Japan Suicides Top 30,000 In 2006

A hearse of Agriculture Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka passes by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official residence as Abe and his cabinet ministers, background, pay last respects in Tokyo Tuesday, May 29, 2007. The hanging death of Matsuoka on Monday grimly illustrated the country's stubbornly high suicide rate, and the government struggle to discourage large numbers of Japanese from killing themselves.
The number of suicides in Japan dipped in 2006 but the total topped 30,000 for the ninth straight year, police said Thursday.

Japan's suicide toll fell 1.2 percent to 32,155 last year, the National Police Agency said.

Among them were 886 students, including nearly 100 elementary and junior high-school children, according to the police report. More students committed suicide last year than in any year since the agency started taking statistics in 1978.

Japan's suicide rate is among the highest in the industrialized world. The numbers exploded to more than 30,000 a year in 1998 amid a long economic slump that forced mass restructuring at companies, driving many men in their 40s and 50s to kill themselves.

While Japan's economy has made a recent strong recovery, more than a decade of stagnation had left many people bankrupt or jobless. Nearly half of those who committed suicide last year were unemployed, the police report said. Men accounted for 71 percent of all suicides.

Last June, Japan's parliament enacted a law aimed at slashing the number of suicides by bolstering mental health support services, including counseling at workplaces and a network of community psychiatrists. The Cabinet is expected to approve the law this month.