Picture the scene: You’re out late one night, waiting to catch your train home. Finally it rolls up to the platform, its front window caved in, cracks spider-webbing through the glass. That’s when you hear the announcement: due to a human-involved accident, operations have been suspended.
You know what’s happened. But how do you react? Do you gape in shock? Do you find it too upsetting to even look at and avert your eyes?
Or maybe you whip out that phone of yours to snap a picture, just like this group of onlookers at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo.
If you’ve lived any amount of time in Japan and frequently use the trains, you’ve probably become quickly familiar with the term jinshin-jiko, which literally as “human accident”. While this is a pretty vague term that can mean an accident involving a person resulting in injury or death, most take it to mean that someone has intentionally leapt in front of an oncoming train, which is often the case.
Maybe hearing about these accidents all the time leaves people desensitized to the reality of the situation. Perhaps, living in the age of the smartphone, we all instinctively feel the need to document the events that unfold before us no matter what they are. Looking at all the indifferent faces in the crowd of bystanders as they brandish their phones and snap pictures, it seems to be a mixture of the two.
Clearly at least one person – the uploader of the above photo – felt that the sight of so many taking a snap of a train whose window had been smashed in by the body of a fellow human being was more than a little distasteful. A sentiment shared by number of online commenters:
“There’s nothing as despicable as these rubberneckers.”
“Then they probably uploaded it to Twitter or something. Japan is finished.”
“I wouldn’t want to keep that sort of picture on my phone. I would want to get away from there as fast as possible, I wouldn’t even want to breathe the air.”
“These guys are disgusting, probably proudly showing off their photos.”
“I hope the person who died curses those guys taking pictures with their phones.”
However, there are still some who don’t really see any issue with taking a quick snap of the impactful sight:
“What an annoying way to kill yourself; let them publicize it.”
“Even in other countries, if there’s an accident people take pictures and post it to the internet like this too.”
“If I was there I would definitely take a picture too.”
It is true that suicide in Japan is still a considerable problem, being the leading cause of death of men ages 20-44. According to OECD Health Data released in 2011, the suicide rate in Japan took a noticeable jump in the late ’90s, and has stayed significantly above other countries like Switzerland, New Zealand, and Norway, whose rates have either remained steady or dropped during the same period.
Like one of the above commenters, commuters in Tokyo especially often voice their disdain and annoyance for people who choose to end their life by jumping in front of a train, particularly if it makes them late for work. Personally, this is something that is difficult to get my head around. If this is still such a frequent problem, perhaps more action needs to be taken to address the cause, work towards a solution, and offer help to those who have found themselves in such a low place that they feel suicide is their only option.
It’s hard to say how I would react if I had seen something like that in person, but I certainly hope I never have to find out.