On March 2nd, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Agency announced the death of an American national who allegedly went on a rampage in the street of Akasaka, was taken into protective custody and then was carried to a hospital, where he died. According to reports in the Japanese press, the Akasaka Police Station, said the autopsy on the dead body did not reveal the cause of his death. The man’s name has not publicly released.
The man who died was a 29-year-old American national working as an English teacher who lived in Setagaya ward in Tokyo. The Akasaka police station said it received 110 calls on February 11th, around 5:30 PM, with people saying that “a foreigner with mental disorder got into a fight in the streets of Akasaka, in Minato ward.”
When the police officers arrived on the scene and tried to speak with the man, he allegedly attacked them, and six police officers had to hold the man’s both feet and arms to restrain him and take him into custody. The man had a cardiopulmonary heart attack, fell unconscious and was carried to a hospital. The man did not wake up and died in the hospital on March 1st. The police said he did not have any noticeable external injuries.
For several years, there has been a small epidemic of foreigners in the nearby Roppongi area having their drinks spiked with narcotics and then robbed or defrauded. The US Embassy has issued warnings. However, 5:30 pm while falling in the realm of Happy Hour is a little early in the day. There is speculation that the man’s reported erratic behavior and subsequent heart-failure could be due to an overdose of a narcotic substance, which may or may not have been detected in a simple autopsy. A more likely possibility is that he was in poor physical condition due to some mental health issues, including paranoia.
Enquiries made by Japan Subculture Research Center to the police and the US Embassy did not result in any further information being officially disclosed. If you have any information to suggest that there was foul play, or were an eyewitness, or know the name of the individual involved, please contact us. At present, there is nothing to indicate that the Akasaka Police Department was behaving like the Ferguson Police Department or that police protocol was violated.
There were photos taken of the police holding down the individual and eyewitnesses who verify that medical help was immediately summoned when the man’s heart stopped beating, shortly after being subdued. This would appear to back up police reports on the incident. While not completely confirmed, there is credible testimony that that the individual was suffering from some mental illness, was indeed acting violently, and had been displaying erratic behavior for days before the incident..While there is a temptation to see this as “Eric Garner in Japan” the answer may simply be a tragic end for a troubled young man.
Around 4pm on Sunday March 8th, a small group of people protested outside the Akasaka Police Station shouting that “all deaths matter.” The protest continued until the evening. The claims that the police “killed” the man haven’t been substantiated by eyewitness testimony. An ambulance was immediately called to the scene after the police subdued the individual, who had been reportedly acting erratically for several weeks.
I feel funny writing about personal things, but the anniversary of the tsunami in Japan had me thinking a lot about loss, and the unexpected events that change our lives forever. 3/11 was such an emotional event, and remembering it now touches upon an unexpected event in my own life that is a bit raw and unpacked. I hope you won’t mind.
Two years ago I was working as a reporter for Japanese Public television. I was covering the story of American Taylor Anderson – a 24-year-old English teacher who died in the March 11th tsunami.
Taylor was at school when the earthquake happened. After the earth stopped shaking, she decided to ride her bike back to her apartment a few miles away. The tsunami came in and swept away Taylor, and most of Miyagi prefecture, before she got there.
When I went to Taylor’s family home in Virginia and met her family, I was extremely moved by talking to her father. He showed remarkable composure. One thing I noted was that he kept talking about the geological origins of the tsunami: the little cracks in the earth that led to bigger seismic shifts, and then finally unleashed this unimaginably devastating tsunami.
Taylor’s father could understand the geological origins. He simply could not bridge that knowledge with the simple quiet sadness of Taylor not being there anymore. “They say there were two plates that just…. shifted,” he repeated.
Geological rumblings halfway across the world offer absurd explanations for deeply personal loss. It’s the equivalent of a butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing and your best friend’s heart spontaneously combusting.
But two years later I feel like I understand a little better now what he was struggling to work out. In the time since I met Taylor’s family, my own family suffered a loss that – while not an act of nature – feels like a brush with those random forces embodied by the Japanese tsunami.
As only a small group of people close to me know, in April of last year my brother, Justin, was driving home from the Seattle airport around 4pm, when his car rolled into an apparent street side dispute and he was shot and killed. The details are here, if you’re curious. In the days and weeks that followed there was an onslaught of media coverage, most of which marveled at the horrifying randomness of his death. One paper described it as a “split-second mistiming, the essence of random death” and noted that “every turn and stop put him precisely in line with a stray bullet whistling toward his van.”
It reminded me then, and it reminds me now, of Taylor’s dad trying to square those two plates shifting.
There are a lot of clichés to mine here, about loss, and how life turns in an instant, and maybe even about about how handguns are devices packed with a destructive tsunami-like force that is especially prone to randomness. I’d like to talk about that more in depth someday down the road. Right now, it’s probably beyond my skills.
But today, I am thinking about Taylor and her dad and all the other thousands of families trying to square unseeable forces with an empty seat at the table.
I think about how our hearts aren’t just connected to each other, but to changing stoplights, wrong turns, little fissures in the earth and hidden shifts beneath dark water.
*Editor’s note: This was originally published on Paigeferrari.com and is reprinted with Ms. Ferrari’s permission. I know Paige from during the time she was in Japan; we met after friend and I read her hilarious piece on Hooters Japan for Slate magazine. I think one of the great 忘年会 (Forget The Year Party) in my life was spending the evening eating Middle Eastern food with Paige and Sandra Barron. I have family members living in the Seattle area where this happened. I was visiting the city when the events she described happened and picking up the newspaper to find it out was surreal. Her essay is a moving meditation on mortality, fate, and loss and we at JSRC felt it was worth sharing.
Professor Tsuneo Akaha, of Monterey Institute of International Studies, sent me photos of Michiel “Mimi” Brandt’s posthumous graduation ceremony on December 8th (US time). Michiel was one of the founders of this blog and my BFF. The tremendous amount of joy and warmth she brought into the world during her short life inspired me and apparently many others as well.
Below is the address Professor Akaha gave in her honor.
Today we are delighted to award Michiel Brandt an MA in International Policy Studies posthumously and to have Michiel’s mother Hiroko from Tokyo and her brother Daniel from San Francisco to receive her diploma.
Michiel was nearing completion of all the requirements for her degree with a specialization in Human Rights, International Norms, and Justice, when she lost her battle against cancer on July 9 this year. She was 30 years old. She attended MIIS four semesters, from September to December 2008, and again from August 2009 to December 2010. She took a leave of absence between the two periods to undergo treatment for leukemia. Her medical battle did not deter her from pursuing her dream of a professional career to help the disadvantaged, the weak, and the vulnerable in the world. She was particularly dedicated to the cause of fighting human trafficking, the reason that brought her to MIIS in the first place.
In order to honor her and to carry on her dream, MIIS has established a Michiel Brandt Memorial Prize Fund to support Monterey Institute students pursuing an internship in the human trafficking field. If you are interested in donating to the Fund, please go to the MIIS website and click on “Giving” on the front page or contact the Institutional Advancement Office. “
Michiel was one of the warmest, sweetest, and most diligent persons I have ever known. She was always willing to assist others who needed help with academic and nonacademic matters. Behind her fellowship and friendship was her bilingual and bicultural background. She had lived, studied, and worked in both Japan and the United States. I also believe that her battle with cancer gave her the strength and courage with which she conducted herself. “
Over the three years that I knew her, not once did I hear her complain about her own issues. Instead, she helped others with compassion and love. The numerous posts by her friends on her Facebook page, which continues today, testify to the fact that she touched the lives of so many people while she was with us and continues to do so even after she left us.
In short, Michiel was a model MIIS student, committed to pursuing a professional career to make a difference in the world, in the lives of the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. Even though she is not with us physically, in her seat we have a Japanese flag in her honor.
Now I ask you to join me in welcoming Hiroko-‐san and Daniel-‐san onto the stage.
December 8, 2012
Michiel Brandt Memorial Prize Fund (Monterey Institute of International Studies) – Please help us keep Michiel’s dream alive:
Here is how to give to this Fund:
1) Go to:http://www.miis.edu/giving<http://lists.middlebury.edu/t/684068/711859/1372/0/>;
2) Click on “Giving Now”; and,
3) Complete the giving form: under “2. Gift Information” “Direct Your Gift”, please select “Michiel Brandt Memorial Prize Fund.”
Mika Yamamoto, a well-known and respected Japanese reporter, was killed at the age of 45 in the city of Aleppo in Syria on August 20th allegedly by the Syrian government army. A Turkish photo reporter, Mrs. Yamamoto and her husband and working partner, Kazutaka Sato, 56, the president of a small independent news agency called The Japan Press was with her in Syria. The three were travelling with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in a zone where the FSA and the government army were fighting over control.
Although there were Free Syrian Army soldiers deployed in front and beside the two Japanese reporters, and although the atmosphere in the area covered looked very safe, with “daily life activities” taking place, “civilians and children playing around,” Mr. Sato did not get the impression that the zone was a battleground. “In front of us, towards the right side, there were several cars parked, and from the shadows of those cars, we saw camouflaged people coming forward, and at that time I thought they were members of the Free Syrian Army and most likely, Mika Yamamoto thought the same. So we started filming.”
At that time, the reporters were about 20 meters away from the people behind the cars. “I tried to confirm their position with my naked eyes, and at that time, I noticed that the individual at the very front was wearing a olive green helmet, which indicated that they are part of the Syrian government forces.” Mr. Sato noticed that the Free Syrian Army soldiers suddenly loaded their guns and someone has shouted, so he immediately shifted to the right side. “As for the position of Mrs. Yamaoto at that time, I think she was between one to three meters to right side of myself.”
“At the moment I took cover, I heard gunshots: one single gunshot and three consecutive gunshots, and then later one this turned to a continuous shots, but at that moment I ran away as fast as I could, and during that time I lost sight of Mika Yamamoto.”
Yamamoto’s body was accompanied home to Japan by Sato, and her funeral was held in Yamanashi, near Tokyo, last week. An autopsy of her body revealed she had been shot nine times, and the exact cause of death was a bullet to the neck that damaged her spinal cord.
“Looking at my tapes, it might be the first single shot that must have killed Mika Yamamoto.” He said at a press conference held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.
Mr. Sato went to the Syrian embassy in Tokyo to make a request to investigate what had happened and who has killed Mrs. Yamamoto. Mr. Sato received information from various sources, including the Free Syrian Army. They told him that after the battle, a non commissioned officer was captured and interrogated by the Free Syrian Army. The officer testified that there was a meeting on “operations to target journalists” held two days or a week before the reporters entered Aleppo. The meeting’s purpose was to discuss a mission to abduct journalists, or “assassinate them.” Mr. Sato communicated the name of the officer who gave this information, and requested the Syrian embassy to start an investigation. If within one month, the investigation does not lead to some conclusion, he said, he will start looking for other means to find out the facts of the death of his working partner. The information about the operations to target journalists came from the Free Syrian Army, therefore it still needs to be verified, whether it is accurate or not just a propaganda message from their part.
Mr. Sato also said that both reporters were wearing flat jackets during their coverage. Flat jackets have big steel plates in the front and the back, however in the case of Mika Yamamoto, it seems that a bullet has gone right through the jacket, in her back.
Mr. Sato also reported that after the battle, there were five members of the Free Syrian Army who were killed, and the Turkish reporter who was travelling with Yamamoto and himslef had also been “severely injured.” Mr. Sato does not know where the reporter currently is.
“The Syrian conflict is nothing like the other wars I have covered.”
Mr. Sato said that when his crew entered Aleppo, there were helicopters flying above the headquarters, and jet fighters descended rapidly and dropped about three 250 kg bombs and from a low altitude. “Compared to Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia Herzegovina or Iraq, the situation was completely different in Syria. Despite the fact that the place was a residential area, where general civilians were living, the fact that such things were happening caused me to feel anger and astonishment.”
“There is no other war reporter like Mika Yamamoto”
Mr. Sato and Mrs. Yamamoto first met 17 years ago, and their first coverage together took place in Afghanistan, in 1996 when the Taliban took over Kabul. Mr. Sato pointed out that the conflict zones in the world are mostly Islamic countries, where women are living in a “very conservative world,” where expressing their opinion is very difficult to do. Covering and capturing the lives of women in the Islamic world on camera is difficult, and “Mika Yamamoto, as female journalist, wanted to convey the repression of females in Islamic society to the world.” Mika Yamamoto also had strong feelings towards children living in war zones. Mr. Sato believes that she wanted to report their living conditions.
“For me, there will never be any reporter more capable than Mika Yamamoto. I don’t think there will be any reporter like her in the future, although I hope new talents will emerge.” .
Social Justice is unwelcome in Japanese society – “Can journalism stop wars?”
Although Mrs. Yamamoto was a journalist, she was also teaching what journalism can do to change the world to primary school, junior high school or even university students. “Ms. Yamamoto had a very strong sense of justice, and she felt that what is right is right. However, currently in the Japanese society it is difficult to have such views accepted. More than to adults, she wanted to direct her message to younger people who have more flexible minds.” During her teachings, she used to insist on the value of peace. In one of her classes, a university student asked Mika Yamamoto if journalism can stop wars, and she answered with conviction that indeed it can.
With the death of Mika Yamamoto, other journalists may be intimidated from reporting wars.
A memorial event will take place in Tokyo next month, in the memory of Mika Yamamoto and Mr. Sato said that he will establish a foundation in her name.
Mr. Sato said that the mainstream Japanese media do not go locally to those conflict zones and that he has no information whether Japanese freelance reporters do. He said that many western media were present in the field. “At Japan Press, we have experience in covering conflict areas, and we have specialized this in our coverage. So even if major media sources went locally to such areas of conflict, we have the pride that they would not do a better job than us. In that sense, I do not distinguish members of the mainstream media, independent or freelance reporters.” He said the only difficulties being an independent media is the lack of money. “It would not be possible for me alone to report everything, therefore it would be necessary for a greater number of journalists to cover this war, so that a comprehensive picture would eventually arise.”