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A Japanese suicide prevention organization has joined the chorus of condemnation of YouTube star Logan Paul.
Paul, whose YouTube channel counts some 15 million subscribers, was hit with an avalanche of criticism Monday after he posted a video of a dead body in Japan’s Aokigahara, a forest near Tokyo that’s infamous as a common suicide location.
Paul pulled the video from YouTube on Tuesday and issued an apology on Twitter, writing: “This is a first for me. I’ve never faced criticism like this before, because I’ve never made a mistake like this before.”
Jiro Ito, head of the Tokyo-based youth suicide prevention group Ova, told The Japan Times that Paul’s video “raises serious issues from the point of suicide prevention” and is in clear violation of the World Heath Organization guidelines on how the media should report on the issue.
Like many of the U.S. commentators — “You disgust me,” tweeted Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul, for example — Ito also was disturbed by the way Logan Paul presented suicide within the cavalier and comedic context of his YouTube channel. “It is totally unacceptable to show someone who was driven to suicide as if it’s humorous content,” Ito said.
“I didn’t do it for views. I get views. I did it because I thought I could make a positive ripple on the internet, not cause a monsoon of negativity,” continued Paul’s Twitter apology.
“It is Logan Paul himself, not other members of society, whose level of awareness about suicide prevention should be raised,” Ito’s statement added.
Among industrial nations, Japan has one of the highest suicide rates, with more than 20,000 people taking their own lives each year. Aokigahara, located near the base of Mt. Fuji about 60 miles west of Tokyo, became better known internationally after it served as the setting of Gus Van Sant’s 2015 film The Sea of Trees, starring Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe as two suicidal men who meet in the forest.
Although often criticized for its approach to mental health, the Japanese government has upped its suicide-prevention efforts in recent years. Suicides in Japan have declined since their peak of 34,427 in 2003, with 21,897 individuals taking their own lives in 2016.
The incident is the latest black eye for YouTube, which has faced mounting criticism from advertisers and observers over its moderation of user-generated content. “Our hearts go out to the family of the person featured in the video,” the Google press team said. “YouTube prohibits violent or gory content posted in a shocking, sensational or disrespectful manner.”
Japanese Twitter users and commenters on local news coverage of the incident were fairly unanimous in their disgust.
“He says he wanted to raise positive awareness to prevent suicide,” wrote Koji Emakura on Japanese news-sharing site News Picks. “Such a pathetic postscript excuse — does anyone believe that?”
Added Shinichiro Maruyama, an employee at a Tokyo trading company: “The level of consciousness involved in content creation has lowered or disappeared in the era of the internet — and the idiots are increasing.”
It’s not only Paul’s video in the suicide forest that has inspired backlash in Japan. The other segments he shot during his recent trip to Tokyo appear to have caused some offense with his hosts.
Throughout the videos Paul is often seen raising a ruckus on the streets of Tokyo and accosting ordinary Japanese people as they try to go about their day. Given the way Japanese culture prizes social harmony and extreme courtesy towards strangers, most Japanese viewers seem to have found Paul’s behavior either culturally insensitive or deliberately, even aggressively, disrespectful.
Many of the Japanese comments below the video titled “We Fought in the Middle of Tokyo!,” for example, are direct statements asking him never to return to Japan.
In one sequence Paul buys a sushi-grade octopus and large fish at Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji fish market and then carries them by the tails, waving them in the faces of passersby in the city’s downtown district of Shibuya. (Reads the current second-most-liked comment in Japanese, written by a user named Yuki: “You love Japan? Well, the Japanese hate you.”)
“It’s because Japanese people today are gentle and non-violent that you can do this freely in Japan,” wrote a commenter named Junpei. “I would like to see you try this in New York next time, or maybe take a new vacation to Syria. But please don’t come back to Japan.”
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