The number of suicides in Japan decreased to 21,764 last year — the lowest level in 22 years, the National Police Agency said in a preliminary report released Friday.

A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry official attributed the decline to stronger localized efforts after a revised law on suicide countermeasures came into effect last April, obliging local governments to compile prevention plans.

The pace of decline was the fastest since the agency started the survey in 1978. The number of suicides fell for the seventh consecutive year.

By sex, suicides among men decreased 1,664 to 15,017 and those among women decreased by 597 to 6,747.

According to the ministry's assessment of suicide data between January and November last year, suicides fell across generations with those in their 70s decreasing the most, followed by those in their 40s and 50s.

Suicides attributable to health or financial problems decreased particularly, said the ministry, which is set to release a full analysis in March.

The annual number of suicides stayed above 20,000 between 1978 and 1997 before topping the 30,000 mark for 14 years in a row from 1998. Suicides decreased to a record low of 20,434 in 1981 and hit its peak at 34,427 in 2003.