Documentary on Japan’s Suicide Problem

Channel 4 Documentary Screen Shot Ages ago — ten years ago, in fact — I wrote about Japan’s high suicide rate. Today I came across a documentary on the subject that must have been made around this time, commissioned by Channel 4 in the UK, which someone uploaded to YouTube last year. Following this search will take you to all five parts (with the somewhat misleading title of “Secret Life of Japan”), or you can watch Part 1 below and continue on from there.

Not knowing anything about this film — and there’s very little information on the YouTube page aside from a (again slightly misleading) description, I assumed it was a Japanese made film (it’s completely in Japanese, with subtitles), yet couldn’t help but be surprised as it was quite unlike most Japanese made-for-TV documentaries I’ve seen. Alas, at the end the credits reveal that it indeed was not Japanese-made.

Of course this is not to say it couldn’t have been made by a Japanese, but I honestly don’t think any of your Japanese networks — to say nothing of the average viewer — would have been comfortable with the way the subject of suicide was treated, and the honesty of the opinions and stories of the various interviewees. The documentary also avoids, for the most part, the overly maudlin and manipulative tear-jerkingness of standard Japanese TV fare. The lack of a comforting and distancing narrator forces the viewer to listen to the stories — of the victims’ surviving family members, of employees dealing with the loss of what they thought were lifelong jobs, of people who for one reason or another ended up deciding not to kill themselves — as it these people were in the room with us.

Highly recommended.

Whisky Highballs

Japan has been in a whisky “highball” boom for at least the last couple of years or so, if not longer, spurned on by the big makers like Suntory. There are “highball” bars and highball-focused izakayas and restaurants in Tokyo’s oyaji havens, and canned highball drinks seem quite popular.

Being a beer drinker primarily, I didn’t pay much thought. But I’ve been trying for the last year to “get into” Scotch after going to a Scotch society event in 2011, with moderate success (actually very little, a lot of it tastes “the same” to me which is a sure sign of failure, indian tadalafil). After reading the highball can post linked above, recently I asked my wife to pick me up a couple of the highball cans, and although it didn’t really seem to tickle my fancy, I was intrigued enough to buy a bottle of Suntory that came with a tumbler this past weekend — I figured at least this way I could pay around 75 yen per highball drink instead of the 150 yen the cans cost. And lo and behold, I’m liking what I’m drinking!

Mind you, Suntory’s packaging recommends a 4:1 ratio, and mine is more like 2:1! But this metallic tumbler really keeps the damn thing cold with very little ice-melting, for well near two hours.

The Japanese actress Koyuki (she was in The Last Samurai apparently, though I’ve never seen that) is Suntory’s main marketing presence for it’s whiskey/highball campaigns. I hope she gets paid a lot because I’d be willing to bet she has been a big reason for the highball’s resurgence:

This is a good overview of that resurgence.


Odori, a video by Kurt EasterwoodI finished the video below a few days before the March 11th earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan and has caused so much destruction and loss of life. It didn’t seem appropriate at the time to mention it.

AsĀ I’ve written about before in these pages, there is “something ethereal, something dreamlike” about the Japanese Bon Odori festival which takes place typically in August every year. No matter how hard I try, I can’t quite capture its essence in any other form than my own mental wanderings. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to try and try again.

That chronicler of so many things Japanese at the turn of the century, Lafcadio Hearn (known to those in Japan as Koizumi Yakumo), wrote a beautiful essay about the Bon Odori that perhaps comes closest to capturing how this festival makes me feel (you can find it in the collection, Glimpses of an Unfamiliar Japan, or here):

Under the wheeling moon, in the midst of the round, I feel as one within the circle of a charm. And verily this is enchantment; I am bewitched, bewitched by the ghostly weaving of hands, by the rhythmic gliding of feet, above all by the flitting of the marvellous sleeves– apparitional, soundless, velvety as a flitting of great tropical bats. No; nothing I ever dreamed of could be likened to this.

Even Hearn’s essay, through the voice of Akira, a young Buddhist acolyte accompanying Hearn, acknowledges that “you will see the Bon-odori danced here as it is never danced in cities–the Bon-odori of ancient days….[I]n the cities all is changed.”, and undoubtedly our local Bon Odori is even more removed from that which Hearn wrote about. It is as tacky and provincial as the cotton candy and tilt-a-whirls of my American childhood. But its charms are a part of the Japan I live in, a part of the Japan I never want to leave.