Friday, June 13, 2008

Loners, Losers, Killers

It would be nice if Japanese people and people who are seriously fond of Japan would be more realistic in their appraisals. These folks have good intentions, I'm sure, but they tend to give a misimpression of Japan, when in fact it is a country populated by all kinds of people. Most are good, honest, law-abiding, basically nice, or at least not-so-bad folks. Some, however, are not (as is true of any other country I know of, which is why I am posting this bleat).
One of the not-nice people got lose recently in the shopping district of Akihabara, long known for its consumer electronics stores, and more recently for its Akiba Maid-san bars and similar cosplay outlets. Anyway, Akihabara has cleaned up in the past few years, with a nicer railway station area and access, somewhat better choices of places to eat, and other pleasantness, making it one of the major must-see stops for anyone passing through Japan, as well as all the Otaku who are regular clients.
Since this involves a criminal case still under investigation, I won't get into the detail too much, beyond pointing out that a 25-year-old part-time factory worker, feeling alienated and lonely and generally put-upon by society, decided to screw with the Wa by driving a truck into a crowd of Sunday strollers (the streets of Akihabara are blocked off on Sundays so people can walk about more easily), killing seven people and generally scaring the hell out of people.
The killer continued his spree by randomly slashing and stabbing people with knives, mostly attacking them from behind.
Police say the killer posted messages with his mobile phone, warning of his intentions and expressing his rage. Unfortunately, nobody picked up on these warnings until after the fact.
Gun-control advocates often point to Japan as a model of a safe society because of its strict controls on handguns and rigorous investigation of those who seek permits for hunting rifles and target pistols.
In reality, however, since handguns are generally maintained mostly by police and yakuza gangsters, the rest of society resorts to whatever else it can find to use as a weapon. This makes baseball bats, cutlery and umbrellas murder weapons. While the murder rate per capita in Japan is about 1.1 per 100,000 people compared with 8.7 per 100,000 in the U.S. (These are 20-year old numbers, but the ratio hasn't changed much), the deaths are more dramatic because they occur in a society that has been led to believe is safe.
Whatever you choose to believe about homogeneity and safety of the society and the law-abiding nature of people, I'd recommend keeping an eye out anyway, just in case.

(Learn more about Japan's crime rate from the government's official statistical database: