The number of people in Japan who died though Internet-linked suicides hit a record 91 persons in 2005, Japan's National Police Agency said Thursday.
The police agency counted a total of 34 cases in which people met others online, often through suicide-related Web sites, and then killed themselves. In 2004 there were 19 cases that led to 55 deaths, according to the police.
Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. In 2004, which is the latest year for which figures are available, 32,325 people -- roughly 89 per day -- committed suicide, according to the police. More than two-thirds of those were men and a large percentage were unemployed.
An economic recession and the subsequent collapse or restructuring of many corporations has shaken up the country's famous "job for life" employment system and left many middle-aged men out of work for the first time in their lives and unable to find new jobs.
While Internet-related suicides make up only a fraction of total suicides, they have been rising fast. Such cases have typically involved two or more people meeting on Web sites aimed at enabling those contemplating suicide to meet each other, drive to an isolated spot, and turn on a charcoal burner inside the car. Death occurs from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Suicides related to the Internet in 2005 were highest in the first three months of the year when there were several high profile cases.
In March, 3 men and a women between the ages of 21 to 35 years old were found dead in a car in Nikko, Tochigi prefecture. The next day, 2 men and a teenage girl were found dead in another car in Ninomiya in the same prefecture. In both cases police found charcoal burners inside the cars. In late March, 4 men and a woman were found dead in a parked car in Shiga prefecture, again with a charcoal burner in the car.
The growing number of cases, which in the first quarter was about equal to the total for all of 2004, led the police to call on Internet service providers to give tip-offs and disclose personal information of those believed to be in danger of attempting group suicide. The industry began cooperating with the police in the second half of 2005 and this was cited as a reason why the number of cases and deaths dropped in the fourth quarter of the year compared to the same period a year earlier.
In the last three months of 2005, police counted 11 suicides from 5 cases against 36 suicides from 11 cases in the same period in 2004.