SIXTH COLUMN

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Group Suicides Increasing in Japan

Internet suicide pacts have occurred since at least the late 1990s and have been reported everywhere from Guam to the Netherlands. But in Japan, where the suicide rate is among the industrialized world's highest, officials are worried about a recent spate of such deaths.

A record 91 people died in 34 Internet-linked suicide cases in Japan in 2005, up from 55 people in 19 cases in 2004, the National Police Agency reported last month. The number of Internet suicide pacts has almost tripled from 2003, when the agency began keeping records.


The upsurge is being blamed on the breakdown of traditional Japanese family and communal activities: sharing a bath, eating together, etc., creating a isolation: today is "all about the individual."

Suicide, though, is not seen in the same negative light as in the West: "Suicide has also long been a venerated act in Japanese culture. In feudal Japan, the ritual was considered an honorable death under the samurai warrior ethic, and contemporary movies and sitcoms(Paranoia Agent, Happy Family Planning, Jisatsu Circle) still abound with characters who take their own lives."

A record high number of suicide deaths is occurring within the Japanese military:

Also Friday, the Defense Agency said suicides among Japanese troops have hit a record high. The agency said 94 members of the 255,000 Self-Defense Force killed themselves in the year ending March 31, 2005, up 25 percent from the previous year and the highest number on record.
This works out to nearly 37 suicides per 100,000 soldiers, by far exceeding the national average of 24 suicides per 100,000 Japanese civilians.


By comparison, rates in the West are much lower:

By comparison, the suicide rate in the United States was 10.7 per 100,000 people in 2001, according to the
World Health Organization, while it was 13.5 in Germany. It was 6.9 per 100,000 in the United Kingdom in 2002 and 20.6 in Finland in 2003, according to WHO-complied statistics.


Internet-related suicides can occur in any country. They represent a small percentage of suicides in Japan. The suicide pact phenomenon is occurring many other countries: Hong Kong (China), South Korea, Germany, Australia, Norway, UK, Canada, United States, and Sweden. According to the Wikepedia, "internet suicide pacts have a common characteristic: clinical depression."

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