Tuesday was raining and cold. I contentedly went through the motions. Today was a bright blue sky, blissful sun – but that didn’t stop someone from jumping onto the rail tracks at Ofuna station.

Fortunately I was at the other end of the platform, so didn’t see the moment of impact – as you can see from the photograph above, though, they hit the front of the train pretty hard – but the sound of the emergency alarm was unbearably loud and I decided to go into the station to wait for the inevitably delayed train in an area I could sit down.

I feel guilty taking the photo. But it was impulsive. However, having witnessed this before (a colleague was stuck on a train yesterday for two hours following yet another terrible ‘accident’ – most of the time it is suicide, even if the drunken do sometimes also fall onto the tracks); last Thursday night I was also unable to get home for a long time because of yet another jinshinjiko on the same line – what the hell is happening, it feels like a contagion), I did not want to see the unfortunate individual in any shape or form, and yet I contradict myself immediately by having taken a quick of the smashed bumper; a prurient, morbid curiosity taking over, a gaijin, salaryman disgusting paparazzo.

I sat in an area above the tracks, facing away from the window, the area in question ( my heart is beating very fast writing this). But it was obvious, a stretcher being laid out and paramedics, police, the Kamakura fire service department rushing anxiously down the stairs on both sides (and I glimpsed behind me I could see various rail staff peering in horror under a specific part of the train – ironically a ‘holiday train’ full of happy vacationers on the way to the coast in Izu, frozen in place for a dreadful hour); I knew it was where I would be forced to take a look ( did I actually want to?) – but I couldn’t move.

It happened. And it was horrifying. Impressive in the extreme in the professional efficiency – at least twelve professionals surrounding what was left on the stretcher with portable blue curtains to prevent anyone seeing anything up close – several passengers were actually filming – but still, with the beautiful, blinding sunlight pouring in through the glass windier of that part of the station, I was deeply struck by the terrible contrast between the sheer beauty of the autumnal day and the fact that a depressed, desperate individual had just decided that now was the time to actually jump.

The proximity to a just killed soul as the makeshift memorial shifted past me was knife like in its utter sadness ; I then realized over the tannoy – I don’t know how many minutes it was – that a train in the direction I was going – I was already an hour late for a meeting – was leaving from another platform.

Getting to work, and failing to respond to the light laughter; seeing the medical truck outside of the main building, employees going in and out to have chest x-rays for the compulsory health check (my god writing this as I walk on my phone I have just realized that I am walking past almost the exact place that it happened), I realized once again that the sadomasochistic work culture of Japan is precisely what leads to this carnage in the first place.

If I were to follow the regulations, which I will not – I will have checks privately if and when I need to – I would not be allowed to consume anything tonight, nor tomorrow morning or afternoon until 2:45pm, even though I have three morning classes. This, to my logical mind, is quite cruel; nonsensical. One colleague tonight was starving himself today and tomorrow to ‘lose weight’ – I will be eating my oatmeal, nuts and bananas as scheduled – – what: am I supposed to just strive through the day, starving, lightheaded ( it always used to be first thing in the morning), to gambaru – do my best, exert samurai self control over my body and mind only to be weighed, injected , examined, tested, syringed, and then grab something to eat before proceeding towards my evening classes ?

The problem is that I have too much self respect. To me, scheduling a mandatory medical check up like this is actually irresponsible. And it brings out the absolute worst, self sacrificing instincts of the population as a whole – always keen to demonstrate to others a spirit of perseverance and self denial; fortitude; selflessness.

Which are laudable traits; there is much to admire (such as the discretion, tact, professionalism and dignified demeanour with which all the government services worked quickly together to get things moving again – it seems so callous: but they have to – while remaining respectful to the very recently deceased person who was still alive as I was eating my lunch on the platform just forty five minutes before.

I couldn’t stop myself, this evening, from talking about all of this with some students who I knew to be sensitive and inquisitive enough to be able to handle it. Because I want them to think about all of this; maybe as young people they can do something about it in the future. Because it is already a known fact that in Japan, after a gruelling and punishing summer ‘break’ in which they in truth don’t really have a single day off, unlike the new pencil nervousness of a British September when you go back to school alienated but refreshed, here they are often so tired they just can’t face anymore, and so hurl themselves tragically in front of a high speed, passing train.

Or it could instead be an exhausted company employee, drained and depleted from years without a proper holiday, doing their best, but one sunny day in October, too tired and confused and deeply sad to even think straight , just deciding that – now is the moment


Filed under Flowers

21 responses to “WEIRD WEDNESDAY

  1. Beautiful prose by you although very tragic. The work ethic in America is the just as dreadful.

    • Is it ? I wonder if the suicide rates are also comparable then.

      So horrible.

    • Just joined corporate America at age of 40! But from my limited perspective as a Korean American, and Korean and Japanese culture having some similarities (yet not the same especially to a Korean or Japanese! ) the life of a salaryman(or woman) in America is, in general, easier than in Korea/Japan and probably China. Not only are you expected to work your 9 to 5, but also work drinking afterwards. My cousin works for Samsung and finally transferred to the States to give himself better work life balance for his children. He still works alot (Korean at Samsung so Samsung has expectations) but it’s still better he says than in Korea. Don’t get me wrong, no place/country is perfect — school district next to my childrens’ received a false shooter alarm for a high school. Anyway, enjoy your writing, and enjoy yearning to visit these shops that have hidden vintage gems for such a reasonable price.

      • I always will!

        Agree about the North East Asian work culture similarities, though I think job requirements ( after work drinks etc ) are even fiercer in Sourh Korea – there has been a slight sea change in that regard – people do have slightly more say over their private lives now

  2. Hanamini

    There is that sense in Japan of not being able to escape. I’ve not lived there for over 20 years now, but my first boyfriend there killed himself (years after we split up), in the cabin of his truck, as he felt the pressure to behave and conform, as the oldest son, was too suffocating. He had a disabled brother and there was social shame about that too; his family kept it quiet and kept that son at home. His only dream was to escape to “the West”; having foreign girlfriends gave him that sense of freedom, but eventually the pressures got to him as he got older. He saw no way out. That’s just one person, and one story, but it gave me a view; I hope things have changed since then, but clearly they haven’t changed enough. I’m sorry you had to experience this, and I hope the writing and talking were helpful.

    • I had to do it – a physical need – on the way home. I haven’t even checked it.

      So sorry he felt so trapped and took his own life; how awful ( for you too, my god…)

      As you yourself know, the day to day atmosphere here is upbeat and easy to live in ; but as you say there are those who suffer in quiet desperation.

      I feel very affected today by the shocking violence of it : the suddenness

      • Hanamini

        Indeed, different for foreigners, at least, or at least some foreigners. I felt happier and freer in Japan than in Europe, not forced into uncomfortable class and political divisions. I hope you have recovered, and thank you for the beautiful writing despite the tragic topic.

      • Thank you for responding in the way you have : I also feel freer

  3. This happens too frequently on the T in Boston as well, usually on the Red Line. They always announce it as “a medical emergency”. I’ve never seen anything other than police and firefighters on the scene but that time I could smell something singed in the station that was most likely from the body in contact with the third rail. We never find out who they were or why it happened.

  4. Suicide is surprisingly frequent here in Nepal too. Hanging oneself from a ceiling fan with a shawl is the most common method, drinking household cleaning chemicals or insecticide in the next preferred technique.
    Men most often kill themselves for financial reasons here. Last spring the economy was so bad and the suicide rate was so high the police were driving around with bullhorns in cars asking people not to suicide, things will get better.
    Women most often kill themselves here due to a bad marriage or pressures from In Laws. Domestic violence is quite common and young women are often coerced to marry men they don’t wish to. In Laws often badger the wife’s family for gifts and favors, if the woman doesn’t produce an heir she is often deserted of abandoned.
    My gallery is on the premises of a five star hotel, it has surprised me to learn how many people travel to faraway lands to suicide. Every year there’s at least 1 suicide or attempt in the hotel. I guess if you’re going to go, may as well go 5 star? One year a Chinese businessman slit his wrists with a broken glass in his room. He had fought with his mistress whom he was traveling with that afternoon LOUDLY. I don’t think his wife was too thrilled, the body was at the local morgue for 2 months before the Chinese embassy finally claimed it.

    • ….

      just catching my breath ( on the train home ) reading this

      Awful ( if somewhat electrifying ) to read ; it is strangely reassuring to be reminded that despair is universal – even if the exit methods do culturally differ.

      I am genuinely grateful that the people who come here have the emotional range to go from luxurious light – the glory and delirium of the senses and perfume – to the darkness of much of life – because it really isn’t a picnic – in a beautiful heartbeat

  5. This really is so heartbreaking and sad. I never will truly understand why someone would want to end their own life, it is final, no second chances.
    I guess when one is so desperate, they are not thinking straight.
    I have to concur with what Nose Prose said about the Red Line in Boston, I grew up taking that train line, people would always throw themselves in front of the trains. It would destroy me for days after hearing about it, knowing that’s why the train was stopped.

  6. JulienFromDijon

    I feel for you 😦

    It got me thinking too.
    As a welcomed cure, the worst kind of humor came to me 😀 I will spare you of it, and let you make your own.
    Because after all due respect, if the guy took the risk to cause you a trauma, you can allow yourself to use humor to digest the bad experience. It’s good to create back some pleasure, ease, and peacefulness, from darkness.

    I had cognitive dissonance, between the basic compassion for someone who passed away, and blaming him for choosing the worst way of killing himself.
    The later was made worse by the fact, that I have nothing against euthanasia, against the right to “leave the stage” on your own terms. (Because I have a strong chronic illness).
    His solution seemed very selfish, but selfish was not the relevant word.

    I didn’t understand the appeal of that method, throwing yourself under a train. After writing a lot, and a few days, I discovered some good ideas :

    1 – First, I understood better, that it is an inconsiderate choice. Those people don’t think clearly.

    If you are suffering, if you lack of sleep, if you are under the influence of medications or drugs, if you numb yourself to flee your problems, or are haunted by them -be it money, work, disease, family, love, or all of the above-, if words don’t come easy to you, then you cannot think clearly. (And I feel privileged on many of this points. Finding my words is the obvious one 😀 )
    So it’s not a choice. It’s hard to have something against someone, who made an inconsiderate choice.
    In the opposite, euthanasia is very planned, and aim to alleviate the sufferings for you, your siblings, and the rest of the people.

    2 – Second, I did not understood the appeal of this horrible method. Then I understood that its biggest flaw is also its biggest appeal : it’s irrevocable.

    Most suicidal people opt for a plea for help. Their plans have loose threads. It sometimes works like a non-verbal message.
    Here the decision is irrevocable, and made in the split of a second.
    If not selfish -because it’s inconsiderate-, it’s still needlessly painful, and damaging for others.
    The suffering is stupidly intense. It’s a trauma for the witnesses. It annoys a whole subway line, and among them a lot of people like him.
    On top of that, I would hate to leave so much cleaning for strangers.
    And it’s a waste of good organs for donation. (Mine would be discarded because of my illness, because of the precaution principle).

    2bis – The fact, that it’s on the way to work, can also be meaningful. I’d like to speak about workaholism.

    In the field of psychology, you often hear the same story.
    People are throwing themselves metaphorically in a cesspool, and then blaming someone else for it.
    You can even see people shoveling the very pool of their woe, filling it with filth, time after time, throwing themselves in, and then wanting to put the majority of the blame on someone else.
    The whole story usually serves as a cautionary tale to NOT WAIT to see a psychologist. They are the medical experts of their field, but contrary to other doctors, most people only come to see them, when they are full of problems and comorbidities.

    My two cents would be, that choosing suicide by train on your way to work (or daily occupation) is “killing two birds with one stone”.
    It’s an irrevocable suicidal action. And you’re metaphorically pointing your finger at you workplace (or your school). You’re also putting the blame on the oblivious society as a whole, by blocking for an hour an important infrastructure, an artery of society’s body.

    The amount of workaholism is what gives me the most distress, when I think about Japan, and my love of it.
    It messes with the work / life balance. It makes the hetero couples very unhealthy, with at least one spouse almost never at home apart for sleeping.
    It makes the workplace incredibly difficult for women who want to have children and a job progression, or a job at all.

    3 – Suicide is a visible behavior, that comes from invisible vicious cycles.

    Let’s hope there are invisible virtuous cycles too, that we can learn to detect, know, build up, and maintain. The answer to suffering and harassment should never be death, it should always be more life and care, layers of love wrapped tight around us like precious silks.

    • This is incredible, and makes me glad I did put up what was for me quite a difficult thing to put out ( I wrote it and published it without checking for mistakes ; I cannot reread it )

    • Thankyou for taking the time for truly thinking about this.

      Suicide is a key theme in the book I am ( very sporadically ) working on about Japan – I would like to quote you on what you say as it is so brilliantly encompassing.

    • To be honest, I am still today (one week later) rather struggling with this.

      I bumped into a British friend on the same platform in Ofuna station where the ‘accidents’ happened : he told me one of his friends witnessed ‘quivering body parts ‘ – a liver – on the tracks directly after a suicide and had to go home straight afterwards; another apparently saw two men physically fighting with each other – grappling etc – on the platform ; both were struck – and killed – by an oncoming train.

      And then just now – this evening FFS- my very sweet and gentle high school student told me that on a rare trip to Tokyo on Sunday he of course had to be on the train that went over yet another fucking suicide victim – he is traumatized and I really feel for him ( slightly low hyperventilating writing this ).

      What you say about it being revenge against society is more than spot on – how well do you know Japan or are you just surmising ?

      PS : none of my organs are donatable either ; I empathize with your health conditions but congratulate you on your extreme life passion / aesthetic / psychological sensitivity and extreme articulation with words.

      Truly, thank you for taking the time to write this.

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