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Act or Disease?: The Making of Modern Suicide in Early Twentieth-century Japan

From: The Journal of Japanese Studies
Volume 39, Number 2, Summer 2013
pp. 325-358 | 10.1353/jjs.2013.0046



This article explores the process by which suicide was conceptualized in prewar Japan. First, it examines how psychiatry established primacy over sociology and psychology in order to label suicide as mental illness. Second, it investigates how, with the rise of a totalitarian regime, sociocultural elements were incorporated into the psychiatric discourse in order to reconcile the idea of suicide as pathology with the cult of voluntary death that was engulfing the nation. I argue that, to maintain their authority, psychiatrists conceptualized suicide less as a disease and more as a historical act, to the detriment of the theoretical coherence of their discipline.

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