Bizarre Culture: Japan's Inventive Ways of Committing Suicide

Seppeku Ritual
Sokushinbutsu, seppuku and kamikaze are inventive ways Japanese people have devised to kill themselves. Japan is notorious for that. It seems like an odd way to stand out among other nations, sure, but suicide just seems to be a major part of Japanese culture. Even today, after Sokushinbutsu, seppuku and kamikaze pilots have become history, the people of Japan have turned an eerie forest -- Aokigahara -- into suicide central. Why Japan seems to be a haven for the depressed and insane is anyone's guess. We know some forms of suicide are considered honorable there and we know the country has a long history of it, so it could be that history of patriotic and ritual suicide has paved the way for a softer stance on the action. Who knows? What we do know is that Japan sure has some bizarre suicides.

Sokushinbutsu is perhaps the most grotesque of the bizarre Japanese suicide stories on this list. That is because it involves the slow and painful death of Japanese monks who literally turn themselves into mummies whilst they are still among the living. First, they exist off a very scant diet for up to three years. They also exercise to lower their body mass. Next, came a phase of drinking non-lethal doses of arsenic. This goes on for yet another three years. At the end of the six years, the monks would then entomb themselves. They had a bell with them that they would ring once a day. When it stopped ringing, the monks were dead. After a period of a few years, their coffins would be opened by fellow monks. Those who did not rot had succeeded in mummifying themselves. At least twelve of these mummies still exist today. Thankfully, the practice has been illegal for more than 100 years.

Seppuku or "hara-kiri" is a samurai's suicide. If the samurai were in a position to be captured, he would kneel or sit and then stick a knife or short sword into the left hand side of his stomach. Then, he would drag the blade to the right, effectively disemboweling himself. This could also be done by disgraced samurai in lieu of execution. Another version of seppuku, done similarly, is oibara. Oibara is committed when a servant's master dies. Kamikaze is similar in that it is a warrior's death, but it took place among Japanese pilots in World War II. They would drive their planes into targets, both to prevent capture and to achieve glory.

Today, suicide is still all too common in Japan. Aokigahara forest is a popular place to do it. In fact, it is second only to the Golden Gate Bridge in popularity, when it comes to offing yourself. According to some sources, an average of 30 people kill themselves in the forest every year. Some years, that number is more than one hundred. They actually need to have patrols to find the dead bodies and return them to their families. This happens once a year. Apparently, an economic recession and insufficient mental health care play a role in the alarming number of annual suicides in Japan, which, we agree, is not bizarre at all, just sad.