Suicide in Japan has become a significant national social-issue. Japan has one of the world’s highest suicide rates, and the Japanese government reported the rate for 2006 as being the ninth highest in the world. 71% of suicides in Japan were male, and it is the leading cause of death in men aged 20–44.
The Aokigahara Forest is the most popular site for suicides in Japan. After the novel Kuroi Jukai was published, in which a young lover commits suicide in the forest, people started taking their own lives there at a rate of 50 to 100 deaths a year. The site holds so many bodies that the Yakuza pays homeless people to sneak into the forest and rob the corpses.
The authorities sweep for bodies only on an annual basis, as the forest sits at the base of Mt. Fuji and is too dense to patrol more frequently.
Factors in suicide include unemployment (due to the economic recession in the 1990s), depression, and social pressures. In 2007, the National Police Agency revised the categorization of motives for suicide into a division of 50 reasons with up to three reasons listed for each suicide. Suicides traced to losing jobs surged 65.3 percent while those attributed to hardships in life increased 34.3 percent. Depression remained at the top of the list for the third year in a row, rising 7.1 percent from the previous year.
In Japanese culture there is a long history of honorable suicide, such as ritual suicide by Samurai to avoid being captured, flying one’s plane into the enemy during WWII, or charging into the enemy fearlessly to prevent bringing shame on one’s family.
There has been a rapid increase in suicides since the 1990s. For example, 1998 saw a 34.7% increase over the previous year. This has prompted the Japanese government to react by increasing funding to treat the causes of suicide and those recovering from failed suicides.