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Man who self-immolated on shinkansen ‘couldn’t live on pension,’ says neighbor

Kyodo, Staff Report

A 71-year-old man who burned himself to death aboard a speeding bullet train on Tuesday had repeatedly complained that his pension wasn’t enough to live on, a neighbor said Wednesday.

Police searched the apartment of Haruo Hayashizaki in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward the morning after the incident, which also claimed the life of Yoshiko Kuwahara, 52, an osteopath from Yokohama. Twenty-six other passengers were injured due to smoke inhalation aboard the Osaka-bound train.

Acquaintances said Hayashizaki had worked as a travelling singer of traditional enka ballads until about 30 years ago, when he became a demolition worker and later changed professions again to become a kindergarten bus driver.

Until about a year ago he was working at a cleaning company.

A female neighbor said she encountered him on Monday carrying a plastic container, and that he told her he was going to a gas station. She asked why he needed fuel when the weather was so warm, but she said he gave no clear answer.

A security camera on the shinkansen captured the moment Hayashizaki removed a plastic canister from a backpack and poured liquid over himself.

The fire in the front car of the 16-car train on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line burned the ceiling panels and charred the walls, according to firefighters.

The neighbor said Hayashizaki had repeatedly complained that he only received a pension of ¥240,000 ($1,960) every two months, despite having made payments for 35 years.

He said he had almost nothing left after paying taxes and utility costs, and that he was unable to live on the pension after quitting the cleaning company.

A woman in her 50s who lives near the apartment said Hayashizaki was a long-term resident. She said he was already living there when she moved to the neighborhood 20 years ago.

“He seemed to stay in his apartment during the daytime. I could hear the sound of a television there,” she said. “He barely interacted with his neighbors. . . . I have never seen him with someone else.”

About six months ago, the woman said she noticed that one of Hayashizaki’s windows was broken. She was told by an official of the firm that manages the apartment that Hayashizaki kicked the window when he was drunk, but she said she could not recall him being in that state.

The woman added, she once heard Hayashizaki shouting for a long time a few years ago. “It seemed like he was speaking with a relative over the phone,” she said.

Meanwhile, third-party victim Kuwahara posted on Facebook right before the incident that she was going to visit Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture to offer prayers.

“Today I am going to pay a visit to Ise Shrine to give thanks for having been able to live in peace and quiet,” Kuwahara wrote on her Facebook page at 11:27 a.m. on Tuesday.

The page also contained postings about her son, who had been studying in the Philippines and returned in late June, and about her husband, who brought her sashimi on Mother’s Day.

On the website of the firm she worked for, Kuwahara introduces herself as a fan of classical music who likes to sleep, do household chores and go to the movies with her son when she is not working.

The incident prompted the transport minister to summon JR officials for an emergency meeting on safety measures on Wednesday.

It was unclear what action the rail operator might take against the deceased perpetrator. Those who disrupt train operations may face a bill in

the millions of yen for costs incurred, and in suicide cases, railway operators sometimes hand the bill to relatives.

Daichi Suzuki, a spokesman for the Central Japan Railway Co., better known as JR Tokai, said the company has yet to decide whether to seek compensation from the man’s relatives over the delay his action caused to operations.

Officials at both the Central and East Japan railway companies told The Japan Times on Wednesday that they decide “on a case-by-case basis” whether to demand compensation from families of a person who disrupted train operations such as by committing suicide. The officials did not elaborate further.

In a high-profile case in 2008, the Central Japan Railway Co. sought ¥7.2 million in compensation from the family of a 91-year-old dementia patient who had wandered onto a railway crossing in Aichi Prefecture and was hit by a train, media reported.

The company later sued the family for refusing to pay, and in 2013 the Nagoya District Court ordered the family to pay ¥7.2 million.

Tuesday’s self-immolation is the latest in a string of deaths and injuries that have been inflicted by passengers aboard bullet trains over the years.

In September 1988, a man stabbed a fellow passenger multiple times in the head, chest and stomach aboard a Nagoya-bound Kodama bullet train, operated by JR Tokai. The attack followed an altercation between the men. The victim was taken to hospital, but died from his injuries.

Another murder took place aboard a Tokyo-bound Nozomi bullet train, operated by the same company, in August 1993, when a drug addict fatally stabbed a company employee after quarreling. The attacker also knifed a police officer in the back after he intervened, although the officer survived.

Investigators found the killer had a day earlier used a kakuseizai stimulant, the main ingredient of which is amphetamine or methamphetamine.

On a Tokyo-bound Hikari train in February 1995, a man was stabbed in his arm and chest by a 64-year-old man who investigators found had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Meanwhile, in March 2001, a woman slashed a male passenger in the head with a knife aboard a Tokyo-bound Nozomi shinkansen. The woman said she was annoyed that the man’s arm came into contact with her leg as she walked past him. As train officers rushed in to help him, they found the man pinning her to the wall, his shirt drenched with blood.

The shinkansen, often praised for its speed and punctuality, has a remarkable safety record, with no fatalities due to derailments or crashes. It marked 50 years of service last October.

The Tokaido Shinkansen Line connects Tokyo and Osaka in two hours and 22 minutes, with trains running at a speed of up to 285 kilometers per hour.