An assistant professor at Yale is taking a softer stance on Japan’s aging society after stirring controversy by suggesting that the “elderly” commit suicide.
Dr. Yusuke Narita, who teaches courses in economics and statistics at the university, first floated the idea during an online news program in December 2021, according to reports. He also mentioned the term “seppuku,” a form of ritualistic suicide that involves stabbing one’s belly with a sword, slicing the stomach and turning the blade to ensure a fatal injury.
The act originated in ancient Japan from samurai warriors who sought to die with honor rather than be captured.
“I feel like the only solution is pretty clear,” Narita told Abema News in Japanese.
“In the end, isn’t it mass suicide and mass ‘seppuku’ of the elderly?”
Narita’s comments have since sparked controversy in Japan, which currently holds the highest proportion of elderly citizens in the world.
As of September 2022, people aged 65 and above comprised 29.1% of its population.
At the same time, Japan happens to have one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Last month, its Health Ministry estimated less than 800,000 births in 2022, a first since records began in 1899.
In a new interview with The New York Times, more than a year after drawing criticism for his remarks, Narita said his comments were “taken out of context.”
According to the academic, he was addressing the increasing effort to push senior tycoons in business, media and politics out of leadership positions — which they have held onto “for many years” — in order to make way for youngsters. He also said he meant “mass suicide” and “mass seppuku” as “an abstract metaphor.”
“I should have been more careful about their potential negative connotations,” Narita added. “After some self-reflection, I stopped using the words last year.”
Narita’s critics, however, fear that his comments may influence policymakers.
With Japan having the highest public debt — a whopping 1.29 quadrillion yen (approximately $9.7 trillion) — in the developed world, there are concerns about funding an aging population’s pension.
This is also not the first time someone has thought of death to deal with Japan’s elderly. Nearly a decade ago, former Finance Minister Taro Aso said seniors should be allowed to “hurry up and die.”
Amid the backlash, Narita has also won support.
About 570,000 users now follow him on Twitter — arguably Japan’s preferred social media platform — where his bio states that “The things you’re told you’re not allowed to say are usually true.”
Some Japanese surveys reportedly show the majority of respondents in favor of legalizing voluntary euthanasia. The idea sprang to life in “Plan 75,” a film released last year that envisions an alternate Japan which encourages those aged 75 and above to submit themselves to euthanasia in exchange for $1,000.
“I am not advocating its introduction,” Narita told the New York Times regarding euthanasia. “I predict it to be more broadly discussed.”
If you or anyone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.