Kobe – While most of Japan is fixated on various stories associated with the Olympics, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge that July 26 marks the five-year anniversary of what is now often referred to as the “Sagamihara stabbings.”
In the early hours of July 26, 2016, a former employee of the Tsukui Yamayuri-en care home in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, broke in and killed 19 residents between the ages of 19 and 70 with a knife, injuring 26 others. Later sentenced to death, the killer believed he didn’t deserve such a harsh sentence and that people with disabilities that are unable to communicate can only “create unhappiness in society.”
As someone with cerebral palsy who is living in Japan, this day in particular offers a chance to think about such horrific incidents in a broader sense. And this year, I can’t help but notice that one of the topics of conversation overshadowing the anniversary of the massacre is a controversy surrounding Olympics opening ceremony composer Keigo Oyamada, 52, who has admitted to the “extreme bullying” of classmates with disabilities in his past.
In an interview for the January 1994 issue of the Japanese music magazine Rockin’On Japan, Oyamada admitted to participating in assault and torture during his high school days, saying that he would provide ideas like making his victims masturbate in public and eat feces.
Then, in an August 1995 issue of the subculture magazine Quick Japan, Oyamada revisited the topic “without any regrets” — and, apparently, no widespread disgust from the writers or music fans to whom he revealed his abhorrent behavior.
Oyamada was reportedly due to perform a four-minute-long composition for the opening ceremony of the Olympics last week, but after the revelations came out he resigned and put out the following statement:
“As has been pointed out, it is true that in past magazine interviews, I have spoken without remorse about my unkind remarks and actions toward my classmates as well as people with disabilities at nearby schools when I was a student, and I sincerely feel that such acts and language must be criticized.”
Oyamada’s departure from the Olympics came about in part due to outrage from the online community, but the community — online and offline — still missed the chance to talk about the larger issue of how people with disabilities are treated in Japan. As one of those individuals, I was left with the notion that there is a reluctance to hold people responsible for their actions absent a massive Twitter campaign. After all, even though this abuse was part of his past, Oyamada went on to become a celebrated part of Japan’s music scene. It feels like he was rewarded for bullying people.
When the revelations of Oyamada’s forcing kids with disabilities to eat their own feces and masturbate in public came to the surface, Tokyo 2020 chief Toshiro Muto responded by saying, “‘Considering the timing, I hope he will continue to support and contribute’ to the opening ceremony,” in an attempt to keep Oyamada in his role at the Games.
Indiscretions are to be forgotten once scripted apologies have been made, and saying you are sorry means never having to learn from your actions. After making such apologies, the issue is expected to be resolved, the public is encouraged to move on and the actions of bullies and abusers are swept under the rug.
Case in point, as of now Oyamada, a former member of the band Flipper’s Guitar, is still on the roster to headline Fuji Rock Festival, a major music festival being held from Aug. 20 through 22. He’ll play twice — once as a part of the supergroup Metafive on Aug. 20, and then in a prime slot on the main Green Stage on Aug. 21 as his alias, Cornelius.
Which brings me back to my thoughts on the anniversary of a massacre that saw the deaths of 19 people because one person judged them to be worthless — the same judgement that Oyamada displayed in his years as an abuser, and then, as a musical hero to many, saw no problem in boasting about.
The Kanagawa Prefectural Government recently held its own opening ceremony, one for a facility that replaces Tsukui Yamayuri-en. Engraved on a monument there are the words “Living Together,” which may have made for a better Tokyo 2020 slogan than “United by Emotion.”
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