This is a cabinet that pretty much every country could do with. In 2018, UK was the first country to come up with a Minister for Loneliness, a position held by Tracey Couch who was charged with bringing a meaningful change to the sad reality of modern life.
Now Japan has followed in the footsteps, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga adding a minister of loneliness to his cabinet earlier this month. Minister Tetsushi Sakamoto has been charged with the relatively but equally challenging role. He has been appointed after a spike in the country's suicide rates for the first time in 11 years. The situation further worsened due to the Covid pandemic.
Apart from the prevention and reduction of suicide rates in the country, Sakamoto has also been assigned with additional responsibility of combating Japan's falling birth rate and revitalising regional economies.
The minister for a new role
Before he became known to the world as the minister of loneliness and isolation tasked with the prevention of suicides in Japan, Tetsushi Sakamoto of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, held various positions in internal affairs, public management and home affairs. He was elected to the House of Representatives for the first time in 2003.
Japan's alarming suicide rates
Apart from the rampant loss of lives, the Pandemic has severely affected even those who survived it. From mental illnesses to depression to substance abuse, every social evil raised its ugly head like never before, during the pandemic. Japan's suicide numbers have been disturbing enough to call for urgent action. Most importantly, while male suicides fell slightly, it is the women among whom suicide rates surged by 15 per cent. A hike big enough to make up for the slight fall among male suicides and take the suicide rates up for the first time in 11 years.
It has been widely discussed after a very famous and popular Japanese actress Yuko Takeuchi took her own life last September at the age of 40. It led to at least 200 suicides soon after the tragic incident. Every time the news of a celebrity ending his or her life is reported, Japan sees a surge in suicide rates for the next ten days, making it a typical phenomenon.
Suicide claimed more lives than Covid in Japan
In Japan, as per the government statistics, suicide claimed more lives in October 2020 than the total Covid toll in the year. The monthly count of suicides rose to 2,513 in October as per the data made available by Japan's National Police Agency. By November end last year, Japan's total Covid count stood at somewhere around 2,087.
In his inaugural press conference Sakamoto said that he has been asked to address national matters including the issue of increasing suicide rate among women. In an interview to CNN, he said, "Suga instructed me to examine the issue and put forward a comprehensive strategy, by co-ordinating with the related ministry...I hope to carry out activities to prevent social loneliness and isolation and to protect ties between people."