Tokyo interfaith panel eyes new suicide views

November 1, 2011

Japan,
which has one of the highest suicide rates among developed countries,
is increasingly using the term for "voluntary death" instead of "killing
oneself."

Indeed, Roman Catholic Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada of
Tokyo, says he has approved of the term "voluntary death," noting that
"since the church had taught for a long time that suicide is a sin, we
had not held funerals for suicides."

An interfaith symposium in
Tokyo, sponsored by the Catholic Bishops Conference in Japan, explored
on October 29 the shifting attitudes of Japanese religious communities
on suicide, including whether the term should be changed to "voluntary
death." The symposium was titled "The Mission of Religionists on
Voluntary Death."

One of four panelists, Wataru Kaya, a Japanese
Shinto priest and psychiatrist, emphasized the importance of prayers and
compassion for those who die voluntarily, based on Japanese traditional
cultures. He reiterated that Shintoism "does not see voluntary death as
an absolute evil."

But Hiroshi Saito, who heads the study office
of the Institute of the Doctrine of Oomoto, a Sectarian Shinto sect
formed in 1892, noted that Oomoto's canon says, "Suicide is a sin among
sins." He warned, "By using the term 'voluntary death,' I am afraid that
a sense of sin for committing suicide can be unconsciously weakened."

Saito
criticized views by José M. Bertolote, from the Department of Mental
Health of the World Health Organization, expressed in a 2008 article in
the Economist, that suicide in Japan is part of a culture that
includes an "ethical standard to preserve one's honor and to take
responsibility by suicide." Saito said, "these are rather biased views .
. . few people in Japan today see suicide as a virtue."

The World
Health Organization has reported that about 26 per 100,000 people in
Japan take their own lives, compared to nine per 100,000 for the United
Kingdom and 11 per 100,000 in the United States. Causes include
depression, health problems and economic pressures, according to Japan's
National Police Agency.

Daiki Nakashita, a Japanese priest of
Otani sect of the True Pure Land School Buddhism, said that the role of
religious communities should include "turning pains and wounds into
connections" by "sharing the pains and wounds within groups of the
bereaved" and "holding Buddhist memorial services for those who died
voluntarily."

In Japan, "motives to live seem to be getting
weaker," said Archbishop Okada, who is vice president of the Catholic
Bishops' Conference in Japan. "The mission of religionists is to give
[people] the reason, motive and purpose of living."

It was not
until November last year that St. Ignatius Church, site of the
symposium, started the St. Ignatius Project to Protect Life and held the
first mass in Japan to remember those who died voluntarily and to care
for bereaved family members and friends. —ENInews