The jagged cliffs of Tojinbo was often visited by those seeking death, now it is visited by those seeking Girafarig.
Tojinbo is a natural landmark in Japan consisting of a kilometer-long (half-mile-long) stretch of rocky cliffs along the Sea of Japan in Fukui Prefecture. The column-like volcanic rock standing defiantly against the particularly violent waves in the area make for a beautiful scene.
However, it also has the dark notoriety of being a popular place to commit suicide. Like with many suicide hot spots, the more people commit suicide there, the more it fuels its reputation inviting even more at the end of their ropes. It’s a stigma that knows no end.
This dilemma has plagued resident Yukio Shige for years both as a police officer and head of a suicide prevention NPO after retirement. In his experience of investigating dozens of jumping deaths and preventing four-times as many, he says that about 90-percent of the cases come from outside Fukui Prefecture, likely drawn in by Tojinbo’s grim reputation.
Since starting his patrols and awareness campaigns, Shige managed to lower Tojinbo’s suicide rate to an all-time low of seven in 2014. Unfortunately, since then that number has been steadily climbing to 12 in 2015 and 14 in 2016.
However, at the end of the first quarter of 2017, the number has held steady at zero. This is no small feat either — national suicide rates are at their highest from March to July, so having gotten through last month without any deaths is a significant achievement.
And who do we have to thank for this?
▼ Brave Pokémon hunters not unlike our own coat-hanger sporting ones!
We reported on what is now being called the “Pokémon GO Effect” back when it first appeared shortly after the game’s release in Japan. Then it wasn’t clear to what degree these Pokémon players were actually helping, but with a four month streak in effect, we’re starting to get an idea.
Once it was learned that Tojinbo was a breeding ground of some of the most elusive Pokémon around, people arrived in droves and camped out over night causing the once desolate scenery to become speckled with the warm glow of smartphone screens. Plateaus where people once stood to contemplate death became gathering places of Pokémon hunters tapping away at touch screens.
白羽美鷺 (@pikachuftt) September 06, 2016
Even though the game’s popularity has dwindled since the pandemonium of its release, people are still going to Tojinbo. Tomoko Wakabayashi, a writer for the website Dot, visited there recently and heard from locals that although the numbers of Pokémon GO players had dropped through the winter, they seem to be on the rise again as the warmer weather returns and students enjoy a spring break.
One player in his twenties told Wakabayashi he was visiting his parents who lived in Fukui and decided to swing by for a quick sweep of the area. Another mother and daughter team came to Tojinbo for a second time to catch rare Pokémon together and bond with each other.
So even now Pokémon players are still attracted to Tojinbo and, much like the suicidal people before them, nearly everyone is from outside of the prefecture. These Pokémon tourists don’t simply go to areas with good photo opportunities either. Scouring the entire kilometer stretch for a Lapras or Aerodactyl, they leave few places for those with dark thoughts to be alone.
Moreover the entire atmosphere of Tojinbo seems to have changed, from a tragic-yet-beautiful landform to a place for fun and frivolity. As a general rule, suicides are less common in places where people typically go to hang out and have fun.
Readers of the news were impressed that a mere smartphone game could have such a transformative effect on the area.
“Really?! That’s great!”
“Thank you, Nintendo.”
“Akita Prefecture has the highest suicide rate in the country. It also has the fewest PokéStops in the country. Niantic, please give us more PokéStops!”
“The stupid mass media always reports bad things about Pokémon GO. Why aren’t they talking about this?”
“This is great for Tojinbo, but people who want to kill themselves will just find another place to do it.”
The sentiment that this hasn’t really solved the underlying factors for suicide is valid, but the notion that suicidal people really want to kill themselves is possibly more complex.
“I have been given many suicide notes,” Shige told Wakabayashi, “but not a single one ever said ‘I want to die’ in it.” He also says that people who consider suicide usually have difficult problems and also have trouble asking for help, and that many are just searching for someone to help them. It’s when no one offers a hand that bad things happen.
Nevertheless, although he acknowledges the positive effect Pokémon GO has had the area, Shige isn’t letting his guard down. He plans to increase the frequency of patrols and is also looking into getting a drone to help.
We hope this trend does continue to reverse the fortunes of Tojinbo from here on out. We also hope this lights a fire under the butts of Niantic so they can finally bring in a decent tracking system and worthwhile battle features to game.
If you or someone you know is in Japan and having suicidal thoughts, there are people here to help. Click here for more info.