Friday night is suicide night and we’ve been coming the last five weeks. My buddy and I took the mountain rail and now wait on two people to fall into the pit. We’ve brought lawn chairs. We’ve paid 4000 Yen for six visits. So far twelve people have plunged into the hole, wide as two football fields, so deep you can’t see the bottom. It is, officially, an abyss with a slight orangish glow you can only see with the strongest binoculars. That, the shihainin tells us, is the magma. Since 1933, the magma of Mt. Mihara has consumed over six thousand bodies. We are here to watch two more.
We’re not alone. Every Friday around two dozen others bring their chairs and blankets. We all wait on a smooth flat rock about twenty meters wide. You would think it’s a picnic. On the other side of the pit is a red tent where the Savior waits behind her table. Eric calls her that—The Savior. She will be the last person they talk to, these suicides. She will try and tell them that their lives are worth something, that things aren’t as bad as they seem, that they need to hold on and survive.
The Savior is an old lady a shade under five feet with a hunched back and sparkling silver hair. Each week she’s worn the same clothes: gray shirt and vest, black pants, and blue Converse All-Star shoes. Her success rate, by Eric’s count, is 8 in 20. “Eight lives,” he says. “All owed to her. Some of them will probably have kids, too.”
We heard about suicide night from a man advertising the event at the bottom of the mountain. He handed me a flyer and walked two fingers off the edge of his palm, hoping us gaijin would understand. We didn’t, but were curious enough to show the flyer to a co-worker fluent in Japanese. He offered a warning. “I haven’t done it,” he said, “but the people that go… they get addicted. If you’re not careful, you will too.”
Eric and I are both stuck in similar positions of depression. Our combined debt is over 81,000 dollars, our old girlfriends back home have moved on. The only real skill we have is our ability to speak English to people starving to understand the language, so they can have the chance to leave this island and start their own canyon of debt elsewhere. Nearing thirty, we have come to a humbling realization: We are, in every sense of the word, ordinary.
So we left our air-conditioned apartment full of video games and knockoff DVDs and have become regulars up here. The first Friday brought one man, middle thirties, still dressed in a dark blue suit and loosened tie. He talked to the Savior for twenty minutes, then shook his hands violently and kicked his metal chair. He ran to the edge and we stood with the crowd and moved in close. He jumped in feet first, arms flailing. He fell for over seven seconds, until he vanished into the murk. His disappearance activated something inside me that still, to this day, I cannot fully explain. Every part of my body felt electrically charged. This was no stunt. We had witnessed a man’s final moments. Never had I seen anyone’s final moment, at least not in reality.
For days we didn’t talk about it, but it was on our minds. We quit video games. Killing cyber-zombies, shooting at digitized cops, felt more meaningless than it ever had before. Watching DVDs changed too. My favorite movie, about the mafia, seemed ridiculous now. Food tasted differently. I thought about what I was eating, how I was eating, why I was eating.
“What do you think finally did it?” Eric asked, days after.
“Maybe it wasn’t just one thing.”
Eric nodded. “I guess it’s never just one thing, is it?”
The next Friday brought two young women who held hands and wore blue and white high school outfits. It happened quickly this time. The Savior grabbed their arms and begged them not to do it. She held on strong enough that the girls pulled her over the table as they left. She fell into one of the metal chairs and they looked back and bowed, then peeked into the pit and let their bodies fall. They held each other as they fell and a sharp staccato shriek came out of one of them. Their bodies struck against a jagged rock and their bond was broken. I remember looking around at everyone else, faces blank as mine must have been. I have never seen someone cry on Mihara. If you were here you’d understand—this isn’t about crying. This is about something else.
The third Friday brought a group of six people, three women and three men. Eric used a pair of binoculars he’d bought from a pawn shop a block away from our conversation school. He watched them talking in the tent and assumed that they were couples, maybe married to each other. Young, good-looking, all of them in their twenties. The men had on shorts and sandals, the women sweatpants and tank tops. The Savior spoke to them for an hour. Two of the women broke down and were held, and eventually everyone went back down the mountain. The crowd whispered many things and then we left too.
Disappointment is not the right word for what I felt then. It wasn’t emptiness either. Desolation, maybe; as if the whole experience had opened inside me something so large I couldn’t begin to feel it. They had found a reason to live, and now my mind kept searching for reasons to die. Psychologists have written about compensatory energy, how our moods operate like a battery, how the excitement of another can cause negativity in you without knowing. They blame compensatory energy for a lot of things. For divorce mostly, and suicide—when everyone around is telling you, so positively, to cheer up, be happy, to let love back in your heart! When all you want to do is find someone on your level, someone who can feel to their very core the poison coursing through your thoughts. Someone with their own poison.
The next Friday three women had their last conversation with Savior. Two of the women sat Indian-style while the other walked close to the edge. Groups typically go in together or not at all, and I was about to tell Eric the Savior had done her job again when she slipped and bounced into the pit, her body spiraling into the darkness. The quick scream she gave, the way her body twisted in the air, caused me to vomit. Two others, too. They call this act jisatsu sats-jin, or a suicidal murder, and it rarely happens.
We reached the apartment and our white, formless couch.
“What did you think?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you feel something?”
“Yeah, but feel what?”
“Like she was supposed to go in, whether she wanted to or not.”
We had water on the stove and it had just started boiling.
“It was an accident.”
We ate pasta from the 100-Yen store and washed the pot and bowls. We watched people talking on TV and later, I caught Eric staring at himself in the bathroom mirror.
“I’m addicted,” he said.
“I know,” I said. “I know.”
We threw out our zombie game and most of our DVDs. We sold the Playstation to our neighbor for 10,000 Yen. “That’s fourteen more visits,” Eric said. I stopped drinking alcohol. It made me feel good, and I didn’t want to feel good, I wanted only to breathe, to appreciate the simple act of living and all the little efforts inside it. I started giving my English lessons with passion, and the students thanked me. “Your eyes change,” they said. “Bigger.” I was not about to tell them what caused it.
Last week a middle-aged man in his forties came to the Savior wearing day-glo orange running shorts and a blue tank-top. It was raining, but the man didn’t care and neither did we. He had climbed (as all possible suicides are made to climb, the rail only for spectators) barefoot up the mountain and talked to the Savior for just five minutes. He turned around and cursed us all for being here. At least I think he did. I heard the words haji o shire, or ‘shame on you’, and he pointed at us with fury, spitting in our direction and throwing rocks. He crossed his arms over his chest and hopped into the pit. It was almost comical, seeing him disappear after spewing so much venom.
Which brings us to today. I have been writing in this notebook as we wait for two businessmen to discuss their problems with the Savior. I’ve been obsessed with wondering what she says to them. Does she offer them religion? Some ancient wisdom? Or does she only listen? I can imagine her delivering one sentence: “Tell me your story…from the beginning.” And they will tell her how they have come to such a decision, tell her of the inescapable darkness, how each second of their lives is now spent thinking about death. They are finished, they’ll say. And she will nod and tell them that, yes, she feels that way too, that no matter how hard she tries or how many people she speaks to, she feels herself dying every day. Yet it’s always my voice inside of her, saying how badly she wants to help people but can’t help herself, and what, then, is the point in giving advice when she needs it too?
The two businessmen are sitting in metal chairs, each using their hands to emphasize something, as if they are pleading to keep their job but you know it’s the exact opposite. They are spilling out whatever they can to show her that they are reasonably and emotionally dead. One man keeps talking, while the other walks with his head bowed to the edge of the cliff. He loosens his tie and takes off his sports coat and his white-collared shirt. From the coat he takes a small knife, what looks like a kitchen knife, and I swear for a moment he looks directly at me, at Eric and the rest of the crowd as he brings it above his head and with two hands plunges the blade into the center of his stomach. We hear his groan as his body, half-dead, gently falls into the pit, where he caroms off the side and drops swiftly into the black.
The other man looks over the edge and walks back down the mountain.
The Savior did the best she could.
I am doing the best I can.