ON February 5, police found nine bodies in two cars in central Japan in what appeared to be two group suicides. All nine appeared to have died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Japan has been the scene of a slew of suicide pacts in recent months, many thought to have been plotted by people who met over the Internet.
Suicide pacts have been made over the Internet since the late 1990s, and have been reported everywhere from Guam to the Netherlands. Experts say they tend to occur in cycles, with news of group suicides sparking copycat incidents.
They've been happening in especially large numbers in Japan, where suicide rates are among the world's highest. In Japan, more than 30,000 commit suicide every year. Suicides in that country hit a record high in 2003, exceeding
Last December, three people were found dead in a truck after inhaling carbon monoxide from portable charcoal stoves. At least five other groups, with a total of 26 dead, have been found under similar circumstances since last October.
Officials have blamed a decade-long economic slump for an increasing number of people killing them selves. Many Japanese are making suicide pacts on the Internet.
In Japan, there are hundreds of suicide websites, and scores of people, especially young people, are logging on. This type of website encourage total strangers to make plans to kill themselves. They make a pact online, and then carry it out, usually by sealing themselves in their cars where they burn charcoal to die from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Ritual suicides have long been part of Japanese culture, often considered the honourable way out of failure. There are even "how-to" suicide books.
But suicide counsellors worry that the Internet is pushing people who are already thinking about suicide over the edge. (Star-Agencies)