In the abandoned outskirts of Osaka, there is a lonely tunnel that leads to a small lake with a small bridge. A forsaken and forgotten area, for years it was a convenient place for depressed Japanese people to end their lives in secrecy, without shame. Legend has it that the souls and spirits of these tormented people still linger there, and that living creatures who venture too close can sense the suffering and rage; they are in danger of turning mad from its misery.

This is a legend that Saltah learned from her Japanese boyfriend during her stay in Osaka, Japan. He and a friend had decided to go see the lake for themselves because of the legend. He said that his car engine suddenly stopped working, that his car started to quake, and that his friend completely panicked. When he got back home, he checked the Internet for news of a minor earthquake, but did not find any. Saltah, of course, wanted to check out the lake for herself. Saltah and her boyfriend went in a car packed with a group of friends. She says she is not easily scared, and rarely panics, but crossing the tunnel, she began to feel a chilly “pushing feeling.” They parked by the lake which was dark because “the trees are really tall—and they cover the sky.” Saltah began to feel “hysterical” as she yelled at her boyfriend not to stop the car; she said she yelled “Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s just go!”

When I asked her what she thought this legend meant, it was clear that she believes every word of it. She told me that the spirits of those that committed suicide there were still there, and were probably more miserable because they could not escape the place. If a living person is exposed to this, she said, “their minds are crazy.” She then went on to remind me that the Japanese make so many of the world’s scariest movies—she seemed to be suggesting that there are many unhappy Japanese. “They were isolated for centuries on an island,” she said, and anyone or anything that is isolated for too long can get a little “crazy.”

I think there are a few things we might be able to deduce from this legend. First of all, it is interesting to note that a popular suicide site is a secluded place. It seems to me that this reveals a bit about Japanese attitudes toward suicide and shame. Often, we hear of people committing suicide in famous places, or people trying to jump in front of crowds—off buildings in large cities, off famous bridges, onto subway tracks. In the US, for example, the most popular place for suicide is the Golden Gate Bridge. One might read this as a desperate cry for attention, or ‘cry for help.’ In Japan, then, we see that this element must be largely missing from suicide motives. Far from a public cry for help, suicide in Osaka seems to be something shameful, something to do in secrecy. This is especially interesting in light of Japan’s historical tradition of seppaku and jigai—seppaku was sometimes performed publicly. However, when for the right reasons, suicide used to be considered courageous and honorable. Now that the public opinion has been largely westernized, suicide has become dishonorable, while the Japanese’ strong dislike of shame stays the same: now that suicide is shameful, it is done covertly, and is not used as an attempt to gain attention.

Another thing interesting to note is that this lake is in a rural, deserted place located near a large city. It seems to me that this may be an indication of the extremely urbanized nature of human life in the modern age. The source of terror and panic is not a hazardous highway, or a crowded city—but an isolated lake that lacks people, that lacks artificial lighting. It is surely a sign of the times that people now find reason to fear a place for lacking modern modifications.

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