, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 516-551

Too Lonely to Die Alone: Internet Suicide Pacts and Existential Suffering in Japan

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Abstract

Most striking in the recent rise of suicide in Japan are the increase in suicide among young Japanese and the emergence of Internet suicide pacts. An ethnography of suicide-related Web sites reveals a distinctive kind of existential suffering among visitors that is not reducible to categories of mental illness and raises questions regarding the meaning of an individual “choice” to die, when this occurs in the context of an intersubjective decision by a group of strangers, each of whom is too afraid to die alone. Anthropology’s recent turn to subjectivity enables analyses of individual suffering in society that provide a more nuanced approach to the apparent dichotomy between agency and structure and that connect the phenomenon of suicide in Japan to Japanese conceptions of selfhood and the afterlife. The absence of ikigai [the worth of living] among suicide Web site visitors and their view of suicide as a way of healing show, furthermore, that analyses of social suffering must be expanded to include questions of meaning and loss of meaning and, also, draw attention to Japanese conceptions of self in which relationality in all things, including the choice to die, is of utmost importance.