[FOUNTAIN]Samurai cult or social evil in suicides

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[FOUNTAIN]Samurai cult or social evil in suicides

The 2003 movie “The Last Samurai” has left a deep impression of Japan in the Western world. The namesake last samurai is not Nathan Algren, played by Tom Cruise, but Katsumoto, played by the Japanese actor Ken Watanabe. The last samurai is a perfect figure who makes the American born again as a samurai. The climax of the movie is the samurai’s suicide. Killing himself with his own sword in the fluttering cherry blossoms, Katsumoto’s last word is “perfect.” He was talking about the beauty of the cherry blossom rain and the equally splendid ending of a samurai’s life.
The theme of “Chushingura,” a classic Japanese revenge story, is “the best of flowers is the cherry blossom and the best of men is a samurai.” Chushingura is based on a historical event about the revenge of 47 samurai 300 years ago. A lord was wrongfully accused and forced to commit seppuku, a form of suicide in which the victim disembowels himself. As revenge for their master, 47 retainers bided their time and attacked the foe on a snowy winter night. They offered the head of the foe at the grave of their master and committed seppuku together. The story of Chushingura is an eternal bestseller in Japan, having been revisited by numerous novels, plays, movies and television series.
The recent group suicide of nine Japanese shocked Westerners. Youths met on the Internet and planned their deaths. Westerners argued that the samurai tradition, death as honor, lived on because there was no religion in Japan that respected the value of life.
According to World Health Organization statistics, the suicide rate per 100,000 is 24.1 in Japan, compared to 10.4 in the United States and 7.5 in Great Britain. Last year, 24 Koreans per 100,000 killed themselves. When five youngsters met on the Internet and committed a group suicide in March, suicide Web site became a social concern. Last year, the suicide rate in the age group 61 and above grew rapidly, largely because of financial difficulties, and made up 28 percent of the total suicides. In the last five years, there have been 340 suicides in the military.
The high suicide rate is exceptional; Korea has no tradition of idealizing death and religions that value life prevail. We cannot rule out the suspicion that the suicides were “social homicides,” a last, belated call for help.


by Oh Byung-sang

The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s London correspondent.

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