Akihabara Massacre: Preventable Tragedy?
by Katie Preston
edited by Jake Adelstein
On June 8 near Akihabara station, seven people were killed and ten others injured in a random act of violence committed by a troubled young man. The suspect had rented a van, purchased a knife, and driven to Tokyo in order to kill strangers indiscriminately, perhaps to express his unhappiness and desperation.
The suspect, 25-year-old Tomohiro Kato from Shizuoka, testified that “I went to Akihabara to kill people. I’m tired of my life and the world has become terrible. Anyone would have been fine.” (「人を殺すために秋葉原に来た。生活に疲れ、世の中が嫌になった。誰でもよかった。」)
According to a June 10th article in the Mainichi Shinbun, Kato spent a lot of time posting on online bulletin boards via his cellphone, lamenting his shortcomings in a self-deprecating manner and exposing the extent of his self-hatred. When questioned about his self-perception in an anonymous response to his posts, he replied: “I’m worthless. I’m less than garbage.” (「無価値です ゴミ以下です。」)
Upon closer inspection of his online presence, it was discovered that Kato had alluded to and later explicitly stated his desire and plans to murder people in the days before he committed the crime. ”I have a feeling that there are a lot of wannabe criminals in Japan. Things I want to do…murder…my dream…monopolize the talk shows.” (「犯罪者予備軍って、日本にはたくさん居る気がする。やりたいこと…殺人 夢…ワイドショー独占。」)
On one online bulletin board, Kato posted in the hours before the massacre, the final message ominously proclaiming “it’s time,” just 20 minutes before he drove his truck into pedestrians. The thread he started on the website gives a play-by-play account of his plans, and Kato later confessed to police that he had hoped his messages would alert authorities and that he would be prevented from carrying out his plans.
The Metropolitan Police Agency (MPA) said they had received reports of possible violence from Internet sources and had been on alert, but they couldn’t prevent the disaster.
The cause of Kato’s breakdown is unknown. Although his company had announced that 150 of the 200 temporary workers would be laid off, Kato was considered a good worker and was informed that his contract would be safe. Despite this assurance, Kato’s behavior was reported to change dramatically for the worse. On June 5 he became violent in the company locker room, shouting that his uniform was missing and that his company didn’t take him seriously.
Three days after this outburst, Kato’s rage and troubled psyche caused him to senselessly lash out at pedestrians in Akihabara. His crime is compared to the massacre at Ikeda Elementary School in Osaka, where, exactly seven years ago to the day, eight children were killed by Mamoru Takuma. According to an article from Digital kami no bakudan, the two men share similar traits, most notably that both purchased knives prior to their crimes.
Crimes of this nature are far from commonplace in Japan, but they do happen. The common features of such crimes—the use of knives and unstable nature of the men involved—seem all too clear in hindsight. While the Akihabara massacre may have been prevented if authorities had only noticed Kato’s online messages sooner or taken them more seriously, the true nature of the problem lies in Kato’s (and possibly Takuma’s) inability to communicate with people face-to-face about their problems and severe inner turmoil in order to receive help.
Hopefully this latest crime will not only spark heightened awareness of criminals possibly posting their plans online, but also highlight the necessity to recognize signs of depression, schizophrenia, or other mental disorders in employees or coworkers, and perhaps most importantly, to take action before it’s too late.
Editor’s Note (Jake):
When I was a reporter in Tokyo, in 1999 there was a similar case. On September 8th, at 11:40 am, a 23 year old man, used a knife and a hammer to assault passersby in front of the Tokyo Hands Department Store in Ikebukuro. He killed two women. It was one of the first cases like that in decades.
I remember going to the crime scene and following the paths of blood where one of the women had tried to run away. The blood trail was thin for a few feet and then very thick next to a an electric pole. I guess that’s where he caught up with her. I can’t get that image out of my mind, years later. It seemed so final. Dead end. Literally. I was glad that I was at the crime scene and not the “headhunter” that we usually dispatched to the family home to try and get a photo of the victim (when they were alive) from bereaved relatives.
Years later, I spoke with the detective who interrogated the suspect. He said, “the guy was perfectly normal, completely lucid. He just wanted to kill people. There wasn’t any real reason for it. He didn’t even seem to derive much pleasure from doing it. Some people are like that. I don’t know if he wanted to be God or what deep-rooted motivations he may have had. It doesn’t matter. He’s a killer and he showed no remorse. If he were ever to get out of jail, and he won’t since he’s been given the death penalty—I’m sure he’d do it again. To him the whole world was just one big video games and flesh and blood might as well be pixels as far as he was concerned. In 1999, I knew we’d be seeing more cases like this. These things don’t come out of nowhere. Why do they happen? I don’t know. I’m not a scientist; I ‘m a cop. Maybe some people are just evil?”