Group Suicide Becomes Frightening Trend in Japan

On the high-energy streets of Tokyo, bristling with so much life, a troubled teenager named Yoko says she constantly thinks of taking her own life.

"I want to die," the 17-year-old said.

And if she decides to go through with it, she'll have plenty of company. Japanese Web sites offer countless invitations to join in group suicides.

It's become one of Japan's most morbid trends -- total strangers making meticulous arrangements online to kill themselves en masse. The group suicides usually take place inside sealed cars, where people burn charcoal so that they will die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Recently, seven people in Saitama, six in Kanagawa and four in Hokkaido have taken their own lives in this way.

Ritual suicides have long been part of Japanese culture, often considered the honorable way out of failure. A best-selling book even offers advice on various methods. But counselors at Japan's few help lines are worried that the suicide Web sites are accelerating the trend by literally pushing people over the edge.

Hundreds of Options

Translators helped ABC News check out these suicide sites. A search turned up hundreds of messages from people contemplating ending their lives.

On one site, according to a translator, an 18-year-old man wrote: "I'm looking for someone who can die with me. This is my decision to die. I would appreciate if somebody joins me with a car."

Journalist Tatsuya Shibuyi says the anonymity of the Web is tailor made for troubled people in Japan.

Most Japanese, according to Shibuyi, even when suicidal, are too embarrassed to talk face to face about personal problems -- so when they find other lonely people wanting to die, a group mentality takes control. For many, it's then scarier to back out than it is to follow through.

Yoko did find a suicide companion on the Internet, but has backed away for the moment. She is seeing a psychiatrist, taking medication and trying to stay away from the suicide sites.

But when asked if she still wants to commit suicide, she says, "Yes."

ABC News' Mark Litke originally reported this story March 6, 2005, on "World News Tonight."

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