The number of suicides in Japan in the first 11 months of 2018 dropped 3.4 percent from a year earlier to 20,598, down for the ninth year and the lowest in 37 years, preliminary data released by the National Police Agency showed on Friday.
The number of suicides per 100,000 people fell to 16.3, a record low since the survey began in 1978, but an increase in the number of girls aged 19 or younger who killed themselves raised concern, according to the agency.
An official at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry who analyzed the data attributed the decrease to economic recovery as well as efforts by local communities to prevent suicide.
The government aims to bring down the suicide figure to below 13 per 100,000 people, in order to match levels seen in the United States and Germany. Japan has the highest suicide rate of any Group of Seven industrialized nation.
The total number of suicides in 2018 fell 723 from the previous year end figure, below the 21,000 mark for the first time since 1981, data showed. By gender, suicides among men decreased 701 to 14,125, while for women the number dropped 22 to 6,473.
By age group, the number of suicides by those in their 50s topped the list with 3,225, down 91 from the same period in the previous year, followed by those in their 40s with 3,222, down 220, and those in their 60s with 2,811, down 312.
Among youngsters aged 19 or below, the suicide figure increased 16 to 543. Suicides by girls within that group rose 51, while those by boys dropped 35.
As for the causes of suicide, health-related issues lead the list with 9,450, followed by financial and life problems with 3,118. Among the youngsters, school-related issues were the biggest concern. A total of 169 people in this group took their lives.
Following the 2017 serial murder case in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, in which teens and those in their 20s who expressed suicidal thoughts in Twitter posts were targeted, the government has been stepping up the provision of counseling services for vulnerable youngsters via social networking platforms.
The NPA is scheduled to release a breakdown of the data by occupation and suicide causes in March.
The annual number of suicides in Japan, including those involving foreigners, remained above 20,000 between 1978 and 1997, before topping the 30,000 mark for 14 years in a row from 1998. The figure hit a record low of 20,434 in 1981 and peaked at 34,427 in 2003.
Suicide in Japan has become a major national social issue. Japan has a relatively high suicide rate compared to other countries, but the number of suicides is declining and as of 2013 has been under 30,000 for three consecutive years. In 2014 on average 70 Japanese people committed suicide every day, and the vast majority were men.