Japan: The Mystery of the (Almost) Invisible Suicide


Japanese media mysteriously go mum over dramatic incident

TOKYO (majirox news) — On a Sunday afternoon, in the middle of Tokyo’s crowded Shinjuku district, a man sits on top of a bridge, pours a flammable liquid over himself and sets fire to it. He explains using a megaphone that he is doing this to protest the government’s proposed unilateral “reinterpretation” of the constitution to allow Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense (interpreted by some as meaning “assist the US in its military operations”).

Leading article on the evening TV news, right?

NHK (the state-supported broadcaster) did not cover it, but did devote 10 minutes to a house fire that killed a grandmother and grandson. The report included pictures from the boy’s school Web site showing the school trip to Hiroshima, and an anonymised (from the neck down) interview with the mother of a classmate. Nor, it seems, did the self-immolation make the 7am news on NHK.

It is on the front page, though below the fold, in the Japan Times today, as a Reuters, not a Kyodo (local Japanese agency) article. According to this report, though police confirmed the incident had occurred, they “would not” (not “could not”) provide any more details. Foreign media have picked up the story, and it is all over the Internet. It has been reported in the local media, but is not the major story that one would expect from such a dramatic incident. One report, by the conservative Yomiuri, ended with concern that other people might have been injured by the man’s action.

The so far unnamed man, reported to be in his 50s or 60s, has survived; however the reasons for the relative blackout in the local news remain unclear. We may speculate that the media have largely failed to report this incident, so as not to spur copycat actions. It may be that the sight of a man attempting to burn himself to death is considered to be too much for weak stomachs.

But, given the unpopularity with the public of Prime Minister Abe’s obsession with this constitutional matter, it is possible to speculate that local media have been served with a gag order. It would fit with the relative non-reporting of the demonstrations against Abe’s proposals that go against the majority opinion, such as the re-starting of nuclear plants and the reinterpretation of the constitution.

In the words of Sherlock Holmes:

“Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident.”

UPDATE: According to some reports, right-wingers were removing flowers left at the scene of the incident and further flowers have been forbidden.

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