It’s easy to idealise a certain country or people, as I frequently do with the Japanese. But let’s take a look at the hard facts, according to the various country “top lists” available on Wikipedia. In this post I’ll focus on life and death matters.
I’ve compared Japan with Sweden (since I’m Swedish), Germany (since that’s where I live) and the US (just to get some perspectives on how diverse “the West” apparently is). Here we go:
I consider life expectancy the most basic and most comprehensible way to measure a country’s success. With a life expectancy of 82,6 years, Japan is number 1 in the world. Sweden is number 9 with 80,9 years. Germany and the US come in at place 20 and 36:
Just like life expectancy, the murder rate is easy to measure and compare between countries. (Crimes like rape and abuse might be defined differently in different countries, but a murder is always a murder.) Japan is famous for its low homicide rate of only 0,46 murders per 100 000 inhabitants and year.
This again makes Japan the world winner, because you can’t really count countries like Monaco and Iceland, the only two countries that score higher. (With a population of only 36 000, Monaco’s most recent murder rate is 0,00. Down from 3,1 in 2006. The statistics fail with such small populations. Likewise, Iceland’s most recent score is 0,31 – but only in year 2000 it was 1,79. Iceland has 318 000 inhabitants.)
USA’s score of 5,0 murders per 100 000 inhabitants per year is 10 times higher than Japan’s. And 5 times higher than Europe’s average. I knew there were many murders in the US, but I didn’t know there were that many.
These results make me proud as a Swede. With only 2,9 traffic deaths per 100 000 inhabitants we’re the world number 1, because counting states with under 100 000 inhabitants is just ridiculous. (The world number 1, Marshall Islands, scores 1,7 and has a population of 68 000 people.) But Japan is close to Sweden with 3,85. Germany is not bad either, considering its car culture. As with murders, USA scores spectacularly bad.
4. Suicide rate
When I rant about how good Japan is, people always tell me: “But isn’t there an awful lot of suicides in Japan?” Well, here’s the answer: There is! Even though Japan, as the world number 7 in most suicidal nation, is far from South Korea (31,2 suicides per 100 000 inhabitants per year) and the “winner” Lithuania (34,1).
My spontaneous reflection: I think that suicides reflect the Japanese honour culture. There are plenty of suicides in early Japanese literature (Saikaku for example), and Japan’s probably most famous author Yukio Mishima killed himself through seppuku (harakiri) in 1970 after a failed coup attempt. I can think of more charming cultural traits than this suicide-fetish, but at least it’s better to kill yourself than to kill others. There is also a beauty in the black-and-white pureness of the act, reminding of the perfection of the tea ceremony, but that’s another post.
What, Japan loses again? Well, I’m not surprised. Cigarette vending machines are ubiquitous in Japan, and you can smoke in most restaurants and cafés. It’s a mystery why Japan’s high cigarette consumption is not mirrored in its life expectancy. Maybe tobacco isn’t so bad for you after all? And like with the suicides: Cigarettes might be unhealthy, but at least they only kill yourself.
6. Birth rate
This is where the US gets back the population it lost in traffic accidents and murders. Sweden scores surprisingly well, which is probably due to the world’s most heavily subsidised parental leave. I worry about Japan though.
Does anyone feel tempted to draw any conclusions from these statistics?