Sunday, July 4, 2010

THE JAPANESE LESBIAN VOLCANO SUICIDES



When 19 year old Japanese student Kiyoko Matsumoto committed suicide by throwing herself into an active volcano in 1933, she could not have foreseen the fad that would follow. Over the next two years hundreds of other young Japanese followed her example, the final tally of deaths being well over three hundred.
In 1935 a journalist for Time magazine reported that Kiyoko Matsumoto had been a sensitive young woman who had been attending a college for girls in Tokyo. When she had confided in her school friend Masako Timoto that she was “bewildered to distraction by the perplexities of maturing womanhood”, her friend suggested she throw herself into a volcano. She escorted Kiyoko to the island of Oshima, some three hours steamer ride from the capital where, having written a final note, Kiyoko duly cast herself down into the molten volcanic cone of Mihara-yama.
The story became a sensation in the Japanese press, and Matsumoto and Timoto instant national identities, and a wave of copy-cat suicides began. The death-toll mounted quickly, and marooned in the eye of a press storm at the tragedy, Masako Timoto quietly died.
Her passing did nothing to stem the deaths, however, and by 1935 Mihara-yama had swallowed up 350 suicides, young males as well as females, and had seen more than 1380 attempts. The section of the volcano lip where people leapt became known as Suicide Point, and steamers did a lively trade ferrying day-trippers out from Tokyo to watch, some of whom it seemed suddenly found themselves unaccountably unable to resist the urge, and themselves jumped.
Part of the problem became identified with what the Japanese called “lesbian suicide”, involving girls who did not know how to deal with lesbian feelings. One group which worked to prevent such deaths said it had saved more than 2,500 girls from “lesbian suicide” by innovations such as houses where they were asked to pause and take stock, dubbed Wait-A-Bits. 


From my book "Dead Famous: Deaths of the Famous and Famous Deaths".




13 comments:

  1. Good Lord!

    that is so bizarre, especially the voyeurism, which borders on criminal neglect.

    m

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  2. Fascinating story. Sounds a horrific way to die, being swallowed up by molten lava. But the Japanese don't seem to have the same fear of death as we Westerners. Can't see our Defence generals persuading young pilots to be kamikazis and fly their planes into ships.

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  3. Seems like a great way to handle problems with your sexual identity.

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  4. Yes, Rae, her friend really had her best interests at heart. Just what you need when you are soul-searching, a friend who says "I know, why not just throw yourself down into a volcano! That'll fix everything!" Thanks too Maranne and mollymalone.

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  5. What a fascinating story - The Japanese Volcano Suicide was! Your source is very rich and I have no idea even if I'm Japanese!

    Gay people dominate TV programs in Japan, but not lesbians...Very interesting.

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  6. Wow, in Australia, lesbians become famous poets - a much better way to find your inner self. Of course, that was a crass comment on a tragic matter, and I also realise 'Australian lesbians' covers a very wide range of lifestyles, occupations and so on. Ignore my comment or delete it if you wish - I'm a straight poet, and very accustomed to being ignored.

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    ReplyDelete
  9. What an extraordinary and fascinating tale. I suppose it was a sign of the times in a way. 1930s Imperial Japan was probably not the most liberal minded of society's, and the extremes these girls went to is in some ways not surprising when you think about some of the bizarre aspects of modern Japanese society.

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  10. I am stunned to believe about this truth. In most cases, however, the psychological effects around a person's surroundings pose a vital role in one's future. That's why I tend to consult with my Christian circles to somehow assure me that everything will be alright and it's not the end of the world yet!

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