Every year in Japan, over 800 people jump to their deaths in front of oncoming trains. What is being done about the suicide problem in the Land of the Rising Sun?
In 1964, during a test run of the newly opened bullet line between Tokyo and Osaka, a man leapt in front of the train and became the first suicide by shinkansen. Since then, Japanese jumpers have been attracted to fast trains like flies to a windscreen. Since there is a 10% chance of surviving a hit by a train, the shinkansen have become the train of choice to throw oneself under because they are extremely fast. With speeds of up to 300km/h there is a greater chance of ’success’.
In Japan, the punctuality and smooth running of train systems is of the highest priority. Newspaper reports, as well as giving an account of the victim’s death, also include details of the disruption caused to timetables and passengers. The longer the delay and the larger the number of inconvenienced commuters (this can run to tens of thousands), the more newsworthy.
With potentially hundreds of onlookers (the swarming masses of Tokyo rush hours are notorious), the ‘clean-up’ needs to be swift and efficient. A typical clean-up takes not much more than an hour and involves a troop of railway and emergency workers who can bag body parts faster than ants clearing a forest path. Larger chunks may need to be removed by stretcher. When not a scrap of the ‘human incident’ (as they are officially referred to) remains on the track, the train and it’s ‘inconvenienced’ commuters, may proceed.
The bereaved next-of-kin, upon receiving the news of their loved one’s sudden departure, are then presented with a further unpleasant surprise: the bill. Japan’s train companies are known to charge the victim’s family for the clean-up or damages. This can be from around 8 million Yen ($80,000) up to 100 million Yen ($1 million) if the ‘human accident ‘ caused a derailment. Tokyo’s JR East - Chuo Line has become the favoured choice for dispatching oneself to the hereafter, not only because of the frequency of the high speed shinkansen, but the rumoured lower cost of the clean-up tab. Due to the Chuo Line’s popularity, these ‘accidents’ are sometimes referred to as ‘chuo-cide’.
In an endeavour to deter train-jumpers, some Tokyo railway companies have come up with novel solutions. The train crossings of the infamous Chuo Line are painted a brilliant green; the aim being to alter the frame of mind of the potential suicidee with a burst of bright colour. There is similar thinking behind the mirrors installed along many of Tokyo’s train platforms. The hope is that the would-be jumper will be jolted out of his suicidal state at the sight of his own face. JR East is in the process of installing suicide prevention barriers on all it’s lines. These have gates which will only open when the train has fully stopped.