Japanese Celebs’ Final Acts

Miyu Uehara

In the almost four years since I wrote this piece, I’ve been asked how the celebrity (more specifically female celebrity) suicide rate in Japan compares with that of Korea. I’m, in no way, going to present any analogies or official statistics of this, but since it’s news whenever a famous person dies (by whatever means), all it took for me to find out how female celeb suicide rates compare between Korea and Japan, was some Internet research. In short, Korean female celebs have been more prone to take their own lives in recent years (the “trend” beginning in Feburary, 2005 with actress Lee Eun-joo’s death) but the suicides of Japanese female celebs started two decades earlier. Also, the Japanese ladies seem to be a bit more creative than their Korean counterparts when it comes to the method to end it all, sometimes employing the use of toxic chemicals while the Koreans overwhelmingly favor hanging as the preferred means.

In my search for Japanese female celeb suicides in recent decades, I came up with six names. Of those names, the suicide of the one who was best-known occurred 26 years ago and the ones since weren’t all exactly household names in Japan (as Choi Jin-sil was in Korea). The most recent being gravure idol Miyu Uehara (above), who was found hanged in her apartment on May 12, 2011. She left no note but was apparently unhappy with her chosen career, despite becoming quite popular in her field, with over 400 television appearances to her credit.

Yukiko Okada - Birth of Venus
According to news reports that left several unanswered questions, on April 8, 1986, 18 year-old singer Yukiko Okada was found by the manager of the Sun Music agency (her record label) crying and crouched down in the closet of her gas-filled Tokyo apartment, with her wrists slashed (but apparently not deep enough to cause her to bleed to death). It wasn’t reported why she was taken from there to the Sun Music building, instead of a hospital, but if attempts were made to console and discourage her from making another suicide attempt, they were in vain. Seemingly determined to end it all, just two hours after being found at her apartment and presumably left unattended, Yukiko jumped to her death from the seventh floor of the Sun Music building. There were reporters present when she jumped, as they had heard about the earlier incident at her apartment and that she had been taken to the Sun Music building afterwards. Wanting the story, they sure got it and a lot more, when they witnessed Yukiko jump to the pavement below. A couple of death scene photos were taken before police arrived, and were subsequently published. (View them here and here if you must.) The wave of copycat suicides in Japan that soon followed was dubbed the “Yukiko Syndrome.” An excellent article on that, as well as more details on Yukiko’s life and death, is here. Above is the cover from her January 1986 album, The Birth of Venus, her last one released before her death.

Kazumi Kawai
Actress, model, and singer Kazumi Kawai began her career by appearing in Nikkatsu “roman porn” films after being discovered by director Mamoru Watanabe at the age of 18. She had two failed suicide attempts by cutting her wrists in December, 1996 and again in January, 1997. However, she succeeded on May 9, 1997 by jumping to her death from the apartment window of the man she was allegedly having an affair with; baseball player Kenjiro Kawasaki. (He was not home at the time.) She was also engaged to be married to another man at the time of her death at the age of 32. Ironically, Kawasaki’s apartment was on the seventh floor, as was the office of the Sun Music building that Yukiko Okada jumped from 11 years earlier.

Kyoko Togawa
Actress Kyoko Togawa, sister of singer Jun Togawa, was found hanged in her apartment on July 18, 2002 by a member of her agency after she didn’t show up for a shoot. She left no note and the reason for her suicide was unclear. She was 37.

Miyuki Asou
Miyuki Asou was a gravure idol who crossed over to AV and the harsh (mostly online) criticism she received after making that transition was rumored to be the reason she took her own life on March 18, 2008. She was found dead in her bathroom after inhaling the poisonous gas from the household chemicals she had mixed together. Known as “detergent suicide,” it’s a fairly popular method of ending one’s own life in Japan. She was 22.

Ako Kawada
TV announcer Ako Kawada committed suicide by burning charcoal briquettes inside her car and inhaling the lethal carbon monoxide gas they emitted. Her body was found slumped in the front seat of her car, which was parked (here) just a short distance from her home on the morning of May 26, 2008. In her last blog entry she wrote that she felt mentally and physically exhausted and needed a break. She was 29.

EDIT: All updates will be made at the original article at Idol Features.

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0 thoughts on “Japanese Celebs’ Final Acts”

  1. Interesting topic, and it’s most refreshing to see someone use the proper term “hanged” for suicide instead of hung. Pictures are hung and people are hanged. It never ceases to amaze me how often the national newspaper writers use the incorrect word.

  2. Wow. Depressing but excellent article CEC. It makes me wonder if there is a correlation to the amount stress these people have due the amount hours they work? Or the pressure from society?

  3. It is pretty well known that both Japan and South Korea have high suicide rates compared with other countries. According to the World Health Organization (link http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide_rates/en/), South Korea (Republic of Korea) has the highest female suicide rate at 22.1 per 100,000, while Japan ranks 5th at at 13.2 (Sri Lanka has 16.8, China (selected rural and urban areas) has 14.8, and Guyana has 13.4.

    Combine these already high suicide rates with the notoriety of celebrity suicides, and it’s not surprising (but still sad) to see all these celebrity suicides.

  4. I was working in South Korea for a few years when suicide seemed to be almost a hobby for well known Koreans. Tragic as it for anybody, no matter their fame or success, to think suicide is the only answer, it’s even worse for the people left behind.

    I used to teach in a high school, and left a year before Lee Hye Ryeon killed herself. I found out later that within a week of her death, two of my former students also decided to take that path. Whether their decision had anything to do with the celebrity suicide is unknown… but it may have been an influence.

    As Fungusfarm says, depressing but excellent article. Although I wished I had read the article first before zooming in straight to the photos…. Now I’m feeling guilty…

  5. Got on a plane to Tokyo
    Just recovered from the last jaunt
    We all gotta earn our dough
    It’s not about what I want.

    So time to go again
    Wasn’t going to stay long
    But wished for a naked Siren
    To help me get along.

    Trouble was, the last post
    Before I left the house
    A calendar call. Diagnosed
    Worthy, perhaps, but kind of a louse.*

    I toiled for a week
    That’s life on the road
    But just when it seems so bleak
    I arrived at my humble abode.

    So, I was hopin’ to get a rise
    But much to my surprise
    What I found did make me sob
    A subject somewhat macabre.

    So satisfied I must be
    With the intervening three
    The favorite of which
    Is the delicious Sandee..

    So guys, give me a nice clue
    In the middle of night I won’t care
    That my jetlag I can eschew
    By an upcoming Siren so bare.

  6. * to be fair to Lee, in 3 days I saw at least 12 Japanese girls on the street that would easily a calendar make. I came face to face with one as I alit from a train that almost made me drop to my knees and beg.

  7. Just a bit morbid and depressing. Suicide is a silly thing to do. Especially if you have family.

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