'The SDF has a problem': 54 members of Japanese military commit suicide despite less stressful deployments
Fifty-four members of Japan's Self-Defence Forces (SDF) deployed to Iraq or the Indian Ocean as part of international military operations subsequently committed suicide, according to government statistics.
Japan committed 13,000 personnel from its ground, air and maritime forces to the missions between 2001 and 2010, making the suicide rate 245 for every 100,000 individuals.
In comparison, the US armed forces have a suicide rate of 300 per 100,000 over the same 10-year period.
Analysts point out, however, that the US has borne the brunt of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Japanese troops have been limited to rear echelon support and logistics roles.
The Japanese figures were revealed in the House of Representatives on Wednesday during discussions on legislation that will expand the SDF's overseas operations.
Of the 54 suicides, 25 were by naval personnel who were refuelling allied vessels in the Indian Ocean, while 21 were by members of the army and a further eight were by air force personnel carrying out humanitarian work in Iraq.
Japan has a higher rate of suicide than most other countries in the world, although the annual figure has been declining in recent years. According to the National Police Agency, there were 25,374 suicides in 2014, down from a peak of 34,427 suicides in 2003. Nevertheless, many of those suicides were related to school or economic problems, issues that are less of an impact on members of the SDF.
"The SDF has been known to have a problem with suicides for some time, although so does Japanese society as a whole," Garren Mulloy, an associate professor at Daito Bunkyo University, told the South China Morning Post.
"There were spikes in suicides in the US and British armed forces after deployments so this is not completely surprising, but what is surprising is that the nature of the Japanese deployment overseas was not anywhere near the magnitude of the stress levels that can be associated with the American and British troops.
"This tells me that the SDF has a problem," he added.
The Defence Ministry in Tokyo was unable to comment.