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Tokyo: A society’s acceptance of depression

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Does Tokyo deserve its title as the world's most liveable city? Christian Catlow delves beneath the facade of efficiency and achievement to the less-reported high rates of depression and suicide.

WHILE CARRYING out research for a less than flattering book I am penning about Tokyo, I came across an article in the Daily Mail, by Katie Amey, claiming Tokyo to be the most livable city of 2015, boasting, 'a high quality of life' compared to cities such as London or New York.

I was shocked to learn that once again, as in so many recent years, Tokyo has been misrepresented by yet another Western media source as the prime spot for those of us still searching for that elusive place to hang our hat.

My naivety is not such that I believe the polls and ratings contained in such articles to be of any genuine value, since they give very little insight into the things individuals deem to be beneficial to the quality of our lives and overall happiness.

“Happiness” – a predominantly subjective construct as is the case with countless other ambiguities solely dependent upon the hopes and interests of each and every person – is something we all claim to seek but seldom discover. 

Is there a universal benchmark for this holy-grail which we seem incapable of attaining and what are the ingredients and the required amounts with which we can realise the recipe for contentment?

As dictated by the media (on which we are so heavily dependent for education and information), the aspects contributing to the discovery of that perfect life that we all so desperately desire are presented as commonly shared ideals.

Contained in these "quality of life" surveys, the criterial aspects that we have been overlooking in our thorough search for peace of mind and which are integral for us to flourish on this earth, reportedly include: cost of living, efficiency of public services, crime rate and public health (including life expectancy).

If these issues are, in fact, topping your list of worries and concerns then I wholeheartedly agree that Tokyo is the utopian state it is claimed to be.

If, on the other hand, like me, you attach cultural and emotional importance to such frivolities as hugs, kisses, honesty, open mindedness, tolerance, personal space, variety, compassion, ambition and individualism, to name a few, maybe think twice before planting roots in the "land of the rising (sun) suicide rate".

Without attempting to belittle the essential and instinctive need for amenities and services of any modern-day existence, my simple enquiry is, where are the other criteria? Where's the consideration of mental health?

The Japanese pay little attention to mental illness, labeling it as a self-made, personally-defined inconvenience that serves as an embarrassing reminder that despite society`s tireless efforts to the contrary, we have not been successfully transformed into robots, quite yet.

For this narrow-minded belief to be the generally accepted norm in a city claiming to be of humble Buddhist persuasion, is almost laughable.

A denial of the Buddhist teachings of the unbreakable bond of intertwined connections between body and mind in all that we see and do, provides unequivocal evidence of the inhabitants of this "safe and clean" city`s reticence towards freedom of thought.

Bearing an uncanny resemblance to the treatment of the mental conditions of war veterans of older generations, whose torment and anguish went virtually untreated, mental instability is an ever-present, easily distinguishable stain on Tokyo and its communities.

For proof of this, please go to any of the main train stations in Tokyo on a weekday of your choice around 11pm to enjoy the real sights and sounds of Tokyo that cannot be seen from the top of Sky Tree. Hordes of drunken men and women, slumped on the floor or staggering in zig zags, reveling in that docile inebriation, displacing memories of mundanity and hopelessness that are at the forefront of all waking day thoughts.

These people are living and working in conditions conducive to loneliness and a loss of one's self. Is an epidemic of psychological infirmity really born of the individual`s perceived unwillingness to better his or her circumstances?

Such an obtuse view of the influences and effects of the mind are a throwback to a pre-Freudian era, when "loonies", exhibiting behaviours categorised as peculiar, were simply locked in a dark room without windows. This is pretty much the same as the blocks and rows of windowless units currently peddled to young single people relocating to Tokyo from the far reaches of Japan in their quest to get a piece of the highlife in their nation`s capital.

In the dark ages, stigmatisation of the slightest brain variance could result in the administration of shock treatment, much in the way those working 12 hour days in Tokyo and feeling the obvious physical and psychological strains, are plied with alcohol, medicine, tobacco, more medicine, caffeine and a lot more medicine to numb them to the inhumane practices they are subjected to on a daily basis.

If Tokyo is the paradise that it is hailed to be, why does its suicide rate continue to rise at a terrifyingly high speed?

I ask you to consider if the fact that Seoul`s imitation of Tokyo`s working and social systems and emergence from anonymity to the number one spot in the suicide rankings of the developed world, is simply coincidental or whether conclusions can be drawn linking these similarly constructed societies.

As reported by the BBC's Lucy Williamson, South Korea`s suicide rate rose fivefold since 1989, highlighting a clear, undoubted connection to the country`s economic growth. This number has continued to rise and shows no signs of falling.

What makes us truly happy is the same thing that made us happy 1000 years ago. We want to feel valued and have a sense of belonging, a feeling as alien and unfamiliar to many of the poor souls calling Tokyo home, as the crazy idea that, actually, if they don`t do every little thing they are told, the world will not end.

Alas, when the current crop of young wide-eyed workers succumb to a fate of nervous breakdown, physical exhaustion, or for the unfortunate (not so) few, the taking of their own life, there are legions more waiting in the wings ready to sacrifice themselves for "Mother Japan".

Welcome to the world`s first communist-capitalist state.

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