(Photo: The DeMoss Group)
Depression, chronic anxiety and thoughts of suicide continue to plague the people of Japan – post-tsunami.
Though this month marks the anniversary of Japan's devastating earthquake that struck the nation last March, taking nearly 16,000 lives and injuring more than 25,000 people, there is no need for reminders as residents continue to grapple with the aftermath.
Looking to combat the hopelessness felt by many of the people today, the Japan Campus Crusade for Christ is launching a suicide-prevention campaign, given that March also happens to traditionally be the highest suicide month.
The new initiative will be centered on a tool called "Risk Ride" created using manga magazine style that is popular in Japanese society.
"On top of suffering one of the largest earthquakes in history, Japan struggles with one of the highest suicide rates in the world," said Andy Meeko, staff member of Japan CCC and author of Risk Ride. "'Risk Ride' is a powerful story of faith and redemption that will encourage a path to recovery, purpose and revived hope for survivors to rebuild their lives."
The story, based on a lonely TV producer Meeko had met at a hot spring previously, is about two motorcycle-riding friends "hot rodding" across the Shonan coastline. While one is suicidal and at the end of his rope, the other, filled with hope, seeks to take his friend out on a journey that will change his perspective on life.
"This manga aims to help bring connection, a place to process suffering, and an opportunity for a spiritual birth," he revealed to The Christian Post. "Those are three huge helps to preventing suicide."
Meeko created "Risk Ride" as a manga because many Japanese enjoyed the style.
"Mangas are easy to read, almost irresistibly so," he also shared. "Last week I gave one of my mangas to a 72-year-old man in the tsunami region for his grandchild and he read it himself. I was a little surprised [because] mangas are usually read by Japanese people up to about 40, but someone in their 70's?"
Because people in disasters had limited cognitive function and difficulty focusing, mangas, he believes are the best medium as opposed to books and bit chunks of text.
At the end of the manga, seven questions are presented to the reader, with opportunity for discussion.
"It is this discussion that becomes a point of human connection in a lonely media inundated world and people will share if they have thoughts of ending their life. The discussion also flows into an opportunity to find joy that never ends."
Meeko told CP that the storyline for his manga was not based on the tsunami and earthquake because people were getting tired of the subject of disaster.
"Part of the beauty of the story is that it deals with the same themes of suffering, discouragement, suicidal thoughts and even trauma that people in northern Japan have experienced without even mentioning earthquakes or tsunamis," he noted.
"Talking about it often brings discouragement in itself, but we can address these themes without going there...The different setting and story line will have fresh appeal."
A top Christian manga artist in Japan created the illustrations seen in "Risk Ride." Meeko explained that the artist had lost her five-month-old son to SIDS a week after the earthquake, making it difficult for her to complete the art.
It was a grief-filled process for her, he stated. "I believe her pain makes the art even more authentic and potent."
Currently in Japan, the mental state of people is divided by region: those dominated by the tsunami destruction and those affected by nuclear disaster (as earthquakes caused a number of nuclear accidents), primarily at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex.
"Those in the highest radiation areas are struggling with chronic anxiety and those in the tsunami zones with trauma," Meeko told CP. "Overall,grief has not been processed well in that people have nowhere to open up and grieve."
Signs in Japan are posted throughout the nation that read "ganbaro nippon," which means, "let's hang in there, Japan" – the underlying pressure being "don't shed tears."
With little outlet to open up and depression ongoing within the hearts of the people, thoughts of suicide remain high.
After the tsunami hit last March, the Campus Crusade for Christ reported there was a 63 percent increase in suicides in a country already marked with one of the highest rates in the world.
And the recent quakes in Tokyo and northeastern Japan – the same area where last year's devastating tsunami struck – are not making things any easier, continuing to remind people of the devastation.
"When things shake everything comes back," Meeko said. "Discouragement is big."
Through CCC's new campaign, however, there is a hope that people will begin to open up, share their thoughts of suicide, and be transformed by the Gospel message.
"Creating community is important in staving suicide – people lost their entire hometowns and are displaced without adequate community," Meeko said.
"I believe many lives will be saved as many people are excited to take a risk for the sake of their neighbor. After all it's as simple as reading a comic and having a talk."
Fifty thousand copies of "Risk Ride" have been printed for distribution.
Unlike the stranger-to-stranger distribution style often used in evangelistic campaigns, the "Risk Ride" campaign is teaming up with a network of pastors and Christian leaders throughout the disaster areas of Japan to help spread the comic.
Meeko has trained more than 1,100 workers in soul care for disaster victims and is now in the process of training them to use "Risk Ride" in suicide prevention.
At the end of the magazine, readers are encouraged to view The JESUS Film Project's "My Last Day," a nine-minute Japanese-style anime film depicting the crucifixion of Christ from the perspective of the thief on the cross.
The accompanying website to the film will also contain a clear presentation of the Gospel of Christ with illustrations from the film.
"Any average Christian in Japan can save a life and save a soul and if there was ever a time for it, it is now," Meeko concluded.
"Risk Ride" can be viewed online here.