Last Sigh (or The Last Gasp or The Last Breath) – Saigo no toiki, which was published in 1997. Brent is an undergraduate student in East Asian Studies and Economics at McGill University. He is an expert baker, is active in musical theater, and is 19 years old.
Hydrogen Sulfide Suicides (May 11, 2008)
One of the most disturbing issues I find in recent news is the suicides by Hydrogen Sulfide. Immediately after the issue was given a close up, because it was reported that someone committed suicide with Hydrogen Sulfide, the number of suicide articles on newspaper front pages rapidly increased.
In Japan, the number of suicide victims has surpassed 30,000 annually, and this has continued for 10 years. Taking 30,000 yearly into account, simply calculated, this amounts to 80 people per day. Two entire classrooms worth of 40 people each will die each day–of their own will. But, as long as there is no remarkable reason (such as bullying or the victim being famous), these suicides are not reported in the news. So, as long as the people around us do not commit suicide, we do not really grasp the feeling that every day 80 people are dying.
As a result of the “Hydrogen Sulfide” affair, these types of incidents all of a sudden became reported one after another. All of a sudden, the local community pages of newspapers became covered by suicide articles.
I am overwhelmed with the realization that on the very same day so many unrelated people are killing themselves. But in reality, there are many times more people who die from methods other than gassing themselves with Hydrogen Sulfide. I want you to imagine yourself reading in one day the suicide articles of 80 people. Now, imagine this way of life continuing–without interruption–for more than a decade. This would not be a situation you could express in mere words like “depressing” or “difficult to deal with”. There is no human being who can maintain their sanity being weathered so regularly. By then, you would probably feel strange for not having killed yourself and the decision to commit suicide would be no more jarring than deciding whether or not to take some cold medicine.
This is the true form of our current reality. We are living in this very kind of society. However, because we do not see suicide in front of our eyes, it feels only like a far-away event. The truth is that suicide is right beside you, calling out to someone who will listen.
A society where 80 people every day plunge into suicide is, even if it doesn’t appear at first glance, horrifyingly crooked. Albeit in different forms, Tibet, Burma, the Uighur and others are being oppressed by some shapeless, mysterious state power (ie. propaganda). What is that “power” exactly? If we don’t closely examine this, suicide rates will never decrease.
While Hydrogen Sulfide suicides are rapidly increasing, it goes without saying that present measures to curb this method of suicide are direly necessary. But the real core of the problem is not in the “Hydrogen Sulfide poisoning” but in “suicide”. However, the cycle of rhetoric that spins such reports and circles around this topic examines only the “Hydrogen Sulfide” and parenthesizes the concrete reality of suicide victims. It first shoves the dying to the side and looks away. And then, it leaves them like that. As if the dead don’t even exist.
I feel a strong discomfort with this. I want to ask if this isn’t the very force that has created this suicidal society. That is what is truly difficult to bear.
Kumi Koda (February 8, 2008)
It’s unbearable to watch the extreme bashing that has surrounded Kumi Koda’s latest slip of the tongue. Regardless of whether or not the comments should be criticized or not, it was something that should have died down right at the moment when she apologized. To reduce someone to tears by forcing them to submit to unease and fear about their identity, and then to cause them to self-police their own artistic endeavors is nothing short of large-scale bullying. You could even call it a lynching. Aren’t we just subjecting Kumi Koda to the same fear that she faced before at the beginning of her career? What is truly frightening is that the media blitz that reported this is totally unaware that they are perpetrating a public execution. A large number of those involved in the bashing are not angry at the comments themselves; rather, I feel as if they want to get involved in the “festivities” and raise themselves up on high horses.
In any group, there are forces of homogenization at work, with the mandate of “Be the same as everyone else!”—but in Japanese society this pressure is extraordinarily strong. Moreover, in the last ten years, this already strong assimilative pressure has taken a previously unseen grotesque form that sometimes becomes violent.
Within contexts with strong pressures to assimilate, one’s greatest fear becomes the idea of being “different from others”. Because of this, to kill the parts of oneself that are different from others essentially becomes a way of daily survival. You are not living as an individual but rather, killing some part of yourself becomes the same as living. At the end of that is your own death, or in other words, your suicide. The pressure to assimilate, said extremely, can be a force that chases the greater half of any group to killing themselves.
Of course, there are desperate attempts to open up “ventilation holes” to try to decrease the pressure in these environments. These may be those who wish to bring about ruin, but there are also those who change communities into places that are easier to live in by lowering assimilative pressures to tolerable levels. Of the latter, I guess one of these means is “Coming Out”.
A book called Coming Out Letters (Taro-Jiro Editions) contains the experiences of gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities who wrote letters to their loved ones (the majority being parents) in order to reveal their sexual orientation, as well as the responses from the letters’ recipients. Overcoming fears such as being rejected by confessing their difference, or being unable to recover because rejection from their parents is equal to a death sentence, the individuals in this book come out and end up developing a deep understanding that bridges the distance between them and their loved ones.
It has been two months since the publication of that book, but the reaction has been large and the book’s reputation seems good. It’s not only that Letters gives courage to sexual minorities questioning the coming out process, but even more because the typical recipients of a coming out are being exposed for the first time to the suffering of sexual minorities, in effect learning that this pain is something they can powerfully resonate with. In other words, the pain of killing your inner “difference” and continuing to live.
The circumstances are slightly different, but the book published a few years ago called I Couldn’t Say “Suicide” (Sunmark) also dealt with one form of coming out. It is the story of a group of children, left behind after their parents have committed suicide, and how they are mentally weathered by society’s coldly aggressive view towards suicide– eventually having to hide their parents’ deaths, they reveal the story of how they continue to live. It’s not as if they have committed crimes either; rather, despite the fact their parents being driven to suicide by harsh circumstances, they are frowned upon as if they themselves were criminals. In Japan, to hide a relative’s suicide is normal, and it is seen to be something to be ashamed of. On top of the pain of their parents’ suicides, the pain of living with that hidden shame excludes the family of the deceased, especially the children as “different”. In the book, the children eventually are able to shake off this fear of possible exclusion due to being “different”, and “come out” for the first time.
A mysterious, hidden society continuously threatens us with the admonition to “be the same as everyone else!”. But who is “everyone” in this case? What kind of “being the same”? If you look at it head on, I’m sure you’ll understand. That in truth, there is nothing. If there is something, it’s inside of yourself. That part of yourself that is “different”. The pressure to assimilate is born from the fear of looking at yourself.
Sex and Money: Suckering the Children (August 6, 2008)
The incident where a male eighth-grade student hijacked a bus. According to the reports at the time, the student in question caused the ruckus in an attempt to borrow 10,000 yen from the students around him after being told by a girl “I’ll go out with you if you give me 10,000 yen”.
Sex and money. I have to avoid making an immediate judgment about the motive, but when you consider that these new (but seemingly old) causes tempted a 14 year old boy to cause such an incident, I am chilled to the bone.
Out of all the incidents that men in this society have caused, just how many incidents have involved “Sex and Money”, I wonder? In my eyes, the despair of “I’m ugly because I don’t have a girlfriend” held by Akihabara Slasher suspect Kato along with the desire of “I’ll pay even 10,000 yen to go out with the girl I like” of the boy involved in this incident are like two sides of the same coin.
I think that this too is the result of globalization. Coinciding with the liberalization of economies, “Sex and Romance” have also been liberalized. Various paradigms of romance are spit out as products, and the “beautiful people” of the world flock and scramble to purchase these “luxury brand romances”. The men who fail at this so-called Love Market (the “unhandsome men”) thus attempt to gain “sex” through “money” (prostitution, photo-voyeurism). Further, the so called “hideous men” who cannot participate in this context accumulate hatred of their existence as the miserable and defeated. Like the fast food industry has made our population’s hunger escalate to a level of tireless consumption, sexual desire has also made us slaves to the economy.
this very incident is the result of the inherent violence of the market
having reached even the young minds of 14-year-old boys.