National

‘Pokemon Go’ players deter suicides in Fukui

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

Another unintentional side effect of “Pokemon Go” fever has emerged — and it’s not in the form of traffic violations or accidents.

Instead, the smartphone app is playing a positive role at one of the nation’s notorious suicide spots, discouraging people from killing themselves.

The atmosphere at Tojinbo, the towering rocky cliffs overlooking the Sea of Japan in Sakai, Fukui Prefecture, has “changed drastically” since “Pokemon Go” was released in July, said Yukio Shige, who heads a nonprofit organization which works to prevent suicides.

“The area around Tojinbo had been very dark and eerie after 5 p.m. after all the tourists leave,” Shige told The Japan Times on Friday. “But since ‘Pokemon Go’ was released, the area has been bustling, even late at night.”

Tojinbo, popular among tourists seeking out a scenic landscape, is also known for more grim reasons. In the last decade, over 150 people have ended their lives there, according to Shige.

Shige, a 72-year-old former police officer who has patrolled the site and talked people out of jumping for 12 years, said he believed the number of suicides has decreased since a number of sites were designated as “Pokestops,” therefore attracting players.

He said the effect of “Pokemon Go” is noticeable in that he did not encounter any suicidal visitors in August. Although he spotted seven such people in September, one of them told him the atmosphere “was not quite right for committing suicide,” he said.

“People who contemplate suicide tend to go to quiet places before finalizing their decision. But now such places attract ‘Pokemon Go’ players,” Shige said.

Before “Pokemon Go” was released, about 80 percent of visitors to Tojinbo came from outside the prefecture. But now, the area is consistently crowded with locals — from high school students to middle-aged couples, he said.

To accelerate the effect, Shige hopes the game will implement a system to encourage face-to-face interaction among players.

He also suggested holding a “Pokemon Go” event at Tojinbo and other suicide hot spots, such as Aokigahara Jukai forest at the base of Mount Fuji, to draw more people and in turn deter others from going there to end their lives.