- Associated Press - Thursday, March 3, 2011

TOKYO (AP) - The number of Japanese who committed suicide declined in 2010 but those citing grim job prospects jumped, underscoring the dwindling career opportunities for young people, a government report said Thursday.

In all, 31,690 people killed themselves last year, a 3.5 percent decrease from the year before. Many cited depression, economic hardships and job-related concerns, according to the annual report by the National Police Agency.

The number of people citing “failure to get jobs” rose to 424, up 20 percent from the year before and more than doubling from 180 in 2007, the report said. About one-third were in their 20s, including new graduates seeking jobs.

The results underscore the tough reality for student job seekers.

A record one-third of university students graduating this month have not found jobs, a separate government survey said in January.

The reluctance of companies to hire is extremely worrisome for graduates in Japan, where one’s first job out of college often determines a lifelong career with a single company. The job market lacks flexibility, and those who miss the first step have little hope of ever getting full-time employment.

Last month, police arrested a 22-year-old university student who allegedly overturned a highway bus, injuring 12 people on board, after seizing control of the steering wheel from the driver. The student was on his way home from a job interview, and reportedly told police that he was feeling stress and wanted to commit suicide.

Japan has long battled a high suicide rate. At 24.4 per 100,000 people, the country ranked second last year among the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations after Russia’s 30.1, according to the World Health Organization.

The number of suicides last year topped 30,000 for the 13th year. The record was 34,427 suicides in 2003.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan has identified jobs and reviving growth as priorities for his administration.

Kan vowed further efforts, saying economic recovery is not enough to curb suicides.

“What we need is a society in which nobody feels abandoned,” he said.