(A Japanese web site about how to commit suicide is seen on a computer laptop near the area on the mountainside where four men and three women were found dead in a car October 14, 2004 in Saitama Prefecture)[Getty/Kyodo]

TOKYO - The number of suicides in Japan fell 4.2 percent in 2019 from the previous year to a record low 19,959, down for the 10th straight year, police data showed Friday.

It is the first time the preliminary figure has fallen below 20,000 since the National Police Agency began compiling data in 1978. But the number could rise later when the data is revised in March.

The number of suicides per 100,000 people dropped to 15.8, down 0.7 from 2018. The government is aiming to reduce the rate to 13.0 by 2025, a level similar to the United States and Germany.

"We need to face up to the reality that as many as about 20,000 people took their own precious lives," Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato told a press conference. "To realize a society where nobody will be forced to commit suicide, we'll promote countermeasures steadily."

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The ministry said it has introduced measures to prevent suicides, including consultation services for younger people via social media.

By gender, suicides among women hit a record low 6,022, down 528 from a year earlier while those of men stood at 13,937, down 353.

Tokyo saw the largest number among the 47 prefectures of 2,107, followed by Osaka at 1,191, Saitama at 1,100, Aichi at 1,062 and Kanagawa at 1,057. Tottori posted the lowest number of 80.

As for the number per 100,000 people, Yamanashi topped the list at 22.3, followed by Akita at 21.9 and Iwate at 21.7. The lowest was Kanagawa at 11.5.

The welfare ministry and the NPA will release a breakdown of data by age group, suicide causes and motives in March along with the revised figures.

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. The previous lowest record was 20,434 marked in 1981, while the figure hit a peak of 34,427 in 2003.