Lent Remixed, Week 3: Japan

February 25, 2013

Aokigahara forest, Japan
I found myself struggling to follow the compelling stories of Panama and India in our two previous weeks of Lent Remixed with my chosen country, Japan.

How does one follow child abuse and basic human rights for women with a country that is considered a first world country in terms of economic output and general lifestyle of its citizens?

I pondered this until I ran across an article from the New York Times written this past fall about the Aokigahara forest and the suicide rate in Japan. 

This photo is of the Aokigahara forest located at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan. The forest and the entire area is hauntingly beautiful, partly because the forest grows on volcanic rock so tree roots tangle on the forest floor and caverns lurk in the interior.

What isn't obvious amongst the beauty is that Aokigahara forest is the most popular place to commit sucide in Japan and is second only to the Golden Gate Bridge as the most popular place to commit suicide in the world. 

Suicide is the leading cause of death for both men (ages 20-44) and women (ages 15-34) in Japan. According the World Health Organization, Japan ranked 7th amongst all countries for most suicides (in comparison, the US was ranked 34th). In 2007, the National Police Agency attempted to categorize the reasons for suicide among Japanese citizens -- depression, job loss and hardships in life where among the most popular and fastest growing categories.

As I dug into numbers and statistics for suicide in a nation of people who strive to succeed in school and careers, and who are considered successful by any worldly definition of the term, I was reminded that often, we, as individuals, cover vulnerabilities and weaknesses with a veneer of success and normalcy.

Why is it that the suicide rate so high in that society? Cultural? Historical? Is it because, despite a rich religious history, Japan is one of the most secular countries in the world, with many viewing faith as tradition rather than inspiration? And isn't this issue just as pressing as any other, even when discovered in a country considered successful in every other way?
What to do: 

Pray. This week we are going to pray for Japan with an emphasis on issues of suicide and secularism. We're aware that some might identify as religious, rather than secular, but did you know that the vast majority would identify as non-Christian? Less than 1% of the country's population identifies as Christian. There are many missionaries located throughout Japan, and I would love to introduce you to my cousins, Lisa and Gary, as they await the final preparations on their visas so they can return to Japan. We are going to pray for God to work in individual lives as people struggle with thoughts of suicide as well as in the lives of missionaries as they seek to share Christ through relationships, friendships and church.  

Fast.  This week we are going to fast from our favorite beverage (you only need to pick one).  I'm giving up coffee.

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