Guns & Suicide Rates – Japan has no guns but high suicide rate

Japan has almost no gun ownership and absolutley no private handgun ownership. Despite this Japan has a much higher suicide rate than we do in the US!

Male suicide rates via nationmaster:

#21 Japan: 25 per 100,000 people
#30 United States: 19.8 per 100,000 people

Female suicide rates via nationmaster:

#8 Japan: 12 per 100,000 people
#40 United States: 4.4 per 100,000 people

These stats are from 1994. I don’t have the current set of statistics. Unfortunately for Japan, things have become much worse:

The total number of Japanese suicides is roughly equal to that of the entire United States, a country that has more than twice Japan’s population. To put the latest data in context, in today’s Japan one is roughly five times as likely to die by one’s own hand as to be killed in a traffic accident.

And apparently these suicides aren’t gun related either:

Since 2003, the Aokigahara woods at the base of Mount Fuji have been known as the “suicide forest” because 78 middle-aged men apparently committed suicide by hanging themselves from tree branches.

And according to David Kopel in 1990:

Guns are used in about one-fifth of all Swiss suicides compared to three-fifths of American and one-third of Canadian suicides.

Keep in mind that there is a gun in just about every house in Switzerland. And up to 14% of Swiss households have a fully automatic machine gun. Despite what anti-gun lobbyists will have you believe, ammo is cheap and easy to access and it is only the emergency ammo that is inspected in Switzerland. So it’s a pretty far stretch to claim guns cause suicides. See the image below of a Swiss man carrying an assault rifle in the supermarket:

Swiss man carries assault rifle in supermarket

A breakdown of suicide statistics:
The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) WISQARS reports that in 2004 there were 32,439 suicides in the US, 16,750 with firearm – roughly half (51.6%). In 1999, it was 29,199 total vs 16,599 with firearm, a bit more than half (56.8%). So things have changed since David Kopel’s 1990 statistics. Despite the fact that there are 70 million more guns in America in 2004 than there was in 1991, gun use for suicides actually dropped from 1990 to 1999 and dropped again from 1999 to 2004.

According Statistics Canada there were 3,764 Canadian suicides in 2003. 618X71-X73 or 16.4% of Canada’s 2003 suicides were performed via firearms. Despite the fact that the people of Canada have easy access to firearms, the number one choice for suicide was hanging.

Asia Times, Suicide also rises in land of rising sun By J Sean Curtin Jul 28, 2004
Statistics Canada, CANSIM Table, Deaths, by cause, Chapter XX: External causes of morbidity and mortality (V01 to Y89), age group and sex, Canada, annual (number)
nzzs 18.07.04 Nr.29 Seite 12 il Teil 01 Bis zu drei Millionen zivileWaffen sind in der Schweiz im Umlauf


4 Responses to “Guns & Suicide Rates – Japan has no guns but high suicide rate”

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  3. andrewtokyojapan Says:

    I am a JSCCP clinical psychologist and JFP psychotherapist working in Japan for over 20 years. I would like to put forward a perspective on some of the main reasons behind the unacceptably high suicide numbers Japan

    Mental health professionals in Japan have long known that the reason for the unnecessarily high suicide rate in Japan is due to unemployment, bankruptcies, and the increasing levels of stress on businessmen and other salaried workers who have suffered enormous hardship in Japan since the bursting of the stock market bubble here that peaked around 1997. Until that year Japan had an annual suicide of rate figures between 22,000 and 24,000 each year. Following the bursting of the stock market and the long term economic downturn that has followed here since the suicide rate in 1998 increased by around 35% and since 1998 the number of people killing themselves each year in Japan has consistently remained well over 30,000 each and every year to the present day.

    The current worldwide recession is of course impacting Japan too, so unless very proactive and well funded local and nation wide suicide prevention programs and initiatives are immediately it is very difficult to foresee the governments previously stated intention to reduce the suicide rate to around 23,000 by the year 2016 being achievable. On the contrary the numbers, and the human suffering and the depression and misery that the people who become part of these numbers, have to endure may well stay at the current levels that have persistently been the case here for the last ten years. It could even get worse unless even more is done to prevent this terrible loss of life.

    The current numbers licensed psychiatrists (around 13,000), Japan Society of Certified Clinical Psychologists clinical psychologists (16,732 as of 2007), and Psychiatric Social Workers (39,108 as of 2009) must indeed be increased. In order for professional mental health counseling and psychotherapy services to be covered for depression and other mental illnesses by public health insurance it would seem advisable that positive action is taken to resume and complete the negotiations on how to achieve national licensing for clinical psychologists in Japan through the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and not just the Ministry of Education as is the current situation. These discussions were ongoing between all concerned mental health professional authorities that in the ongoing select committee and ministerial levels that were ongoing during the Koizumi administration. With the current economic recession adding even more hardship and stress in the lives its citizens, now would seem to be a prime opportunity for the responsible Japanese to take a pro-active approach to finally providing government approval for national licensing for clinical psychologists who provide mental health care counseling and psychotherapy services to the people of Japan.

    During these last ten years of these relentlessly high annual suicide rate numbers the English media seems in the main to have done little more than have someone goes through the files and do a story on the so-called suicide forest or internet suicide clubs and copycat suicides (whether cheap heating fuel like charcoal briquettes or even cheaper household cleaning chemicals) without focusing on the bigger picture and need for effective action and solutions. Economic hardship, bankruptcies and unemployment have been the main cause of suicide in Japan over the last 10 years, as the well detailed reports behind the suicide rate numbers that have been issued every year until now by the National Police Agency in Japan show only to clearly if any journalist is prepared to learn Japanese or get a bilingual researcher to do the research to get to the real heart of the tragic story of the long term and unnecessarily high suicide rate problem in Japan.

    Useful telephone number for Japanese residents of Japan who speak Japanese and are feeling depressed or suicidal: Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):

    Japan: 0120-738-556 Tokyo: 3264 4343

    Andrew Grimes

    Tokyo Counseling Services

  4. Margo Zakrzewski Says:

    I believe you have noted some very interesting points , thankyou for the post.

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