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Death becomes a top seller

MAYBE it's the recession, the long wet summer, or perhaps simple curiosity, but a new book on how to commit suicide has become a best-seller in Japan. The Complete Suicide Manual by Wataru Tsurumi has sold 150,000 copies since it was published three months ago, and sales show no sign of dying off.

Unlike the book's dedicated readers. There are 10 chapters on the main ways of committing suicide, with detailed instructions on dosages, voltages and the best buildings to jump off in the Tokyo area. Each method is rated by the amount of pain, effort required, appearance of the corpse, and likelihood of death. Ratings are represented by skulls, from a minimum of one to a lethal maximum of five.

'Committing suicide is a very positive action,' writes Mr Tsurumi in the introduction. Born in 1964, he worked as a magazine editor before resigning to become a freelance writer and self-styled 'suicide critic'. His approach is down- to-earth: not for him the romanticised suicides of samurai who cut open their stomachs without a grimace of pain to atone for some loss of face. The suicides of the 1990s have no such transcendant dignity, in Mr Tsurumi's view: 'Living in this world is not such a big deal - we might as well be broiler chickens.'

Hanging is Mr Tsurumi's personal favourite - he describes it as a 'work of art'. The only material required is a rope, it can be done in the comfort of your own home and the body is not overly disfigured afterwards. For those with a pastoral bent, he suggests a picturesque grove of trees at the foot of Mount Fuji 'where you'll never be found'.

Overdosing and wrist-cutting get the thumbs down - too unreliable. For those who want to stab themselves in the heart, they should remember it is 'more central in the body than you think'. Self-immolation is also given a negative review: it is very painful, and survivors will be horribly disfigured. Only recommended 'for those who want to make some form of public protest'.

Some 20,000 people commit suicide each year in Japan - more than half by hanging. Since 'the 22nd century will definitely come, and the world will never end', argues Mr Tsurumi, 'if you want big excitement', suicide is the only way. Jumping from buildings (nothing below the seventh floor, please) and leaping in front of trains both work tolerably well. The book has maps showing how to get to the most popular suicide cliffs in Japan. For trains, the desperate soul should wait for an express train that does not stop at the station: the best time is after dark. But there is a drawback: relatives might be faced with compensation demands from the railway company.

The most exotic and least- tried method is freezing to death. This can be done on the top of a snowy mountain or, if that is too much trouble, it can be organised at home, using the fridge, cold water and the air conditioner.