As Tokyo’s Train Suicides Spike, Where Are The Platform Doors?

As Tokyo’s Train Suicides Spike, Where Are The Platform Doors?

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Chuo Line at Takao Station
Picture: haku / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
An apparent spike in self-harm incidents at Tokyo train stations in June raises the question: why do so many stations still lack platform doors?

Japan’s suicide rates have been on a healthy downward trajectory for years now. However, a sudden string of train-related “bodily accidents” has some wondering online if current economic conditions in the country could signal a reversal of that progress. It’s also raising questions about the pace at which traincompanies are installing an easy and obvious stopgap: platform doors.

Note: This article discusses suicide. If you or someone you love needs help, please see the resources at the bottom.

15 incidents on the Chuo and Sobu lines in June

For a few days in the past week, the term 人身事故 (jinshin jiko) has trended on social media platform X. The term refers to “an accident involving bodily harm or death.” When used in the context of trains, it means a situation in which a train car struck a human being. That can signify a true accident – e.g., a drunk office worker falling onto the track at the wrong moment. However, it can also indicate an attempted suicide.

In either case, a bodily accident is a noticeable event, as it causes a delay on that train line. Trains and stations in Japan always list the cause of a train delay, so riders will see when the delay is due to a jinshin jiko – usually translated into English on train screens as “injury” or “human-related incident.”

Train riders in Tokyo started to notice there were quite a number of bodily accidents in the city this past month. One user, @renew_molll, documented no fewer than 15. The incidents are all spread across two lines: The Japan Railways Chuo line, running between Takao Station and Tokyo Station; and the JR Sobu line, running from Mitaka Station to Chiba Station.

Source: X

In the graphic, “JC” refers to the Chuo Express line, “JB” is the Chuo Sobu Local, and JO is the Sobu Express. All but four incidents occurred on express lines – i.e., the fastest lines most likely to result in fatal injuries.

22 incidents in one week

The jump caused a noticeable shift in the bodily accident rankings per train line as tracked by the X account @gumo_ranking. The Chuo tends to be the most dangerous line in any given year. However, it’s now seen 17 jinshin jiko this year – only one off from its 18 incidents in 2023. The Sobu is up to 12, only two shy of the number of incidents last year. In 2022, the line saw only four.

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Source: X

The site’s numbers also show that, nationwide, Japan has seen over 20 such incidents a week for all but one week of July. The worst week was the week of June 23th, with a total of 31 incidents.

Only 15 of Tokyo’s 36 lines have platform doors at every stop

The online discussion has led to local media coverage of the spike. Sankei Shimbun notes that nine of the incidents alone happened on the Chuo – three at Koenji Station and others across the line.

The Chuo isn’t susceptible to these incidents just because it hosts an express line. It’s also one of the lines in Japan without barricading doors.

Increasingly, Japanese train lines have gates that remain closed until the oncoming train comes to a full stop. These doors either come up to about chest height on an adult male or, in some cases, extend all the way up to the station ceiling.

Sounds like a good idea, right? Unfortunately, according to site Ensen Chat, out of the 36 lines in the Greater Tokyo (首都圏; shutoken) area, only 15 lines have platform doors at every stop. Even the heavily traveled Yamanote line only has 93% station coverage (it’s missing doors at two stations). Meanwhile, the Chuo and Sobu lines only have 33% coverage, with only 13 out of 39 platforms sporting doors.

Source: TRAinData

Trains in the Greater Tokyo area are working toward installing platform doors on all lines and at all stations by 2031 (Reiwa 13). The Toei Line announced in February that it had hit this goal well ahead of schedule, installing platform doors at all 106 stations where its trains stop.

However, JR East says that the ongoing semiconductor shortage plus Japan’s chronic labor shortage has delayed its plans to barricade the Chuo Line.

Also, JR maintains that, while doors will help against people falling into the tracks, they don’t consider them a suicide prevention measure. However, that seems to contradict the train company’s own experience. A 2016 article by Toyo Keizai notes that, after installing doors at 23 out of 29 stops on JR’s heavily trafficked Yamanote Line, bodily accidents at those stations went from 74 down to nearly zero.

Mental health options remain weak

Besides doors, Japanese railway companies continue looking for ways to prevent people from attempting suicide at train stations. At one point, based on preliminary research, some companies were installing blue LED lights on the theory that it reduced depression and deterred suicide. However, research hasn’t borne out their effectiveness.

Additionally, any action taken by railway companies doesn’t address underlying mental health issues in Japan. In particular, it doesn’t address possible factors leading to depression. Japan’s weak yen and rising prices are one possible factor. Japan’s hiring season also kicks off in April, which means many may be feeling the impact of stress or even harassment at work.

Unfortunately, good help can be hard to come by in Japan. Experts here have long criticized the country’s lack of mental health awareness and stigmatization of mental health issues. A 2022 survey by the Health & Global Policy Institute of 1,000 Japanese people found 30% feel they have no one to talk to when they’re feeling down. A full 77% didn’t know that local governments had offices to assist people with mental health care after a natural disaster.

If you or someone you love is in crisis, please reach out for helpThose in Japan you can call the following numbers:

0570-064-556 for kokoro-no-kenkou-soudan (こころの健康相談) operated by prefectorial and city organizations

0570-783-556 for inochi-no-denwa (いのちの電話) operated by Federation of Inochi No Denwa.

For English language help in Japan, reach out to TELL.

If you are in the US call 911 for emergencies and 988 for the suicide hotline.

Other international resources

What to read next

Sources

人あふれる三鷹駅構内 女性専用車両も解除…6月だけで9件、人身事故続出のJR中央線. Sankei Shimbun

【首都圏】ホームドア設置率ランキング【2024年3月最新】. Ensen Chat

都営地下鉄 すべての駅でホームドア設置完了. NHK News Web

鉄道自殺防ぐ「ホームドア設置」は効果絶大だ. Toyo Keizai

Does the installation of blue lights on train platforms prevent suicide? A before-and-after observational study from Japan. ScienceDirect

【調査報告】メンタルヘルスに関する世論調査(2022年8月12日). Health & Global Policy Institute

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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