Suicide is serious. It's horrible. It's touched me personally as well as many people in Japan, which has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. The ruling political part decided to take action to help prevent it: with a slogan and cute idols.
Earlier this month, the Democratic Party of Japan unveiled a new suicide prevention slogan: "Anata mo GKB47 sengen!" (あなたもGKB47宣言!) or, roughly, "Proclaim yourself as part of GKB47!" The slogan seemed inspired by one of Japan's most popular bubblegum pop bands, causing some politicians to dub the slogan as "deeply inappropriate". It even made country's prime minister uncomfortable.
According to Japan Today, the "GK" refers to "Gatekeeper", which in Japan is used to refer to those who notice signs of depression in others and helps them seek treatment. The "B" refers to "Basic", as if to infer that this is a basic responsibility that is shared by all. The "47" refers to Japan's forty-seven prefectures.
While the slogan certainly has good intentions, it sounds too close to AKB48, the most popular female pop group in the country. In Japanese parliament, the slogan was debated, with some calling it "improper", because the slogan not only seemed to trivialize suicide but inadvertently evoke the pop group.
"To speak plainly, I too felt uncomfortable," said Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (via Japan Today). "I think I'd like to see further research conducted on the matter."
High suicide rate notwithstanding, suicides in Japan feel far more common than they do in other countries. If you take the morning commute in big cities, then no doubt, you've experienced train delays due to someone throwing themselves on the tracks. It's such a problem in Japan that the railroad families demand the deceased families pay a penalty (which has caused some individuals to use this as a means to get back at their family after they commit suicide).
According to Yahoo! Japan, the number one cause of death for teens as well as people in their 20s and 30s is suicide.
If this were any other pop group, it probably would have, much like the Prime Minister, attempted to distance itself from the GKB47 slogan, allowing politicians to argue about it in Parliament. But AKB48 is not like any other pop group.
That's why AKB48 has agreed to act as official spokespeople for anti-suicide prevention. The GKB47 slogan is being withdrawn; it's now "Proclaim yourself as a gatekeeper," and AKB48 members appear in the public service announcements in mini-skirts and plaid coats.
So much of what AKB48 promotes is frivolous, whether that be vegetable juice or chocolate snacks, but the group does do good things—it even donated more to the earthquake survivors than Nintendo and Sony did. Even their songs sometimes appear trivial. But sometimes, just sometimes, this idol group is anything but.
(Top photo: Kin Cheung/Koji Sasahara | AP)