Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Japan shaken by group suicides among young

By David McNeill in Tokyo

Japan: A bizarre trend for internet-led group suicides shows no signs of abating in Japan where the police yesterday found the bodies of six young people in a sealed car.

The five men and one woman, all in their 20s, are thought to have died from inhaling carbon monoxide from charcoal stoves, which were still smoking when the police arrived.

Their car was spotted by a passerby in a remote area at the foot of a mountain in Saitama prefecture, nearly 100km (about 60 miles) north of north of Tokyo. It follows the discovery of three bodies in a car in northern Aomori prefecture earlier this week.

Japan has been plagued by dozens of similar cases over the last three years.

The victims usually arrange to meet via internet sites that facilitate suicides before driving to quiet scenic areas, often before dawn, and taking their own lives.

Media reports in Japan say three of the six who died yesterday had told friends they wanted to commit suicide after meeting in a hospital.

The police said that they believe the three then sought out the others online.

Japanese authorities said last month that a record 91 people had committed suicide together after meeting via the internet in 2005, up from 55 people the previous year. The figure has tripled since the police began keeping records in 2003.

Ninety-four people in Japan took their own lives every day in 2003, setting a record of 34,427 that broke the previous high of 33,048, in 1999. Since the Asian crash of 1997-8, when the statistics jumped 35 per cent, suicides have claimed over 220,000 lives.

The latest deaths will likely lead to more demands for monitoring of cyberspace. Internet service providers already work with the police who had hoped until this week that the group-suicide phenomenon had peaked.

Yukio Saito, who runs Japan's largest telephone-helpline network, cautions against complacency. "People will always find a way to end their own lives if they want to. The wider issues must be tackled."

Japan's suicide statistics are still heavily weighted by middle-aged men who have been made redundant or fallen into debt, but the country has been stunned by the recent deaths of dozens of young men and women.

Nearly 8,000 people in their 20s and 30s killed themselves every year in Japan, making suicide one of the leading causes of death for young Japanese in the prime of life.

Many of these youngsters are drawn from the ranks of hikkikomori, social recluses who have locked themselves in their rooms, sometimes for years on end. They are often linked to the outside world only through their computers, which they use to find like-minded folk.

One measure of how common group suicides have become in Japan is how little news coverage they are now given. Yesterday's deaths were well down the list of most news bulletins and one major news organisation did not carry them at all.

The Irish Times Sat, Mar 11, 2006


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