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Japan shocked and bewildered by random knife killings PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Tokyo, June 09 ( - Passers-by prayed and placed flowers on a busy Tokyo shopping street on Monday where seven people were killed the day before in a stabbing rampage, as Japan tried to make sense of the attack and others like it.

Police arrested a blood-spattered 25-year-old man who they said drove a truck into a crowd of people, then got out and began a frenzied knife attack.

The killings follow a string of similar incidents in recent months, shocking Japan and sparking talk of failing communities and declining morality in a country proud of its low crime rate.

One person was killed in a random stabbing outside a train station north of Tokyo in March, and five were hurt in a similar attack in January. Also in March, a teenager pushed a stranger under a train in western Japan, saying he simply wanted to kill someone.

"Recently, peoples' relationships have become strained," said 29-year-old Taishi Ikeda, who works in the publishing industry. "There's no-one to talk to when you're troubled."

The suspect in Sunday's attack lived alone and had a temporary job at a car factory, media said. He was reported to be a regular visitor to Akihabara, known for high tech electronic products sold alongside "anime" cartoon goods and specialized cafes where waitresses dress as French maids.

Media said he had warned on a mobile phone messaging board on Sunday that he was heading to Akihabara, Tokyo's biggest electronics shopping district, to kill people.


"Japan has entered a period of selfishness. People have the feeling that they can do anything," said Jinsuke Kageyama, a criminal psychologist at Tokyo Institute of Technology.

"But when these people fail to fulfill themselves in socially acceptable ways, they are treated as losers and their frustration builds up," he added. "A series of disappointments can lead them to try to regain their sense of self through crime."

Kageyama blamed Japan's obsession with exam grades for making many feel like failures, and said the decline of the extended family was one factor cutting support for troubled youngsters.

Tackling the root causes of such attacks would be a complex task, and harsher penalties would likely not be helpful, he said.

Total reported crime has been falling for five years, but Japan has toughened up sentencing and increased the pace at which it carries out executions in recent months under pro-death penalty Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama.

"If they have the urge to commit suicide, people will do these things in countries that have the death penalty," Kageyama said. "If part of the motive is that someone wants to die, severe penalties will not deter them."

Some members of the public pointed to an economic downturn and government policy as reasons for rising frustrations.

"Politicians don't think about the people, they raise taxes and change the healthcare system," said Kentaro Inoue, a 56-year-old worker for an architectural firm. "I think that's what breeds this violent behavior. People begin to hate society when they can't succeed."

Kageyama said similar problems were shared by other industrialized countries and that Japan's effective gun laws were an advantage in random attacks.

"If guns had been involved in these cases, the consequences would have been far worse," he said.

Japan's top government spokesman, Nobutaka Machimura said it was hard to pin down the reason for Sunday's attack but tighter controls should be considered on survival knives like the one the attacker used.
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