Daniel Gallagher, a youth culture marketing expert from Hawaii, will walk at least 5,000 kilometers across Japan to promote awareness of the mental health crisis in the country.
Gallagher, who is half-Japanese, is the owner of Future Collective, a creative marketing agency business based in Tokyo and Honolulu.
Gallagher plans to leverage his journey as a springboard for a documentary on the epidemic that plagues his mother’s homeland.
Tired of Walking
The documentary, Tired of Walking, and the idea for his walk came from Gallagher’s own experience with depression, obesity, suicidal ideation, and addiction.
“After graduating college, I weighed over 300 pounds (136 kilograms) and was struggling with addiction, and in and out of severe depression and failing health,” says Gallagher. “As cliche as it sounds, walking saved my life.”
Gallagher stopped driving cars ten years ago and now walks an average of 10 miles daily.
As a mixed-race person in a predominantly minority community, Gallagher experienced severe bullying as a child and adolescent. More recently however, he was cyberbullied and defamed online, an experience that offered him an empathetic understanding of the harshness of the Internet, especially for Millennials and members of Generation Z. For many, Internet bullying has led to depression, and often, suicide.
“I hate to be so sentimental, but Japan is dying. The birth rate is one of the lowest in the world. Ninety people take their lives every day, ” Gallagher says. Three decades from now, Japan’s workforce will drop by a staggering 70%. In a mere 80 to 100 years, statistics say the population will be less than half the current population. As a fourth-generation Japanese immigrant who has been fortunate to survive multiple suicide attempts, I cannot ignore this.”
Gallagher bills his documentary as: “A heartfelt expose of Japan’s strict societal expectations and the hardships its people go through on a daily basis, carried on the back of a young man as he treks over 3,000 miles to share the stories of seven suicide victims he’s never met.”
Gallagher is hoping to pitch the documentary to streaming services, including Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Daniel Gallagher, and his friend, Sean Osada, derived the title “Tired of Walking” from the lyrics of “Without You,” a song composed by Yoshiki of X Japan, the country’s most celebrated rock star. Yoshiki wrote the song for his bandmate, Hide, who committed suicide while on tour with him in 1998.
Gallagher will carry seven pairs of shoes (14 shoes in total) with him on the project, symbolizing the shoes of the seven suicide victims. The victims are from all walks of life, including a rock star, a teenager, a salaryman, a housewife, a child, an actress, a college student, and a comedian.
“Depression and suicidal ideation do not discriminate,” says Gallagher.
While the shoes are a metaphor for the long, lonely experience that mental illness can cause, and the distance Gallagher is walking to expose them, they also are an allegory. Japanese people often participate in a ritual phenomenon where they remove their shoes before committing suicide, Gallagher says.
Gallagher says that while carrying the shoes will be a physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding task, the gesture is spiritually meaningful to him.
“Each of the shoes I will be carrying contains a story of life, love, and loss. This is not about me. I’m just a pair of strong legs and the willpower to deliver the greater message.”
Gallagher is talking with Guinness World Records in Japan and expects to either set or break, multiple records. If the long walk meets Gallagher’s vision of 10,000 kilometers, he will have walked the length of the country three to four times.
A distance that traverses one-fourth of the world’s circumference (40,070 km) and is just 2,000 kilometers shy of its diameter (12,756 km).
“I know it’s an incredibly daunting challenge, and not everyone will share my vision of a healthy, happy, thriving, living Japan, but I feel it must be done,” he says.
A Crippling Birth Rate and Its Affect on Mental Health in Japan
Gallagher’s time living in Tokyo has brought his attention to its strife, including one of the world’s most rapidly declining birth rates – an issue that he believes is woven into a more complex problem that plagues the country.
“There are many contributing factors to why young Japanese people are struggling with their mental health and are not pursuing romantic relationships like the generations before them.”
One primary factor, says Gallagher, is Japan’s societal pressure to excel in school and join the workforce with collegiate prestige. This obsessive work culture, while admirable on its face, drives its people into a life of unconditional servitude.
“Unreasonably long hours of face time (to the point of intense suffering) at the office are perceived as devotion and loyalty to one’s employer,” states Gallagher. “This is diametrically opposed to the West, where one’s contributions are measured in productivity, ingenuity, and resourcefulness in the workplace. Japan counts hours. America counts results.”
Gallagher believes that Japanese society has unintentionally set up its youth to conform and be “a cog in the machine” of its many corporate behemoths.
“There is very little they (Japanese youth) can do to break the cyclical chain of events that inevitably prevent them from balancing their personal and professional lives.”
Japan’s Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, mirrored Gallagher’s concerns in a recent policy speech at the opening of this year’s parliamentary session.
“It’s now, or never,” he stated. “Our nation is on the cusp of whether it can maintain its societal functions.”
“Statistically, depressed and suicidal people don’t date much. When you’re just struggling to survive another day, and spend your entire day at work, it’s no surprise when you don’t have the time, energy, or bandwidth to devote to someone else.”
Suicide in Japan (jisatsu) is a major social issue. In 2019, Japan had the second-highest suicide rate among the G7 developed nations. About 70 percent of Japanese suicide victims are male, and suicide is the leading cause of death for Japanese men ages 20 to 44 and women ages 15 to 29.
Health issues, financial difficulties, relationship problems, household issues, and workplace issues are the leading causes of suicide.
Suicide tragically claims the lives of 90 people (on average) every day in Japan.
Sources: THX News, & Daniel Gallagher.