Recently, I was asked a series of questions by a person researching the phenomenon of suicide in Japanese society. I'd like to share that discussion over the next several blog entries for the benefit of others. I'll call the individual 'E' in this blog.
I am interested particularly in any Buddhist insight, as this is the my area of research. I am drawing my own conclusion on Buddhist influence on suicide, of course, but am interested in any connection you may see in your own work.
As for linkages with hikikomori, both groups on one level are obviously dissatisfied with their lot in life. In some cases, both are a cry for outside intervention.
My current thinking is that hikikomori are mentally healthy people who feel so pressured by society that they socially withdraw. ‘Socially’ is the key concept here: they are in duress and so they seek to remove themselves from the source of the pain. However, once they do so, they ‘wither on the vine’ developmentally due to the absence of social interaction. Drawn outside of their environment and with proper patience and care, they recover to become functional adults.
The point I’m making here is while some hikikomori may have at some point contemplated suicide, or even done so once trapped within their isolation, most seem to have a strong will to live and are normal mentally, they are just unsure how to ‘fix themselves’ and so are trapped in a catch-22 of isolation.
I do touch on the connection with Durkheim’s work on suicide and anomie in this post:
I think his theory may be one of the better tracks you can take on the rash of suicides in Japan’s media spotlight right now. Durkheim posits that in times of social upheaval with an underlying weak social order, such as drastic economic change, the number of suicides increases because to people lack the firm self-identity that society provides for us.
Buddhist influence, but more specifically, the warrior cult of the Bushidoh code’s seppuku / hara-kiri in the face of shame or dishonor in Japan may be responsible for romanticizing suicide in the modern day, and perhaps lowering the social barriers as a taboo act. The Buddhist concept of rinne, transmigration of the soul, may also play a part in such a decision of self-destruction, but I can’t say with any authority. I would guess that the historical context of suicide in Japanese culture plays some role in the contemporary internet suicide pacts.
I would also guess that these people in the internet suicide pacts are forming in-groups over a measurable period of time which in turn exchange ideas and plans on committing the act of suicide together. As an in-group, that the dynamic of the internet suicide pact is going to be typically Japanese in structure, re-enforcing and re-affirming in nature that ‘this is the right thing to do’.
To see where my reasoning is going here, I suggest you look into Japanese charismatic cults such as Aum Shinrikyo, Pana Wave or even the Japanese Red Army. Again this is conjecture, but you may find one or two charismatic figures at the center of each suicide pact that act as the catalyst for the rest of the group who follow them through to the ultimately grim conclusion.
Thank you again, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Glad to be of service.