TOKYO – Six young Japanese were found dead from asphyxiation in a car Friday, charcoal stoves still smoking beside them – apparently the latest victims of a surge in suicide pacts arranged over the Internet.
Authorities said they suspected the five men and a woman, all in their 20s, met online before dying together Thursday night in a forested area 50 miles northwest of Tokyo. The car’s windows had been sealed with tape.
Internet suicide pacts have occurred since at least the late 1990s and have been reported everywhere from Guam to the Netherlands. But in Japan, where the suicide rate is among the industrialized world’s highest, officials are worried about a recent spate of such deaths.
A record 91 people died in 34 Internet-linked suicide cases in Japan in 2005, up from 55 people in 19 cases in 2004, the National Police Agency reported last month. The number of Internet suicide pacts has almost tripled from 2003, when the agency began keeping records.
Earlier this week, a man and two women in their 20s and 30s were found dead in Aomori, 360 miles northeast of Tokyo. The three also died by inhaling charcoal fumes in a car, and police suspected suicide.
“Depressed young people and the Internet – it’s a very dangerous mix,” said Mafumi Usui, a psychology professor at Niigata Seiryo University.
“Many young people try to kill themselves but can’t carry through. But when a group of strangers meet on an Internet suicide site, and someone suggests a specific way to die … that’s the dangerous dynamic behind the recent group suicides,” Usui said.
Often designed with an ominous, pitch-black background, the Internet sites host chat rooms spilling over with death wishes and exchanges of ideas on how best to take your own life.
Most sites appear to be frequented largely by young people, some still in their early teens, who are troubled by bullying, romantic breakups or abusive relatives or a disconnect with family.
“When Japan was poor, families did more things together out of necessity, like sharing a bath or eating together, and the community was much more important, especially in rural communities,” Usui said.
“But now it’s increasingly all about the individual. This leaves people more isolated and likely to contemplate suicide,” he said.
Suicide has also long been a venerated act in Japanese culture. In feudal Japan, the ritual was considered an honorable death under the samurai warrior ethic, and contemporary movies and sitcoms still abound with characters who take their own lives.