Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Orange Prompts Suicide via Rails & Blue Prompts Life?"

Suicide is not uncommon in Japan, and has historically been considered an honorable exit when no other paths appear to be forthcoming. And in modern times, people who commit suicide not uncommonly will do so by jumping in front of a train, typically at the head of the platform as the train comes in at speed. Some train lines are more popular for doing this than others - the Chuo Line is famous in Tokyo for having a large number of suicides. Naturally, since the people who successfully commit suicide cannot be consulted as to why they did it, or why they chose a particular place, it's left for the living to ponder.

Why the Chuo Line?

The Chuo Line was - for decades - a deep orange color, what some semi-color-blind people refer to as red, but everyone (except some flat-out color-blind people) agree is a warm color. One fine day, I was talking with someone and (naturally), the topic of the Chuo Line's high suicide rate came up. I looked on as though watching a science fiction movie as I was told there's a theory that the reason a lot of people choose to die by jumping in front of the Chuo Line is because it's a shade of red!

I blinked a couple of times, looked into unblinking eyes, and asked if they were serious. They were. Then, to test the idea, I asked several other people over a couple of years and was disappointed/distressed to find a majority of people submitting to this theory, saying they had heard (and apparently believed) that it was an aggressive color that prompted people to jump in front of the train! So I tried acting out the scenario in front of a few believers of this theory by saying (with words, facial expressions, and gestures): "Hum-dee-dum... Ah! Here comes the train.... Look at that color! Such aggression! ...... All right! That's it! Time to die!".

I mean... come on! Does that make sense to you? It does? I still don't get it....

Anyway! They have replaced the deep-orange trains with white/silver/orange trains that are (from the front) just silver and white... and still people are committing suicide by jumping in front of the Chuo Line. Suddenly you don't hear about the warm color theory as to why people are choosing the ultimate exit via the Chuo Line.

But wait! The theory lives! JR Railways has installed squares of blue light (beaming down from overhead) at the end of all the platforms on the central Yamanote loop line. Why? Because blue is a calming color and they think it may make people thinking of committing suicide calm down and change their minds....

Now, back to the Chuo Line. Let's look at a couple of other possibilities. The Chuo Line has, on an average basis over the course of a full day, the most crowded trains in all of Japan. So - if there are a given percentage of train riders on any given line that eventually commit suicide by jumping in front of a train, gee, you might actually have more suicides on the most crowded line! Rocket Science! And if the conditions on the most crowded line in the country are the most unpleasant, then, gee, maybe some people get seriously depressed about becoming canned sardines for two or three hours every day and decide they can't take it any more, so they take the jump.

Just why is it that no logical reasons are discussed, and everyone latches onto the nonsense about the color of the train being the reason? From the railway's perspective this is convenient, because if the reason people are committing suicide is because of overcrowding on the line, then they could face potential legal responsibility for creating a cause of the death by not (somehow) providing more trains and alleviating the crowding somewhat. Mind you, I'm not suggesting negligence on the part of the train system here, either the Chuo Line specifically or the whole rail system in general. It's an excellent system and it's amazing it functions as well as it does with the 30,000,000 people living in Tokyo.

But here's the thing. I used to work at a PR agency and I've seen a little how something is put into the media, broadcast, and then accepted by people because they saw it on television. PR agencies identify "Opinion Leaders" and other sources of public thinking and try to influence them. Who knows, it might even be some scientific thing about deep orange that actually does lead to suicide, but either way, from the railway's standpoint, it's vastly better if people are discussing the issue as though it were a natural phenomenon rather than a human-made cause. If it's just a natural phenomenon, then people will not ask them to do something (and anyway, it looks as though they have done something now by changing the color of the trains), but if it's based on conditions (far more likely!), then people will begin clamoring for them to do something.

Anyway - it'll be interesting to see what becomes of the blue lights on the Yamanote Line. The platforms are so brightly lit with white florescent tubes that the blue is only in that one small spot right at the end of the platform, but maybe some people bent on self-destruction will actually change their minds as they enter the blue light....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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