TO MOST WESTERNERS, JAPAN IS AN EXOTIC SOCIETY, known for, among other things, its slick bullet trains, designed to shuttle the ever-burgeoning populance to and from their places of employ, and for its fascination with suicide, so entwined with their concepts of personal and public honor that it seems to have become an integral part of the national psyche.

As an instrument of suicide, a train, even one not of the bullet variety, can deliver an end not only swift and final, but spectacularly public, immediately affecting the lives of thousands, thus fulfilling any candidate's wish to make a powerful last statement. So it is interesting to note, in following stories, culled from the Japanese daily Mainichi Shimbun over the last two years, how often the paper reports the numbers of trains, people, and timetables disrupted by the victims. A badge of honor, surely. [Ed.]

Boy Suicides Before Train
Mar 21, 2002

TOKYO — A boy who had just received notification of his acceptance at a prestigious high school committed suicide by jumping in front of a train in suburban Tokyo Thursday, police said.

A suicide note written by the 15-year-old boy read, "I have no self-confidence. I hate myself." The note was addressed to his mother.

The boy was a resident of Tokyo's Suginami-ku and had recently graduated from a private junior high school.

Police said the driver of the JR Chuo Line train noticed the boy standing on the tracks near JR Hachioji Station just before 5 a.m. The driver said he applied the train's emergency brakes but was not able to stop in time and he slammed into the boy. The boy's suicide note was found in a rucksack he left beside the tracks.

Man Dies After Running in Front of Train
Dec 10, 2001

OSAKA — A man died here after he ran under a closed level-crossing gate and was hit by an oncoming train.

The man, who has yet to be identified, died from the impact of the collision soon after he was hit. Police said it was likely he had committed suicide.

The accident reportedly occurred at about 10:20 p.m. Sunday on the Hankyu Kyoto line, at a crossing between Sozenji and Minamikata stations.

Police are working to confirm the identity of the victim.

Murdered School Girl Tied To Man Who Killed Self
Dec 4, 2001

KITAKYUSHU — The body of a junior high school girl was found Tuesday in the room here of a man who committed suicide Sunday, police said.

Mihiro Ogawa's body was found covered in stab wounds and lying in a pool of blood.

Ogawa, a 14-year-old local junior high school student from Tobata-ku in Kitakyushu, was found in a room being rented by Homio Higashi, a 58-year-old construction worker who committed suicide by jumping in front of a train at JR Edamitsu Station on Sunday.

A suicide note found at the platform said he would "go to where Mihiro is."

The woman's body was found in Higashi's room when his brother went to collect his deceased sibling's belongings. Police officials are investigating the connection between Higashi and Ogawa.

Man in Wheelchair Dies After Plunging Onto Railway Track
Nov 19, 2001

TOKYO — A wheelchair-bound man died Monday after he plunged onto a railway track from a platform and was hit by an arriving train at a busy railway station in downtown Tokyo late Sunday night, police said.

At around 10:30 p.m., the 40-year-old man was moving parallel with the edge of a platform at Ikebukuro Station on the Tobu Tojo Line in Toshima-ku when he suddenly tumbled onto the track. He was hit by a 10-car train arriving at the station.

He sustained injuries to his whole body and died seven hours later.

Police said he was unemployed and had been released from hospital — unable to walk — in January after undergoing treatment for diabetes. Investigators have not ruled out the possibility that he committed suicide.

Tobu Railway Co. officials said the victim did not ask station staff to help him get on a train.

The accident delayed services on the Tobu Tojo Line by up to 50 minutes, inconveniencing about 4,000 people, railway company officials said.

Man Dies Instantly in Train-Track Suicide
Aug 27, 2001

SAITAMA — A man was killed instantly early Monday after being struck by a train here while he was lying on the tracks, police said.

Investigators said them man, whose identity was not disclosed, had his head on the tracks when the 15-carriage train smashed into him and it was likely his death was a suicide.

It was not known if the man had left a suicide note.

The accident reportedly occurred at about 7 a.m. on the JR Takasaki Line in Saitama between Omiya Station and Saitama Shintoshin Station.

Roughly 74,000 passengers and commuters were affected by the accident, which delayed 40 trains, railway officials said.

Man Dies Under Bullet Train
Jul 20, 2001

TAKATSUKI, OSAKA — A man jumped to his death under a speeding bullet train Thursday night, but the driver didn't realize what had happened until noticing bloodstains on the carriage 30 minutes later, police said Friday.

The identity of the man who killed himself remains unknown, as does his motive for taking his own life.

It was only after the discovery of the death that the driver of the bullet train realized that he must have run over somebody and a search of the tracks unearthed the man's body.

Police said the bullet train was hurtling toward Kyoto along the JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line just before 9:30 p.m. Thursday when the driver heard a massive thumping sound. The driver stopped the train at the next convenient station, then checked the train for damage. Although the driver could find nothing wrong with the mechanics of the bullet train, he did find the blood. Officials then went searching for the man's body.

Police said the man who committed suicide climbed onto the elevated bullet train tracks from a normal train line that runs beside them. His suicide caused delays of up to 40 minutes and affected some 20,000 passengers, according to Central Japan Railway Co. officials.

Suicide Wreaks Havoc on Timetable
Jun 25, 2001

TOKYO — A man who jumped to his death on the JR Yamanote Line threw schedules into disarray on the vital train line circling the capital Monday morning, police said.

The identity of the suicide whose body was found between JR Ikebukuro and Otsuka stations remains unknown, but police described him as being in his 50s.

He appears to have jumped some 20 meters to his death, plunging from a pedestrian overpass on to the train tracks.

East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) officials said the discovery of the man's body on the tracks just before 7 a.m. threw train schedules, causing delays of up to 40 minutes at one of the busiest periods of the day.

Man's Suicide Delays Yamanote Line
Jan 30, 2000

TOKYO — A man died after jumping into an oncoming train on the JR Yamanote Line in central Tokyo in an apparent suicide early Saturday morning, police said.

At around 5:30 a.m., a man jumped into a train on the inner track of the line at Mejiro Station in Toshima-ku and died instantly. Police are trying to establish the man's identity.

The incident forced the closure of the the Yamanote Line's inner track until 6:19 a.m. Two trains were canceled and seven others were delayed for up to 51 minutes.

A growing number of people commit suicide by jumping into an oncoming train apparently because of the prolonged recession, police said.

Woman Jumps to Death in Front of JR Train
Jan 20, 2000

TOKYO — A woman killed herself by jumping in front of a JR Chuo Line train in Tokyo on Wednesday morning, temporarily halting service and inconveniencing nearly 90,000 commuters, police said.

The unidentified woman, who appeared to be in her 30s, jumped in front of an oncoming rapid-service train bound for Takao at Asagaya Station in Suginami-ku, Tokyo, at around 7:20 a.m. and was killed instantly, according to police. Investigators suspect suicide and are attempting to identify the woman.

The train was brought to a standstill for nearly 50 minutes and six other rapid-service trains on the line were canceled. Some 50 local trains were delayed for three to 48 minutes.

At one point, more than 1,000 people crammed onto the platform at JR Mitaka Station and police had to be sent in to restore order, investigators said.

Professor, Wife Die After Jumping in Front of Train
Feb 25, 2002

TSUCHIURA, IBARAKI — A couple believed to be a professor and his wife died after being hit by an oncoming train at a railway station here Monday morning, police said.

Police are investigating to determine whether they committed suicide or the woman jumped onto the tracks in a bid to rescue the man who accidentally plunged from the platform.

At around 8:20 a.m., a man jumped onto the tracks at Tsuchiura Station on the JR Joban Line and a woman followed him, police said. They died after being hit by a limited express train arriving at the station. Police suspect that the couple is a 59-year-old professor at Dokkyo University's foreign studies faculty and his 58-year-old wife, judging from their belongings.

Double Suicide Suspected in Train Deaths
Jan 12, 2000

TOKYO — A man and woman died after being run over by a train at a railway crossing in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, in the predawn hours of Tuesday, police said.

Investigators said they suspect that the two may have committed suicide together, noting that the pair went into the crossing even though the gate was closed.

According to police, a man and woman entered an Odakyu Line railway crossing in Setagaya-ku at around 12:10 a.m., Tuesday, after the gate had already lowered. The driver of a local train bound for Shinjuku from Odawara noticed the couple and applied the emergency brakes, but was unable to avoid hitting them.

The man died instantly, while the woman was rushed to a nearby hospital and died shortly afterward.

ALTHOUGH JUMPING IN FRONT OF A TRAIN is by far the most popular form of suicide by train, the individuals in the next series of stories have nonetheless displayed a certain creativity. And admittedly, some circumstances, like that of the couple in the previous story, are peculiar enough to caution authorities from officially ruling the death a suicide as opposed to an unfortunate accident. [Ed.]

Man Hangs Self in Train
Jun 2, 2001

OSAKA — A man has used his necktie to hang himself in an overnight train that arrived here Saturday morning, police said.

Cleaners found the 29-year-old man from Hirosaki, Akita Prefecture, hanging from the top bunk in a sleeper train that arrived at JR Osaka Station shortly after 2 a.m. Saturday.

He had not left a suicide note and the motive for his demise remains unknown. Police said the man's identity has not yet been confirmed, but they were hurrying to do so.

Police said that cleaners walked into the man's cabin to make the grisly find of him hanging dead from his necktie, which had been bound around the rail surrounding the top bunk in his cabin.

A driver's license gave the name of a 29-year-old man from Hirosaki and police strongly believe the license belonged to the dead man's. However, other identification was in another person's name, so some doubts remain.

The man had a ticket valid from Hirosaki to Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.

Man Dies After Jumping From Shinkansen
Dec 29, 2001

YAMAGUCHI — A man died Friday night after he apparently jumped off a Shinkansen bullet train inside a Yamaguchi Prefecture tunnel, police said Saturday.

The jobless 54-year-old man from Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, was traveling with his family members.

He reportedly told his family that he was going to have a smoke before he jumped from the train, which was traveling at a speed of 200 kilometers per hour.

Police said the driver of the Osaka-bound Shinkansen stopped the train after the door alarm went off inside a tunnel in Tokuyama at around 8:20 p.m.

A guard found a door to the seventh coach wide open, but gave the green light to resume traveling after he spotted nothing outside.

However, the driver of the following Shinkansen train saw a man collapsed near the track. The man was confirmed dead soon afterward, police said.

Officials of West Japan Railway Co. (JR West), which operates the Shinkansen service in the area, said the door to the seventh coach was forced open with an emergency handle, suggesting that the man had committed suicide.

Fifteen Shinkansen trains were delayed up to 42 minutes due to the accident, JR West officials said.

Rapid Train Kills Man on Station Platform
Dec 10, 2001

OSAKA — An elderly man died at a station here after a rapid service train slammed into him as he walked along the platform, police said.

Police said the man, who appeared to be about 60, was walking towards the tracks at Tennoji Station in Osaka's Tennoji-ku when a rapid service train clipped him.

The unidentified man received a heavy blow to the skull in the accident, which occurred at about 12:55 p.m. Sunday, and he died soon afterwards.

A pair of slippers and a paper bag thought to belong to the man were later found on the platform. Police are investigating the possibilities of both an accident and a suicide as they work to confirm the man's identity. It is customary for people committing suicide in Japan to remove their shoes.

The accident delayed three trains for a maximum of about six minutes, affecting about 800 people.

EVEN THE FAILED ATTEMPTS ARE NOTEWORTHY in that the price of such failure is public humiliation — a treatment in the press not particularly helpful to a person whose self-esteem obviously has already hit rock-bottom. [Ed.]

Man Fails in Suicide Attempt as Train Overruns Him
May 2, 2002

MATSUDO, CHIBA — An unemployed man's plans to commit suicide have ended in embarrassing [Emphasis mine -Ed.] failure, police said.

After lying spread-eagled on train tracks in the hope an oncoming express would slam into him, he was distraught to see that it traveled right over him without ever coming into contact with his body.

Rescued, the unnamed, 50-year-old man, now gets a second chance at life.

"I haven't got a job and was having a horrible time trying to get by. I wanted to die," he told police, adding he chose to perish under a train because "even the sight of a train made me sick."

Police said the man, from Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, lay down on his back between the tracks on the JR Musashino Line early Tuesday and waited for a train to hit him.

However, the driver of the next train noticed the man was lying there and slammed on the emergency brakes to avoid hitting him.

But the brakes had not been applied quickly enough and the train traveled over the top of the man.

Sickened, the driver jumped from the vehicle and ran to inspect the scene.

Miraculously, the train had passed directly over the top of the would-be suicide and he was left without a scratch.

Train services were delayed in the wake of the incident, but were back on time within about half an hour.

Suicide Leap Thwarted by 35cm Gap on Tracks
Jul 13, 2002

NAGOYA — A disabled man has miraculously escaped with his life after botching [Emphasis mine -Ed.] a suicide attempt at a subway station here, police said Saturday.

But the 58-year-old man is more depressed than ever after landing on the train tracks, but leaving a 35-centimeter gap that proved sufficient space for a train to pass over him.

The man sustained a broken right leg in the incident, but felt no pain as the leg was already paralyzed.

He is hospitalized and being kept on a suicide watch.

"My life is awful," the man told rescuers. "I just want to die."

Officials said the man jumped in front of a Nagoya Municipal Subway Line train at Ikeshita Station just after 10 a.m. Friday. He landed on the tracks, but the train driver slammed on the emergency brakes. Yet, despite the speed of the driver's actions, he was not fast enough to halt the train and it passed over the man, clipped his leg and broke it.

Station officials were startled to find the man was still alive.

"Even while I told myself that there was no hope, I stuck my head out of the carriage and asked if he was all right," a station employee said. "I couldn't believe it when I received a reply. We dragged him out from underneath the train. It was a miracle!"

WITH NO END IN SIGHT to the steady numbers of Japanese choosing to end their dystopic lives by train, the financial costs of dealing with the event and its aftermath must be borne by someone. So the railway companies have decided that the families of the victims must pay. Is this an honest effort to reduce the numbers of train suicides? Or is it a heartless attempt to cash in on a problem the companies cannot cure? [Ed.]

Japanese Families Billed for Relative's Suicide
Aug 18, 2002

TOKYO — Committing suicide carries the ultimate cost — life. But just in case anyone thinks that taking their own lives would be an easy way out, perhaps a little deeper thought is called for. In addition to the grief, heartbreak and emotional burdens that come with suicide, comes a very hefty price tag.

Although [tabloid weekly] Shukan Hoseki (10/1/98) notes a vast majority of Japan's 25,000-plus suicides a year take place in the homes of those that choose to die, a popular method for many people is jumping in front of a train. And because so many commuters are affected, railway companies charge relatives of the victim exorbitant fees.

"Trains don't usually stop too long after a suicide, there's rarely much damage to carriages and we rarely have to send anyone off to catch trains on different lines. In that regard, train suicides probably don't cost too much," says an employee of a commuter line. "But to make sure we can cover the costs incurred when a suicide leads to a derailment, we have to ask the bereaved families of suicide victims to compensate us. The costs are usually in the range of 100 million yen [$USD 815,340], but I've heard of a case where a family was billed 140 million yen [$USD 1,141,555] after someone killed themselves by jumping in front of a train."

Washington Post, Aug 24, 2003
  With help from the internet, suicide's no longer a solo sport.  
Suicide For Dummies:
Guardian Unlimited, Dec 10, 1999
  Japanese self-slaughter manual is runaway best-seller.  
All Work and No Play ...:
Associated Press, Jun 16, 1998
  Why the Japanese are killing themselves over work.  
A Kiss Before Dying:
New York Daily News, May 15, 2002
  Star-crossed young lovers take the express to oblivion.