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Last Updated: Friday, 25 July, 2003, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
Japan's slump fuels suicides
A homeless man sleeps at a park in Tokyo's Asakusa shopping district
Japan's unemployment rate has soared
The number of people in Japan who killed themselves due to economic difficulties reached a record high last year, police said.

Nearly 25% of those who took their own lives, some 7,940 people, were distressed by financial problems, according to the national police agency, citing letters left by those who died.

Almost half of last year's suicides were committed by people who did not have jobs.

The total number of people who killed themselves also surged - 32,143 people, up 1,101 from a year earlier - the agency said in its annual report. It was the third-highest number of suicides on record.

Japan's economic slump has shattered the guarantee of lifetime security for the country's salary men. Suicide does not carry the same religious taboos as it sometimes does in the West, and can even be viewed as an honourable way of escaping failure.

The number of suicides linked to financial distress was the highest since the police began tracking cases in 1978. The previous high was 2001.

Most of those who died were aged over 40 - hired in an era of lifetime employment.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was asked by reporters whether his "no pain, no gain" economic reform programme could lead to more suicides, as companies slash jobs in an attempt to become more efficient.

"Without this structural reform, there would be even more pain," he replied.

Police also reported a new trend, that of the suicide pact. The internet has helped people who want to die - but not alone - make contact with each other.

In the first six months of this year, 32 people died in this way.

Confidence boost for Japan
01 Jul 03  |  Business
Country profile: Japan
24 May 03  |  Country profiles

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