A 37-year-old Yale Professor is suggesting mass suicide for old people in Japan.

Feels like there's a lot of steps they could take before that one.

Natalie Teo |
February 17, 2023, 10:00 am

We’re not starting a cult but some followers on Instagram would be nice. Thank you.

An Economics professor has come under fire for suggesting mass suicide for the elderly to tackle Japan’s ageing population problem.

In an online news programme on the channel ABEMA Prime, Yusuke Narita, an Assistant Professor at Yale University, said: “I feel like the only solution is pretty clear. In the end, isn’t it mass suicide and mass ‘seppuku’ of the elderly?”

What is seppuku?

For context, seppuku, which may be more popularly known as hara-kiri, is a form of ritual suicide originating from the samurai —Japan’s ancient warrior class.

It involves stabbing oneself in the belly, slicing open the stomach and then turning the blade upwards to ensure a fatal wound.

Warriors performed the ritual following battlefield defeats as a means to avoid capture, but this later evolved into a form of capital punishment for samurai who had committed crimes.

Suggesting geronticide is probably as extreme a position as anyone could take, but twitter user T.Katsumi (@tkatsumi06j) explained why Yusuke’s comments were particularly problematic.

Additionally, they suggested that making those comments on a channel popular with younger viewers may add to an already worrying trend of elderly being killed while in home care.

Statement apparently a metaphor

In an interview with the The New York Times, Yusuke said that his comments had been “taken out of context”.

He said that he was referring to a growing effort to push the most senior people out of leadership positions to make way for the younger generations.

However, viewers have found evidence that Yusuke may have meant his words quite literally:

Japan’s entrenched age hierarchy

Japanese society is known to have a rigid age-based hierarchy, and its workplaces are no exception.

In a labour market based on lifetime employment, the Japanese have one of the longest lengths of service with the same employer in the world.

Image via OECD Library

These factors combined mean that the most senior positions in companies are occupied by older people, which has led to frustration among younger workers.

“Even if you don’t have a lot of abilities, there are people who have been at the company for 10 or 20 or 30 years who are in very senior positions, and with these people in power, there is a tendency when they say something that everyone else in the room just shuts up and feels they can’t say something,” said Ryutaro Yoshioka, 27, in an article by The New York Times.

In a survey of 300 Japanese workers aged 20 -39 by consulting firm Shikigaku, 49.2% said that they had an “old guy who doesn’t work” in their companies.

When asked why, 41% of these respondents said that it was because their company increases salary based on seniority rather than performance.

This sentiment seems to be supported by data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which found that Japanese workers enjoy one of the highest wage premiums in the world for job loyalty.

Image via OECD Library

Gender roles and ageing population

Japan’s ageing population woes have also been well-documented.

The situation is unlikely to change anytime soon, as women in Japan become increasingly reluctant to marry and have children.

While there have been more economic opportunities for women in the workplace, expectations of them to take on housework and childcare continue to persist.

This combination of factors make it difficult for women to balance work and family life, with many choosing to shun marriage instead.

The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in Japan estimates that the age dependency ratio will hit 60% (three aged dependents for every five workers) by 2036, and nearly 80% by 2060.

Sparked public outrage

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Yusuke’s comments have sparked a public outrage.

TikTok user Keegan M (@call_me_keegs) posted a video in which he said: “I’m really starting to suspect that maybe an economist anywhere, is a threat to human rights everywhere.”

@call_me_keegs consider: immigration? #greenscreen #leftist #economics #politics #ivyleague #university ♬ Elevator Music – Bohoman

Some have turned their criticism toward his employer, Yale.

Others are questioning why Yusuke is still allowed to make public appearances on Japanese TV.

This user is probably right:


If you or someone you know are in mental distress, here are some hotlines you can call to seek help, advice, or just a listening ear:

  • SOS 24-hour Hotline: 1-767
  • Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
  • Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
  • Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 (for primary school-aged children)

Top image via Cyber Agent Capital, DLKR/Unsplash and @karmamum1/Twitter

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