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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Internet Suicide Pacts Increasing in Japan

TOKYO -- The number of Japanese killing themselves in groups after meeting through the Internet -- strangers afraid to die alone -- soared to a record 91 last year, nearly double that of 2004, police said on Thursday.

In 2003, 34 died in group suicides, rising to 55 in 2004 and 91 last year.

The deadly pacts pose a grim challenge for officials struggling to deal with Japan's elevated suicide rate, one of the highest among industrialized nations.

No religious prohibitions exist 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.

Group suicides make up only a small fraction of the total, but the steady annual increase, along with the widespread media coverage most get, has experts worried. "Many people are too scared to die alone," said Yumiko Misaki, director of a suicide counseling service.