Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A plunge into the sulphur-stinking maw of Death

Yes indeed, this is the strangest story I've read this week. From Time Magazine, Monday, Jan. 28, 1935:
Suicide has gone cheap, and last week Japan's go-getting suicide tycoon, owl-eyed Jinnojo Hayashi, scored another coup. For the second time this year sensation-hungry tourists at his Suicide Point witnessed a triple plunge into the sulphur-stinking maw of Death.

Respected Mr. Hayashi is president of the highly profitable and progressive Tokyowan Kisen Kaisha (Tokyo Bay Steamship Co.) which is proudly building the world's first airflow liner. This streamlined Diesel beauty will speed tourists and prospective suicides from Tokyo 59 miles to the Island of Oshima in 3½ hours. President Hayashi has provided all sorts of conveniences to get passengers from the landing dock up sulphur-belching Mihara-yama (Mount Mihara) to popular Suicide Point on the crater's brim. One may even ride a camel, one of the first three ever imported into Japan, all by Go-Getter Hayashi. Last week his publicity men, inspired by the windfall of a second triple suicide this year, excitedly conjectured "The God of Death must now have taken up his abode in Mihara-yama and is calling men in threes to their doom." Up to Suicide Point has come even the Son of Heaven, sublime Emperor Hirohito. who ably repressed any impulse he may have felt to jump.[...]

Suicide Point and President Hayashi owe everything to Miss Kiyoko Matsumoto, an attractive but highly sensitive student of Jissen Girls College in Tokyo. Just two years ago Miss Matsumoto confided to a chum: "Dearest, I am bewildered to distraction by the perplexities of maturing womanhood. I can stand the strain no longer. What shall I do? I should like to jump into a volcano."

"Jump off the roof of a department store," would have been the advice of Chum Masako Tomito, had the emergency occurred a few months earlier. At the time of her friend's perplexity, however, all Tokyo's department stores, tired of having patrons jump off their roofs, had hired vigilant guards and fenced their cornices with barbed wire. Today every high building in Tokyo is thus equipped to foil the desperate. Miss Tomito wracked her brain, then had an inspiration. "Dearest!" she cried, "if you cannot bear the perplexities of maturing womanhood I can take you to just the volcano!"

What turned out to be great for President Hayashi didn't turn out so well for Tomito - the media made a meal of her (read the story for her tale of woe). The end of the story is interesting:

Greatest foe of profiteering President Hayashi is quiet, persuasive Mrs. Nobuko Jo, whose profession is to induce Japanese women to endure the perplexities of womanhood. Claiming to have prevented over 2,500 suicides, Mrs. Jo is busy today with the acute problem of Lesbian suicides. Starting among Geisha girls, this perversion has now spread to Japanese schoolgirls.

"The pause for reflection is vital," says Mrs. Jo. "Achieve that and the unfortunate woman generally saves herself. The thing is to ease their hysteria, if only for a few hours, and get them away from hysterical friends. We do this in simple little establishments called Wait-a-Bits. These we have established in both Japan and Chosen (Korea) and soon we will have Wait-a-Bits in Manchukuo."

Perhaps Wait-a-Bits might be useful now (though I wonder if they would be more effective online).

Interesting that the article describes "Tokyo's suicides, which average four per day[.]"I wonder if it was simply related to the Great Depression, or if there was something more.

From this article on the 1951 eruptions of Mt. Mihara (pdf) comes this photo:

Oshima was also the island where part of the 1998 film Ring was set. This is an amusing video of teen girls watching the film. Go watch it.

Strange, after watching that video, how appropriate this line is:

"The thing is to ease their hysteria, if only for a few hours, and get them away from hysterical friends."


kushibo said...

It's these odd tidbits that you come up with that make me especially enjoy your blog.

Marcos Bento said...

this enlightens my understanding of the novel A Personal Matter, by Kenzaburo Oe. In the novel the character Birdie is thinking about getting an abortion doctor to kill his diseased newborn son, meanwhile his lover talks about her lesbian relationships. The narrator highlights how Birdie isn't disgusted by the depravity of homosexuality because his sense of morality had been suppressed by his homicidal feelings towards his son. This 1964 novel prejudice against female homosexuality may be influenced by the then common conflation of suicide and lesbianism in Japanese culture.