"Japan's suicide chain reaction"

Apart from rising fuel costs, the Tibet issue and Japan’s most beloved panda, Rinrin, taking her last breath this morning, there has been a huge amount of media on the chain of recent suicides.

The reason these suicides have been so newsworthy are because they all took place using household items to create the poisonous gas, hydrogen sulfide. The first one of these suicides took place last year, and since then, the methods for creating this gas have been spreading across the Internet. Since the beginning of this year, these suicides have been growing in number, finally coming to a head and breaking into the media spotlight this April with an astonishing 59 suicides. The majority of these suicides have been people between the ages of 10 - 30 years old, the Asahi Shimbun reports.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, on April 25, called for the pharmaceuticals industry to be more aware of these suicides. They have requested for shop staff selling washing detergents and the other ingredients needed to make the gas to ask the customer what they plan to do with these items and to show ID. If their answers prove unsatisfactory, they may not be allowed to buy these products.

The most prominent issue seems to be the use of the Internet in helping these suicides take place. Many Internet sites explain how to mix washing detergents with other substances to create the poisonous gas. In Japan, the Internet laws do not count this type of information as illegal making it hard for the authorities to crack down on these sites. The Internet provider, Nifty, has announced that they will request for the owner of the site to remove the information by email but “We must also respect freedom of speech and communication, therefore we cannot unilaterally delete these sites.” The pharmaceutical companies have expressed great anger at these sites, saying “this is a matter of life and death.” They said that to change the substance of detergents would be very difficult and cost a large amount, and have decided to write “Do not mix with other substances” on the packaging instead.

Other sites such as Amazon Japan and Rakuten have taken the matter into their own hands by stopping the sales of washing detergents on their online shopping sites altogether.

The main problem with these types of suicides lies in the fact that a) a majority of these people are very young (including a 14 year old girl last week), b) easily accessible household items are being used, meaning almost anyone can buy these products and c) the internet is full of sites explaining how to make hydrogen sulfide (a quick Japanese Google search brings up 54,000 results).

But with no laws to limit any of the above factors, the solution appears to lie in the people themselves. Although the Japanese media have been focusing on how to stop these suicides, perhaps more focus should be on why so many young people are trying to take their lives? Is there another solution for their problems? How are the state helping these people? But unfortunately, there seems to be very little — if any — focus on the real problem.

Asahi Shimbun (Japanese): http://www.asahi.com/kansai/news/OSK200804290038.html

Other posts by Anna:


Ms. Kitanaka -

I cannot understand why the Justice Ministry and the National Police Agency lack the authority to shut down the sites and threaten the hosting companies on public security grounds.

It's the same reason they can't shut down a website for posting information on how to use a hammer. I could kill you with a hammer just as easily as I could with hydrogen sulfide. But it's ludicrous to think that telling someone how to use a hammer would result in them using it to commit murder or suicide.

The people looking to make hydrogen sulfide are just trying to find an easy, less painful way to die. The real problem is that they're trying to KILL THEMSELVES, not that they can make hydrogen sulfide.

Got it? Good.

Largely because the sites only inform the public on how to create this toxic mix - not to necessarily encourage suicide. Also, a lot of the information takes place on site bulletin boards anonymously, meaning that police cannot always track the author. And perhaps most importantly, there is fear that such censorships will lead to freedom of speech issues.

I think the information itself is unlikely to be regarded as a threat to public security as they are not really putting the "greater public" at risk...however, the case of the 14 year old girl was significant in that it also left others in her building subject to the gas and were consquently hospitalized.

However, like I said, I think the solution lies not in shutting down these sites but in trying to solve the origins of this problem - why did this 14 year old want to commit suicide?

Japan Inc magazine had a good article about suicide in Japan and what to do about it a while back:

MTC: Do you think brutal powers of censorship help people in anyway? Perhaps the government should block all sites relating to defenestration. People might learn that they can commit suicide by jumping out a window.

But it doesn't tackle the problem of why people are doing it in the first place. Why do governments always miss this basic concept?

Lately, people have been killing themselves with gas in apartment blocks and hotels, not caring about how many other people the gas is sickening. I fear that it is only a matter of time before someone does it on the subway, with disastrous results.

I don't think anyone would want to commit suicide using this gas on the subway...however, I guess you're thinking of the sarin gas attacks from a while back. There's not really a whole lot you can do to stop people making hydrogen sulfide...

Now what? Is the government to stop selling detergents and other household cleaning agents because a few idiots are killing themselves? Are we to control the internet because of a few numbskulls?