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Last Updated: Friday, 23 July, 2004, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Japan suicides reach record high
A homeless man sleeps at a park in Tokyo's Asakusa shopping district
Unemployment and financial problems are partly to blame
The number of suicides in Japan has risen to its highest level since records began.

More than 34,000 Japanese took their own lives in 2003, according to the National Police Agency - an increase of more than 7% from the previous year.

Three-quarters of those who committed suicide were male, and a third were aged over 60.

Experts believe that health problems were the main reason, followed by economic pressures.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said there were no quick remedies for dealing with suicide, but his government would continue its efforts to improve the economic situation.

Twenty-seven out of every 100,000 people in Japan commit suicide, according to the latest figures - one of the highest rates in the world.

The figures are the highest recorded since police began collating suicide statistics in 1978.

Health problems accounted for almost 45% of suicides, but more than a quarter of cases were due to economic and financial troubles, a police spokesman said.

A record 11,500 people aged 60 or older took their own lives. But more younger people are also committing suicide, the report showed.

Among people aged 19 or younger, figures jumped 22%. Among primary and middle school pupils rates rose by almost 60%.

"Children are very easily influenced by their surroundings," said Yukio Saito, head of the Inochi no Denwa - Phone of Life - hotline. "If adult suicides rise, child suicides will also increase."

Less stigma

In an editorial on Friday, Yomiuri newspaper called for the government to do more to understand why the Japanese are more prone to killing themselves than other people.

"We cannot avoid stress in our daily lives, but it is important to examine the causes of stress," the Yomiuri said. "We must consider society as a whole when we examine why this terrible situation has come about."

One reason for the high suicide rate could be the fact that it is not as culturally taboo as it is in the West, and can even be viewed as an honourable way of taking responsibility for failure.

A recent Health Ministry report showed that suicide in Japan was the sixth most common cause of death - after cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.

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