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Posted by: Kenji Hall on November 05, 2009
The color blue has been thought to have a calming effect on people. But can it prevent suicides? Railway operator JR East is hoping that blue light-emitting-diode, or LED, lamps will help reduce the number of suicides on train tracks. Last month, the company spent $170,000 to put the lamps on the platforms of all 29 stations along the Yamanote line, said East Japan Railway spokesman Koji Takano. Among the dozens of commuter train and subway lines that crisscross Tokyo, the Yamanote, which travels in a loop around the city, is one of the busiest.
Experts say there’s no conclusive evidence that blue lights will do any good. “Train operators are desperate to do anything that will bring down the number of suicides,” said Tsuneo Suzuki, a professor who specializes in color psychology at Keio University in Tokyo. “But there’s no research that proves that blue lights will dissuade people from killing themselves.”
Suicides are a common cause of disruption for Japan’s railway operators. Last year, Japan recorded 32,249 suicides, a 2.6% fall from the previous year, according to National Police Agency statistics. Of the total, close to 2,000 people, or roughly 6%, had killed themselves by jumping in front of a train. Last year’s figures were well below the record high of 34,427 set in 2003. So far this year, amid a recession and unemployment that’s hovering near record highs, suicides appear to be on the rise again, with 24,846 reported through September.
On East Japan Railway’s lines in Tokyo, suicides rose for the third straight year to 68 in the fiscal year through March—18 of them on the Yamanote line—from 58 the previous year. Company spokesman Koji Takano said the decision to use blue LED lights wasn’t based on any researchers’ specific findings.
In recent years, cities and railways operators have experimented with colored lights. In one highly publicized case, authorities in Glasgow, Scotland, put up blue lights in parts of the city, and later pointed to anecdotal evidence that crime had fallen. Last year, Japan’s Keihin Electric Express Railway set up blue lights inside a station in Yokohama, just west of Tokyo. Other train operators have set up blue lights at railroad crossings.
Recently, officials from Tokyo-based private railway company Tokyu recently paid Keio University’s Suzuki a visit to seek his advice about the psychological effect of colored lights. Forget about it, he said, not least because the lights would be switched off during the daylight hours. “I told them that I understood their concerns but that they won’t solve a deeply rooted societal problem like suicide by putting up lights,” he recalled. “If you showed that it was possible, you would probably win the Nobel Prize.”
BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.