NHK has been running a series of stories in the nightly 9pm hour long news bulletin about the increase in social isolation in Japan. The stories contain some sense of glorious, mythologised past where every one lived in extended families, knew their neighbours and acted with community spirit to achieve common goals. Although the reality was surely much more complex and given a choice few people would opt to return to a pre-industrialised society, the social fragmentation and socialisation and fragmentation are undeniable. Mixed with an economic downturn, increasing unemployment, and little in the way of a social safetly net life can become very hard with nowhere to turn.
I had an opportunity to ponder this yesterday. As I arrived at the station the JR staff were making announcements of apology. The trains had stopped running due to a 'human accident', which usually, though not always means suicide. It was very sobering to sit on a train knowing that two or three km down the track that most likely someone, who felt life had handed them too much to deal with, had decided it was easier to jump in front of a train. It's so sad.
Today I took the same train line in to central Tokyo, and again the trains had stopped due to 'human accident'. But today it felt bitterly ironic. I was going in to visit a friend at the National Cancer Centre in Tsukiji who learned on Monday that she has inoperable secondary cancers in the brain. The doctors there are very good and are hopeful that radiation treatment will be successful - the metastases seem to be at an early stage.
One person with so much to live for fighting courageously, in remarkable spirits to live as long as she can, defying every prognosis she is given, and someone else who feels so isolated and over burdened they can't bear to live any longer.