In this brief guide, we will discuss Depression in Japanese culture and how the concept of depression is seen in Japan.
Depression in Japanese
The symbol for Depression in the Japanese language is denoted by the character うつ病, which is called Utsubyō.
The concept of Depression in Japanese culture has been present for quite some time, but there has been renewed attention towards this particular subject, as there has been a rise in the incidence of Depression in Japan due to various reasons.
鬱病, a noun, is also a symbol used to denote depression in Japanese and stands for Melancholy or Melancholia, which is a symptom of Depressive disorder.
不況, or Fukyō in Japanese, refers to recession or a slump, and can also mean depression, however this pertains more to the depression in terms of economic conditions of the country.
This is quite important to Japan as Japan has seen some major phases of economic Depression in the past.
憂鬱 is another symbol used to denote depression in Japanese. It’s pronounced as Yūutsu and means melancholy, gloom, blues, dejection, or sorrow.
Up until the 1990s the concept of depression was only expressed in emotional moments in art or the cinema and the enjoyment of the cherry blossoms and their short-lasting beauty and was never heard outside psychiatric circles.
Japanese culture seemed to find ways to live with the state of depression somehow while continuing with their lives as normal, even if they were experiencing sadness.
This was not due to ignorance, however, but more due tot eh fact that it was seen as a combination of physical and psychological conditions, rather than just a mental state that could be changed.
People with classic symptoms of depression might have been told by their doctors they only needed rest.
Due to the efforts of a Japanese Pharmaceutical company trying to market antidepressants, there cam some knowledge about the illness.
Depression was now called “Kokoro no Kaze” meaning a “cold of the soul.”
This is still a manner in which depression is referred to, given how common illness it is, it is often called the “Common cold” of mental illness, as it is just as common as a cold.
It could happen to anyone and could be treated with medication. The number of people diagnosed with a mood disorder in Japan doubled in just four years and the antidepressant market flourished.
Depression in Japanese workplaces
Recently there has been some interest in exploring Depression in Japanese work sectors, due to the pressures that are faced by these workers.
There is a rise in cases of Depression in Japanese employees due to their strong work ethic and high strung lifestyle.
There is a prevalence of something that researchers are calling “modern-type depression” in Japanese workplaces.
What this means is simply that there is a struggle by some Japanese workers to learn how to assert themselves in the social context in which they do not have enough practice.
While this Modern Type of Depression has been noticed everywhere in the world its reach has been noticed particularly in Japan, perhaps due to the respect for authority that is followed in the culture.
The term Modern Type Depression first came to light when the Japanese media latched on it to depict young workers who took time off from work for reasons pertaining to mental-health as immature and lazy.
This is something that can be seen in the world currently as well, the younger generation is often termed lazy and entitled due to the fact that they may have symptoms of Depression.
In the rest of the world, Depression is seen first and foremost as an illness relating to mood, which then causes related problems.
However, Depression in Japan has often been seen as a disorder of fatigue caused by overworking and lack of rest.
The traditional patient suffering from Depression was seen frequently as a “yes man,” which is someone who always agrees to take care of the extra tasks even if it costs him his social life and health.
Takahiro Kato, a professor of Neuropsychiatry, believes, that patients suffering from the Modern Type Depression are in an uncomfortable limbo state.
This may be due to the fact that they may have been trained to be dependent in the situation of their family and social lives and are therefore unclear on how to adapt to a growing company culture where they are expected to be more assertive
They are unable to effectively ask for their due because they have never done so before.
Depression history around the world
Depression has been seen in different ways all around the world.
In the time of Freudian Germany, it was seen through the lens of Psychoanalysis, which suggested that the reason we get depressed is simply that people have views of themselves that tend to change throughout their lives.
Eventually, the original attitudes we had about ourselves have to change for one reason or another, and this conflict within ourselves causes depression.
In even older times, all over the world women suffering from depression would be persecuted as being weak or possessed.
Philosophers in the time of Plato and Socrates believed that Depression arises from an imbalance of “Humors” or chemicals in the body, which is actually a theory that has been retained with a few minor changes.
According to Japanese experts, Depression in Japan was actually something people were quite ignorant about in the past.
Before the 90s, Depression was something only Psychiatrists and researchers talked about.
Other Japanese people were of the opinion that people in Japan were simply not suffering from depression.
They thought very strongly that people just had to find ways to accommodate depressive thoughts and emotions and maintain a normal life despite them, instead of seeking help.
A likely reason for this unhealthy belief might be Japan’s medical tradition, where depression has been regarded as mostly physical rather than a combination of physical and psychological.
Depression in Japanese culture was hardly diagnosed in the past, and treatments included, strangely enough, merely rest or exercise.
Cost of depression in Japanese culture
A study was undertaken in 2008 in Japan to understand the annual national cost of Major Depressive Disorder among adults who were the age of 20 years and older.
They looked at statistics and the costs were considered across various arenas, including medical costs, depression-related self-destruction costs, and workplace costs.
Direct medical costs comprised of both inpatient and outpatient medical costs and workplace costs included both absenteeism and presenteeism costs.
All calculated costs were expressed in terms of the US dollar as it stood in 2008.
The economic burden of depression in Japan was found to be approximately $11 billion, with $1,570 million relating to direct medical costs, $2,542 million to depression-related self-destruction costs, and $6,912 million to workplace costs
The researchers concluded that depression does in fact impose a significant economic burden on Japanese society, which calls for policymakers to allocate resources to formulate strategies that prevent and manage depression in the Japanese population.
How can depression be reduced in Japan?
The first step towards reducing Depression and its related risks in Japan would be to bring about more awareness.
Having seen the history of how Depression in the Japanese population has been treated in the past, it might be beneficial to at least get a conversation about mental illness going, so that it may be taken further.
Another good thing would be to urge the government and researchers to try and create policies and strategies that are specific to getting Japanese people aware and keen about seeking treatment for depression rather than just bearing it.
Increasing the people’s ability to express and communicate would be another major thing to do.
Diet in Japan and its relation to Depression
The relationship between diet and Depression was also studied in Japan between 2014-2015.
The main purpose was to find out if sticking to the Japanese food guide reduced the risk of depression.
Of 12,219 residents enrolled at baseline, they looked at 1,112 participants who completed a 5-year follow-up (1995) and participated in a mental health screening (2014–2015).
Diet quality was scored based on working according to the Japanese food guide and the ratio of white to red meat according to the Alternative Healthy Index and ranged from 0 (worst) to 80 (best).
Out of the eight components on the diet quality score, they discovered a significantly reduced risk for white to red meat usage score.
To conclude, they found that that higher adherence to the Japanese food guide had no effect o the incidence of depression in the Japanese population.
Depression in Japanese culture and who to contact about it
If you want to reach out to someone because you are living in Japan and think you may be experiencing Depression, there are helplines you can contact:
IMHPJ (International Mental Health Professionals Japan): This is a nationwide list and profiles of therapists in Japan who speak English as well.
Tokyo International Psychotherapy: Main Office (Shibuya): www.tiptokyo.com
Futako-Tamagawa Office: www.tip-nikotama.com
British Counselling Kansai (Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto)
There are also online options to explore, like BetterHelp.
In this brief guide, we discussed Depression in Japanese culture and how the concept of depression is seen in Japan. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or comments.
Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ’s): Depression in Japanese
What are the Japanese symbols called?
The 3 different types of Japanese characters or symbols are called Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana.
What is the Japanese symbol for demon?
Oni is the Japanese kanji symbol for Demon.
This symbol has horns and a body of a cow, and tusks and nails of a tiger and Onis wear the leather of a tiger.
What is Utsubyo?
Utsubyo literally means “mood disorder” and it is how depression is referred to in Japanese.
It is, fortunately, an increasingly well-recognized condition in Japan.
In fact, it was seen in a recent NHK documentary that the proportion of the population suffering from the disease may be as high as one in seven people suffering from depression in Japan.
What is the Japanese symbol for life?
The Japanese symbol for Life is called Sei and denoted by the Kanji 生
It means “life or live,” and consists of two parts.
Is Japan in a depression?
Yes, Depression is widespread, and sadly, largely undiagnosed and rarely treated in Japan.
Depression in Japan exacts a heavy economic toll on individuals, families, and on society as a whole, in addition to the obvious social and personal one.
Which country has the highest rate of depression?
According to the World Health Organization, India is the most depressed country in the world, closely followed by China and the USA.
India, China, and the US are also most affected by anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, according to the same reports.
Is Japan the most depressed country?
No, Japan is not the most depressed country, India is.
However, Japan also has a high rate of depression and there are many untreated cases of depression in the Japanese population.
What we recommend for depression
If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.