TOKYO, Mar 15 (Reuters) Four people were found dead in a parked car in central Japan today, and police were investigating it as a case of suspected group suicide, the third in less than a week.
Three men and one woman, all believed to be in their 30s, were found dead in a station wagon on a lonely mountain road in Shizuoka prefecture, some 150 km west of Tokyo, a police spokesman said.
The car's windows had been sealed with tape, and there were several charcoal burners inside the car. Burning charcoal generates carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas.
The number of Japanese killing themselves in group suicides has risen steadily in recent years, and in many cases the people have met through the Internet, although the police spokesman said it was not clear if that was the case in this incident.
On Friday, nine people were found dead in two separate incidents.
Both involved sealed cars and charcoal stoves.
In 2003, 34 died in group suicides, rising to 55 in 2004 and 91 last year.
That compares with a total of 32,325 suicides in 2004, the latest year for which figures are available -- down from the recod-high 34,427 of 2003 but second only to Russia among the Group of Eight industrialised nations.
According to World Health Organisation data, Japan's suicide rate was 24.1 per 100,000 people in 2000, compared with 39.4 in Russia and 10.4 in the United States.
No religious prohibition exists 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.
REUTERS HS PM1809