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date: 18 August 2019

Japanese Suicide

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. Please check back later for the full article.

Suicide in Japan has a relationship with various belief systems, including secular belief systems, such as Bushidō (‘the way of the warrior’) and emperor worship, as well as religious systems, such as Shintō, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity, from the earliest times to the early twenty-first century.

Cultural and religious environments in Japan have tended to take a neutral or even positive attitude toward suicide to some extent, similar to that seen elsewhere, for example, in ancient Rome, but in contrast to the stigma attached to suicide by the Abrahamic religions.

Iconized Japanese practices of suicide, including seppuku/harakiri (ritualized self-disembowelment), junshi (suicide for the purposes of following one’s lord in death), shinjū (double suicide or murder–suicide by lovers), and the kamikaze of World War II (lit. “divine winds,” usually referred to as tokkōtai “special attack units” in Japanese) show the links between suicide in Japan and the construction of Japanese identity and are further expanded upon in literary and dramatic texts, in addition to religious and philosophical treatises and historical records. Suicide in Japan also intersects and overlaps with other forms of violence, such as warfare, capital punishment, and murder.

In addition to causes and motives, of interest are preferred or unusual methods of suicide in Japan, their distinctive aspects in comparison with other cultures, and the symbolic and ritual elements of Japanese suicide.