Abstract The number of suicides in Japan has increased from approximately 22 000 per year from 1988 to 1997 to >30 000 per year since 1998. Likewise, the number of suicides has been increasing in Mie Prefecture. The purpose of the present study was to examine the incidence of and circumstances surrounding all suicide cases during 1996–2002 in Mie Prefecture and to compare the data with those from 1989 to 1995. In Mie Prefecture, the age-specific suicide rate during the second 7-year period included marked increases among men aged 50–59 and 60–69 years. Among women, the age-specific suicide rate increased with age during both 7-year periods. During the second period, psychiatric disorders as causative factors increased in all generations. They were especially important for women of the younger generation, whereas economic problems were the most common causative factor among men aged 40–64. Physical illness as a causative factor in suicide was high among the elderly, but among the other age groups this factor trailed behind economic difficulties for men and psychiatric disorders for women. To prevent suicide, social cooperation as well as a plenitude of visiting nurses and psychiatric care is required, and early detection and treatment are also important.