A record 34,427 people committed suicide in Japan last year.

The figure, up 7.1 percent from the previous year, remained above 30,000 for the sixth consecutive year, the National Police Agency said in a report released Thursday.

The report says 8,897 people killed themselves over financial difficulties, up 12.1 percent from a year earlier and topping 8,000 for the first time since the NPA began keeping statistics on suicides in 1978.

Suicides motivated by financial difficulties accounted for a quarter of all suicides in the year, comprising the second-largest group, compared with 11.2 percent in 1994.

Almost 60 percent of the suicides in 2003 were by people in their 50s and older, it said.

Health reasons were the motivation for the largest number of suicides in 2003, prompting 15,416, or 44.8 percent of the total, to take their lives. Some 8.5 percent committed suicide due to family problems.

Men accounted for a record 72.5 percent of all suicides in 2003, contributing to the wider gap — 6.97 years — between the average life expectancies of men and women, as released earlier this month by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

The largest increase in suicides by age group was seen among those aged 19 and younger.

2003 saw 613 people aged 19 or younger kill themselves, up 22.1 percent from a year earlier and the largest increase in suicides by age group.

Eighty-three junior high school students and 10 elementary school students committed suicide in 2003.

The NPA said the annual number of suicides had hovered between 20,000 and 24,000 between 1978 and 1997. It topped the 30,000 mark in 1998. The previous record was 33,048 suicides, set in 1999.

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