Just released police figures show suicides registering an alarming increase, with more than 30,000 Japanese committing suicides in 2002.

With jobs getting scarce and unemployment soaring, many Japanese are evidently finding life to be an unbearable burden.

The number of suicides rose to 32,143 in 2002, a rise of 3.5 percent from the previous year.

Nearly half of those who committed suicide did not have jobs and a majority was aged 40 or above, police records suggested.

Suicides in Japan roughly matched the figures in the United States, which has twice Japan’s population.

Japanese have long viewed suicide as an easy escape route from their earthly travails, in the absence of any religious prohibition against ending life.

Tough times

Experts say blaming suicides on a single cause is simplistic. But they still acknowledge that the economic slump could be having disastrous effects.

Even Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi admitted recently that some people could be finding it difficult to cope with his tough economic measures to steer Japan out of the slump.

“But without this structural reform, there would be even more pain,” he insisted on being asked if continuing reforms might lead to more suicides, 

Middle-aged men are supposedly most vulnerable, on losing jobs and being stripped of their identity midway through their careers.

Bust ups

Corporate bankruptcies in Japan in 2002 hit the second-highest level in the postwar era as many firms struggled to cope with a stagnant economy.

The police figures threw up another disturbing trend - of people committing suicide in groups after making death - pacts over the Internet.

In the first six months of the current year, 32 people died this way, often of carbon monoxide poisoning after placing charcoal stoves inside cars.