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Friday, August 20, 1999 Published at 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Death of the Japanese dream

So many tears ... Life has changed drastically in Japan

By Matt Frei in Tokyo

They call it the suicide line - the station in Tokyo's western suburbs where many Japanese take their own lives as the country struggles with serious economic gloom.

Thirty thousand people committed suicide in Japan last year, double the 1997 rate.

[ image: The guarantee of a job for life has gone]
The guarantee of a job for life has gone
The country is facing its worst recession since World War II.

And, although there are growing signs of recovery, the old certainties of a lifetime of employment and growing prosperity have gone.

In the past, workers could expect secure jobs with the same employer until the end of their working days, regardless of their ability.

But the recession and record unemployment have changed all that - and led to despair for many.

On average, 100 people are committing suicide every day in a society where, without state welfare, the loss of a job is an unacceptable loss of face and a devastating loss of income.

[ image: Even Japan's most prestigious sites are home to down and outs]
Even Japan's most prestigious sites are home to down and outs
One woman, sitting by herself for half an hour - suspiciously long for a rush-hour commuter - said she had been employed for five years as a clerk in a toy factory.

"The trains are often delayed because of suicides, she said.

"When people jump, it takes hours to get to the office. Not that it really matters - my work isn't going very well anyway."

She said she was afraid of losing her job, but would not commit suicide.

New underclass

She had thought about it, but she was single; it was the people with families and mortgages who were in real trouble.

Watch Matt Frei's report in full
For some, things look good. The pulse has returned to the economy, the Stock Market is up and shoppers are out in force.

But a closer look reveals just how much Japan has changed.

The new underclass of homeless and unemployed even populate the manicured gardens near the Imperial Palace.

The Japanese dream is dead.

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