On May 22, 1903, Misao Fujimura, philosophy student, left for Nikko National Park for a weekend. That same afternoon he visited the beautiful Kegon Falls (華厳滝) near Lake Chuzenji. At the top of the waterfall he carved a farewell poem in a tree. Once finished, he put his money where his mouth is. He jumped down 100 meters and died on the spot. Misao Fujimura passed away at the age of 16. His suicide was big news in the Japanese newspapers. And in the period after his death another 200 people committed suicide.
Today, the Kegon Falls are one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. During a visit to Nikko National Park, this is a real highlight of your trip. But at the time of seeing that beautiful waterfall only one question remains. Why did Misao Fujimura commit suicide on 22 May 1903 and why did another 200 people decide to follow his path?
Tip: A two-day bus ticket costs 3000 yen, a single ticket Nikko to Chuzenji Onsen costs 1150 yen. Depending on how much time you have, a bus ticket for 2 days is relatively cheap. Check this website for more information: http://www.tobu-bus.com/en/nikko/
Love grief ends at the Kegon Falls
Misao Fujimura was born on 20 July 1886 in Hokkaido, in the north of Japan. His father was a former samurai and works as director of the predecessor of the Hokkaido Bank. At a young age he graduated from high school in Sapporo. And then it was time to study philosophy in Tokyo.
Source photo on the left: Japanese book “ASAHI CHRONICLE: the 20th century Vol.1” published by Asahi Shimbun Company, 1903
Source photo right: Japanese book “Pictorial History of Modern Japan Vol.6” published by Sanseido, 1903.
During his studies he met the beautiful young lady Tamiko. Fujimura was in love with her, but she didn’t like him. He was very disappointed and decided to go to Nikko National Park for a weekend. On the first afternoon, at the Kegon Falls, he put an end to his early life by jumping down from 100 metre height. Misao Fujimura could not cope with his lovesickness. He was finally buried at the Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo.
Misao Fujimara, part of his farewell poem:¹Despair and depression,
together they grow.
Hope shall meet hopeless
when there’s nowhere to go.
Media attention and more suicides
The suicide of Misao Fujimara received a lot of publicity in newspapers and magazines. In 1903 another 16 people jumped down from the same spot. And in the years that followed, that number increased to 200 people. The question was why so many people followed Fujimara. Several Japanese scholars pointed to the big changes that were going on in their country.
In 1868 the power of the Tokugawa family was handed over to the emperor. In a period of barely 20 years, Japan changed from an agricultural society to an industrialized society.
I have talked about these changes before in one of my articles. But to understand the many suicides, I will discuss these changes again shortly.
Reading tip: Would you like to read more about Emperor Meiji and the modernisation process? Then read the article: Meiji Shrine: what Emperor Meiji meant for Japan.
The modernisation process
One of the most important changes of Emperor Meiji was the opening of the borders to foreign powers. This brought Japan into contact with Western influences, ideas and technologies. Japan was impressed by Europe and the United States and was also looking for growing prosperity and power.
Emperor Meiji made a number of changes. He installed a centralized bureaucratic government, a constitution was designed and an elected parliament was established. Furthermore, the samurai were abolished and a modern, strong army was created. A good transport and communication system was built up and a highly educated population emerged.
In 1912, when Emperor Meiji died, Japan was one of the most developed countries in the world. But this modernisation also had its downsides…
But isn’t Japan also the country where most suicides are committed today? Well, that’s not true. Officially, Japan isn’t even in the top 10. But it does have a tradition that was called seppuku in the time of the samurai.
A samurai committed seppuku to avoid shame, for example a defeat. This way of suicide was considered honorable. A samurai cut his belly open to end his life with a stab in the heart. Seppuku is also called harakiri today.
Fact: Aokigahara, a forest at the foot of Mount Fuji is also called the suicide forest. Everywhere there are signs to discourage suicidal people from killing themselves.
The beautiful Kegon Falls
Well, an interesting story till now, but I come here to visit the Kegon Falls. At the entrance I buy a ticket and then have to wait for an elevator. Me, almost two meters long, standing in this elevator with 20 Japanese schoolchildren and 2 supervisors. Can you imagine who will receive the most attention? As soon as I am down, I walk through a long corridor to the ‘watchtower’. And then you can enjoy the Kegon Falls to the fullest…
Still we don’t know the downsides of the Japanese modernisation. A famous Japanese writer who wrote about these disadvantages was Natsume Soseki (1867-1916). In his books he mainly exposed the social problems that had arisen as a result of modernization.
Soseki and individualism
In 1900 Soseki left England for 2 years. During his stay in England he developed a theory about Japanese tradition with a Western vision. He was an enthusiast of Western individualism. Each individual is unique in its kind, irreplaceable and of value to society.
But according to Soseki, social life changed so rapidly that everyone was ‘forced’ to make a contribution in the interest of the state / emperor. Not the individual, but collectivism was important. In 1906 Soseki wrote the book Kusamakura. In chapter 12 he wrote a piece about Fujimara.
Soseki concluded that Fujimara’s suicide was an act of his own free will and was committed because modernity demanded impossible expectations from him. And apparently not everyone was able to handle this situation. Even today, work pressure is seen as one of the main reasons for committing suicide.
Tip: Combine the Kegon Falls with a visit to Lake Chuzenji. It’s only a 5 minutes walk. You can rent a boat, have a nice walk, relax and have some nice dinner here.
Plan a visit to the Kegon Falls in Nikko National Park?
How do I get there?
From JR Tobu Nikko Station it is a nice 40 minutes ride with hairpin bends to Chuzenji Onsen Bus stop. The entrance fee is 550 yen.
Google Maps: Kegon Falls Nikko National Park
The Kegon Falls in Nikko National Park are open from March-November 8-17 pm and December-February from 9-16.30 pm.
- Roth, K., World Philosophers and Their Works (Salem Press 2000)
- Stars, R., Rethinking Japanese Modernism (Otago 2012) Weaver, J.C., Histories of Suicide: International Perspectives om Self-destruction (Toronto 2009).
Would you like to read more about Nikko National Park?
- Nikko National Park Travel Guide | 4 historical sights
- Discover the mysterious statues in the Kanmangafuchi Abyss in Nikko
- Toshogu Shrine, Nikko | Visit the Golden Temple
And what is your opinion about the Kegon Falls? Please feel free to leave a message below!