There have been many comparisons made between Japanese and Korean cultures. One such comparison is the how changes, pressures, and social stigmas of modern life has effected the two, and who are more prone to commit suicide due to the aforementioned factors. In recent years, several top Korean entertainers have committed suicide when it seemed like they had everything to live for. Money, fame, family, friends. Yet, they still felt like they needed to end it all and checked out at young ages. I wrote this piece on that Korean “cultural phenomenon” back in October of 2008 and have updated it several times since, every time another Korean female celeb has taken her own life.
In the almost four years since I wrote that entry, 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 on 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 February, 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 initial search for Japanese female celeb suicides in recent decades, I came up with six names. However, I later found out that one lady, whose cause of death was reported by most sources as heart attack, was actually a suicide, so that made the count seven. 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, and with over 400 television appearances to her credit.
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 her apartment 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 building afterwards. Wanting the story, they sure got it and a lot more, when they witnessed Yukiko jump from the window 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.
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 to her death from 11 years earlier.
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.
Initial research found that the July 11, 2006 death of singer and actress Chiemi Kai was due to a heart attack. However, some information from a reader and a little more digging revealed that she had actually hanged herself and was found by her son, who tried to save her life (whether by trying to resuscitate her or calling for help, is unclear), but she soon after had a fatal heart attack. She was 43.
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.
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.
The suicide of actress Sumako Matsui, who hanged herself in 1919 at the age of 32, is being included here mainly as a historical footnote. Born Masako Kobayashi and twice briefly married, she moved to Tokyo at 17 and in 1909 joined a newly founded theater group. She rose to fame for her portrayal of Nora in the 1911 Japanese stage production of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play, A Doll’s House (also translated as A Doll House). She was later a member of the dramatic workshop of the Bungei Kyokai (Association of Literary Arts) before being expelled due to a love affair she had with Hogetsu Shimamura, who was one of the most prominent directors and playwrights of shingeki (“new drama”) theater. When Shimamura died of the Spanish flu in November 1918, Miss Matsui took her own life two months later. Contrary to her wishes to be buried next to her lover Shimamura, she was laid to rest at her family plot in her hometown. The 1947 Japanese film, The Love of Sumako the Actress, was based on her life story.
Author’s Addendum: The following are Japanese female celebrities who have committed suicide since this article was published. Click on their names for details:
- 8/22/2013 – Singer and actress Keiko Fuji (Junko Abe), 62. Jumped from her apartment window
- 5/23/2020 – Professional Wrestler Hana Kimura, 22. Ingested hydrogen sulfide
- 9/14/2020 – Actress Sei Ashina, 36. Manner of suicide not made public.
- 9/27/2020 – Actress Yuko Takeuchi, 40. Manner of suicide not made public.
About the author
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris flirted with the music business there and in Nashville before joining the U.S. Army and serving in South Korea. He remained in Asia for several years afterwards, teaching English, traveling, and covering the regional entertainment scenes. Currently in a mindset between Seoul and San Francisco, besides Idol Features, you can also catch his writings in the print edition of the monthly magazine, Effective.
Miyu Uehara: She was a really great and beautiful girl. The world is grieving for the loss of a gorgeous lady.
A very famous early 80s idol named Chiemi Kai hung herself. Also a minor idol (and wife of Ken "Matsuken" Matsudaira) Yuri Matsumoto committed suicide by hanging in 2010 shortly after the death of a parent she had been nursing leaving behind a five year old child. Ken felt tremendous guilt for working on the stage and traveling while Yuri was taking care of the sick parent and their child too, and due to this guilt he went into retirement.
There are quite a few non-idol music industry suicides in Japan as well. Given that suicide is fairly common in Japan, I would say it's not something unusual in the idol genre.
Yes Anon, while doing my research, I did find out about Chiemi, but the seemingly more credible sources stated she died from a heart attack, which is why I originally didn’t include her here. However, I recently read that her cause of death was listed as a heart attack because her son had found her body hanging, took her down and tried to save her life (whether by trying to resuscitate her or calling for help), but she soon after had a fatal heart attack.
You seem to have the inside story surrounding her death, so if you have a link to a news article on it (either English or Japanese), please post it.
I think if it concerns celebrities, they commit suicide out of pride because they loose their status and become normal and for the wealthy it’s unbearable, it’s impossible to help them and perhaps all of them deserve to die if they value their life so little. Rich are always arrogant and proud, they’re money whores that obey the corrupt system, therefore it’s very unlikely they’ll accept help, even from their fans. Sadly, even if the fans love an idol an idol only see her or his fans as payees and people who pay to be in the audience. That doesn’t build any kind of relation and therefore its useless… it might be sad for the fans that have all their hopes dashed than again they have these even if they’re celebs are alive as basically there’s no way to have an intimate relationship with a celebrity. It has never been practiced in our world anyways … that’s a caste segregation. The rich are with the rich and poor are with the poor. I don’t see anyway it could change so they deserve to die.
There’s an old saying if you’re not with us than you’re against us and having to choose between billion children dying of hunger and a louse celebrity idol committing suicide on a whim I choose the celebrity death if it’s all the same, the hungry children given a chance could do much good for the society, while the wealthy and celebrities are in fact a parasite, do we care about them, of course no, do we think we can use them and get used ourselves, yes we do many times. The system is very protective of its whores and if it doesn’t need them than they simply die. The system is a structure that doesn’t take chances either you follow order or die this is the true face of Capitalism and Global economy and this the prize these girls paid for selling themselves to the system
You are assuming that being numerous & hungry and poor is infinitely more NOBEL that being pampered and rich and parasitic? Today I killed a brood of cockroaches and I’m not crying over it. I’m anti-humanity. Humanity has currently killed off 60% of all species on this planet. It is projected that there won’t be a single fish in the Oceans by 2040 and by 2060 all forests, all animals (above the size of cockroaches & flies) will have been eradicated. RE: NewFoundland Fish Collaspe 1991, etc. To exit this world on your own terms is the thing only the GODS are permitted to do. These women left the world at the height of their beauty and intellectual powers. Think Marilyn Monroe vs. Betty Page or Elizabeth Taylor. Me? I am destined to die senile, fighting for my last breath, in a urine soaked mess because I am too much a coward to ‘Leave the Party early’!!