Japan's "Human Accidents" and the fascinating psychology of Japanese train stations

2009 was a tough year for Japan. Japan went through its worst recession since World War II. Unemployment rose to a record high. And 32,845 people took their own lives. 

That's almost 90 suicides every day. 

Unemployment caused 57 percent of all suicides in Japan. But historically, suicide rates in Japan have always been high. And jumping in front of a train is one of the most common ways Japanese people use to commit suicide. 

But unlike suicides of politicians or celebrities, which always incite TV debates over the state of Japan's suicide crisis, train suicides remain a taboo topic in Japan. 

Maybe because they're public suicides happening in crowded public places. Maybe because they happen almost every day. 

The truth is, Japanese people don't even call these cases suicides. They call them "human accidents"  — jinshin jiko in Japanese.  

When a jinshin jiko happens, it can shut down a bunch of lines for hours, affecting millions of commuters.

To solve this problem Japanese train companies came up with a solution: To install platform screen doors that open only when the train arrives and doors open. 

This was a perfectly logical solution to a big problem. 

But it turns out:

  1. It was too expensive. It would cost at least $4.7 billion to install them in all 243 of Tokyo’s train stations.

  2. 70% of Japan’s busiest stations didn’t have enough space to install these platform screen doors.

In 2009, Japanese railway companies like The East Japan Railway Company started installing blue LED light panels on train platforms. 

Because blue lights have a calming effect on agitated people. And they can make people attempting suicide reconsider. Turns out this simple solution worked. Because suicides in train stations dropped by 84%.

Most big problems don't require big, expensive solutions. Just connecting the dots.

Your pal,

Miguel Ferreira
Founder & Chief Copywriter, Teardwn + Nishi + Jack Had A Groove FM

(Yamanote Line, Tokyo // Photo credits: Damon Coulter)