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Exhibition to honor ’01 school massacre dead

Chunichi Shimbun

Twelve years ago, Ami Kifushi was a sixth-grader at Ikeda Elementary School in Osaka Prefecture when a knife-wielding intruder entered the premises, killed eight students and wounded several others.

Next month, Kifushi, 23, will graduate from Mie University with a bachelor’s degree in education.

She will introduce the victims of the massacre during an event called “Inochi no Message Ten” (“Message of Life Exhibition”), which will be held in Kameyama, Mie Prefecture, in March following her graduation.

Then in April, Kifushi will start work as a teacher at an elementary school in Hyogo Prefecture.

To prevent memories of the lives lost that day from fading and to relay the significance of life, Kifushi will bring life-size figure panels and the victims’ shoes to the exhibition.

“Their lives were cut off short. I hope the public will not forget this incident,” she said.

On June 8, 2001, Mamoru Takuma entered the elementary school, which is affiliated with Osaka Kyoiku University, pulled out a knife and proceeded to stab children and staff during the rampage before he was subdued.

Kifushi, who was in recess in the second-floor library after the end of the second period that day, heard the screams and rushed to the first floor, where a teacher told her to flee to the playground.

If she had continued toward the direction of the massacre, she would have most likely come face to face with Takuma. While making her way to the playground, she saw children lying on the floor and a teacher in a bloodstained shirt. Among the slain was a child Kifushi used to play with.

Killed were a boy in the first grade and seven girls in the second grade. Fifteen other people, including two teachers, were wounded.

Takuma was sentenced to death, declined an appeal and was hanged in September 2004.

After Kifushi graduated from Ikeda Elementary School, she continued on to junior high and high school, both affiliated with Osaka Kyoiku University and located on the same premises. She still can’t talk about the incident with her elementary school classmates. “Because everyone was traumatized,” she said.

It was only after she entered Mie University, located far from her hometown of Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, that she began to realize what it meant to be a graduate of Ikeda Elementary.

Kifushi was shocked when her college classmates said they did not know about the tragedy. She experienced firsthand the fear and sadness of lives being abruptly taken away, and could not bear the thought of the massacre being forgotten.

“Because I went through that experience, I felt I had a message to convey to the public,” Kifushi said.

In her freshman year, she got to know the “Inochi no Message Ten” event run by an NPO, and joined the planning committee in her sophomore year.

Kifushi had always wanted to honor the victims of the massacre in the exhibition, but she was hesitant because she felt that as a survivor it would be inappropriate to ask the victims’ families to cooperate. She eventually made up her mind in her senior year to try, as this would be her last chance before she graduated and she did not want any regrets.

In October, Kifushi attended a talk given by one of the victims’ mothers and approached her. She told the woman she was also in the school that day and that ever since, she had always wanted to show the public the preciousness of life.

Filled with anxiety and survivor’s guilt, she approached the woman with trepidation, fearing rejection. However, the mother listened to Kifushi’s story and finally told her, “You’ve grown up.”

Both cried. The woman immediately agreed to participate in the event. Kifushi then began to search for the other victims’ families and ask for their cooperation.

In her new job at the Hyogo elementary school, she wonders if she will be able to protect her students if something or someone threatens their safety, but she made a promise to her deceased schoolmates that she will not allow the same kind of tragedy to strike again. This is her way of ensuring the memory of those children will never fade away.

The “Inochi no Message Ten” calls those who have lost their lives in an accident or incident “messengers.” At the exhibition, life-size figures, shoes and photos of the deceased are displayed in a nationwide tour to remind the public of the significance of life.

The exhibition will be held at different locations in Japan by NPO Inochi no Museum (Museum of Life) in collaboration with various regional organizations. In Mie Prefecture, it has been held once a year since 2010, with students from Mie University and Yokkaichi University taking the lead in planning and organizing the event.

This year, the exhibition will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 3 at Kameyama City Cultural Hall. Panels honoring 159 victims of accidents and other tragedies in Japan will be showcased. Entrance is free.

For more information, contact the Mie Victim Support Center at (059) 213-8211.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Jan. 29.