Japanese police are investigating two separate cases of suspected group suicide after nine people were found dead in parked cars, the latest in a series of such cases.
Five men and one woman were found dead in a station wagon in Saitama prefecture, just north of Tokyo, a police spokesman said.
He noted that charcoal stoves were found in the car but declined to give further details, citing ongoing investigations. The charcoal generates carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas.
Separately, a man and two women were found dead in a sealed car parked in the foothills of a mountain in Aomori prefecture, some 280 miles north of Tokyo, a police spokesman said.
In this case too, charcoal stoves were found in the car with the three, who were undergoing treatment for mental illness and may have met at hospital, an Aomori police spokesman said.
The number of Japanese killing themselves in group suicides has risen steadily in recent years, and in many cases the people have met through the Internet, although police declined to say whether this was the case with the six people in Saitama.
In 2003, 34 died in group suicides, rising to 55 in 2004 and 91 last year.
That compares with a total of 32,325 suicides in 2004, the latest year for which figures are available -- down from the record-high 34,427 in 2003 but second only to Russia among Group of Eight industrialized nations.
According to World Health Organization data, Japan’s suicide rate was 24.1 per 100,000 people in 2000, compared with 39.4 in Russia and 10.4 in the United States.
No religious prohibition exists against taking one’s own life in Japan, where suicide was once a form of ritual atonement for samurai warriors and in modern times is a way to escape failure or save loved ones from embarrassment or financial loss.