Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Japan struggles with puzzle of random killing

July 8, 2009

One year after a 25-year-old factory worker killed seven people in a stabbing spree in a crowded Tokyo shopping district,  Japan is struggling again with the sinister puzzle of random killings following the arrest of a man on suspicion of  causing the deaths of four people by setting fire to a “pachinko” pinball parlour.

“I was out of work, had no money and hated my life, and then I got the idea of killing anyone, like a random killer, and started a fire at a place where there were a lot of people,” the 41-year-old man was quoted by media as telling police after turning himself in on Monday evening.

Acquaintances and neighbours told Japanese media the man was a loner who lost his job last year. Reports said he had around $20,000 worth of debts. Among those killed in the fire was a 20-year-old female staffer who was going to night-school and had hoped to become a wedding planner.


Three days later, the story is still getting wide media play, jostling for attention with reports of ethnic violence in China and Prime Minister Taro Aso’s attendance at a G8 summit in Italy.

Japan’s crime rate is lower than that of many advanced countries, and strict gun laws mean shooting sprees are unheard of. But violent crimes grab media attention, especially as the economy struggles with recession and rising ranks of  jobless.

Concerns about a breakdown in traditional community values and widening social and economic gaps also simmer, reflected in politicians’ calls to restore “fraternity” and repair frayed social bonds.

“Even at the risk of the death penalty, such people seem to be trying to leave evidence of their existence by killing those who, from the perspective of one who has lost hope, appear to be happy,” author Masahiro Yamada told the Yomiuri newspaper.

“We have become a society where there is no second chance if you fail and the spirit of ‘challenge’ is disappearing, even from youth,” Yamada added. “If we don’t change this kind of society, such incidents may reoccur again and again.”

Photo credit: REUTERS/Toru Hanai

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