Survival in Japan also depends on excellent mental fitness and psychological resilience. There are several types of reactions to the unfolding crisis, the most positive of them being psychological resilience, which I introduce by the rampant mental threats of suicide, denial and mental disorders.

1. Suicide

Asahi Shimbun reported that “On the morning of March 24, in Sukagawa City, Fukushima Prefecture, a 64 year-old farmer hung himself in is own home. Just one day after the Japanese government announced a ban on the consumption of all produce grown in parts of Fukushima Prefecture due to the continuing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility.” He was quick to realize that “It’s All Over!”. Japan is infamous for its systemic social issue.

According to Wikipedia where there a Suicide in Japan stand-alone article :

“Suicide in Japan has become a significant problem nationally.[…] Suicides traced to losing jobs surged 65.3 percent while those attributed to hardships in life increased 34.3 percent. Depression remained at the top of the list for the third year in a row, rising 7.1 percent from the previous year. The rapid increase in suicides since the 1990s has raised concerns. For example, 1998 saw a 34.7% increase over the previous year. Japan has one of the world’s highest suicide rates, especially amongst industrialized nations,and the Japanese government reported the rate for 2006 as being the ninth highest in the world. In 2009, the number of suicides rose 2 percent to 32,845 exceeding 30,000 for the twelfth straight year and equating to nearly 26 suicides per 100,000 people.This amounts to approximately one suicide every 15 minutes.However, this figure is somewhat disputed since it is arguably capped by the conservative definition of “suicide” that has been adopted by the Japanese authorities, which differs from the WHO’s definition.Some peoplethus suggest a rather larger figure of 100,000 suicides a year. Currently, the conservative per year estimate is still significantly higher than for any other OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) country. In comparison, the UK rate is about 9 per 100,000, and the US rate around 11 per 100,000.In 2007, Japan ranked first among G8 countries for female suicides and second, behind Russia, for male suicides.”

The new element is that suicide rate was already on the rise in the wake of the “Lehman shock” as it is called here (+2% in 2009 according to the article). Following the suicide of this farmer explicitly because of Fukushima, there was also an information black-out about the wave of suicides which followed. In ordinary times, suicides do not get much news coverage anyway, since they are so frequent, misreported as “accidents” (most of the trains delay PA announcements in stations mentioning an accident as being the cause are actually suicides), etc. There is also maybe the concern that reporting about it could cause a mass phenomenon. Anyway, the fact is that suicides are on the rise because of Fukushima.

2. Denial

Denial is the foremost reaction in the Japanese and expat societies with respect to the nuclear crisis.

According to the Denial article on Wikipedia :

“Denial is a defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.”

Denial is well known is psychology as being the first of the so-called “Five stages of grief”. I highly recommend reading the Wikipedia article titled after the psychiatrist who introduced it, Kübler-Ross model. In a nutshell, these stages are experienced when confronted with loss or death : denial, anger, sadness, acceptance. Stages in Wikipedia article slightly differ (5 stages instead of 4 quoted here) but this post is not about academic discussion (and there is some academic controversy, as usual, about this model). It is obvious that a minority of Japanese are already in the angry stage as 60,000 people in an unusual anti-nuclear demonstration recently showed.

I believe that we lost Japan as we lost Belorussia and I personally experienced the bargaining (“we can stay in Japan if we’re careful and maybe relocate”), depression and acceptance stages – but not much of denial nor anger. I accepted that it’s gone and that my family and friends staying here will be gone too – it’s awfully depressing but there is no solution and I will not commit a useless self-sacrifice for them. I must save those in my family and friends who also choose to accept and live.

3. Mental Disorders

Post-traumatic stress disorders are obviously expected after Fukushima. Since it is in fact a developing crisis, mental disorders are likely to ramp up and in order to cope with them, we must understand the psychological stressors. Radiation spreads from Fukushima in many forms described in various posts in SurvivalJapan. This constant threat and the information black-out make people who are not in denial paranoid and on the edge. Further more, this paranoia applies to a ghost threat, which induces schizoid tendencies (imagine that you are shopping in a supermarket where everything is potentially radioactive). I don’t think that people can avoid insomnia, nervous breakdowns, depression, bouts of aggressiveness, alcoholism, etc. if they remain in such an environment for a long time. Professional attention should be sought after when these symptoms start to appear.

Besides, living in a society where most people are in denial is akin to stay in a lunatic asylum where the staff and doctors were chosen among patients: a sane person would quickly become crazy there, unless your name is Randle Patrick McMurphy – but then, the same fate might await you. I would rather be “Chief” Bromden in that play…

4. Resilience

According to Wikipedia article definition : “Resilience is a dynamic process whereby individuals exhibit positive behavioral adaptation when they encounter significant adversity, trauma,tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress.It is different from strengths or developmental assets which are a characteristic of an entire population, regardless of the level of adversity they face.”

If you decide to stay in Japan, it is a good idea to learn about how to build more psychological resilience and to be aware, this post can only point to some self-learning paths. The Wikipedia article mentions that:

“The American Psychological Association suggests “10 Ways to Build Resilience”, which are: (1) maintaining good relationships with close family members, friends and others; (2) to avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems; (3) to accept circumstances that cannot be changed; (4) to develop realistic goals and move towards them; (5) to take decisive actions in adverse situations; (6) to look for opportunities of self-discovery after a struggle with loss; (7) developing self-confidence; (8) to keep a long-term perspective and consider the stressful event in a broader context; (9) to maintain a hopeful outlook, expecting good things and visualizing what is wished; (10) to take care of one’s mind and body, exercising regularly, paying attention to one’s own needs and feelings and engaging in relaxing activities that one enjoys. Learning from the past and maintaining flexibility and balance in are also cited.”

I believe that resilience is the product of your whole life experience and that such building programs are wishing-well frauds, but it may work for you. Otherwise, you may consider “Chief” Bromden’s flight from the Cuckoo’s Nest.


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