Akita Prefecture, located on the Sea of Japan side of the Tohoku region in the north of Honshu, has a population of 1,159,022 (2004). In the winter it is characterized by heavy snowfall and a relatively low number of sunlight hours. Since 1997, it has had the highest suicide rate among all of Japan’s urban and rural prefectures.
A series of public health interventions was begun in the year 2001 with the lead of Akita University. The program encouraged civic participation and empowerment concerning suicide prevention, and the results have shown a reduction in the suicide rates of participating towns to half of the previous figure. Japan has now recognized the importance of community-oriented suicide prevention measures based on the experience of Akita Prefecture. (Motohashi et al., 2007) The intervention in Akita focused on raising awareness regarding the dignity of life, reducing the stigma of mental illness, organizing get together activities, and also doing home visitation during snowy winter season. The latter two aimed to alleviate the psychological isolation and loneliness of the elderly people. If you recapture the stories of the early church, the stated interventions are the very basic elements of the church. Instead of shying away, churches should take an active role in joining hands with other community centers, providing aid for suicide prevention. Mat 5:13-16, do not forget that the church is called to be the salt and light of the world.
Aomori, another place that shared similarities with Akita, also has one of the highest suicide rate in the nation. Driving down to the sea is one of the feasible suicide methods in Aomori because of many unfenced harbors. Pastor Shibuya of Joyful Chapel headed a suicide prevention network for the community in Aomori-shi. He shared with us that there were incidents where people came to knock on the church door to seek help after they saw the cross from afar as they were preparing to drive down
into the sea. A church sign viewable from the seaside, and a phone booth with a lifeline signboard remind people about the value of their lives are often life saving tools.