National / Crime & Legal

Sagamihara killings reveal shortcomings in law to control knives

by Tomoko Otake

Staff Writer

Tuesday’s stabbing rampage in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, has highlighted the difficulty of reigning in crimes involving knives, despite a recent revision to the Firearm and Sword Control Law.

Knives have often been the weapon of choice in single-perpetrator mass murders in Japan, where gun ownership is strictly prohibited.

In 2009, the government revised the law to effectively ban the possession of daggers and other doubled-edged knives with blades 5.5 cm or longer, in the wake of the indiscriminate stabbing of pedestrians the previous year in Tokyo’s Akihabara district.

In that incident, 25-year-old Tomohiro Kato rammed a truck into a street crowd, running people over and then going on a stabbing rampage, killing a total of seven.

Before the 2009 revision, the law banned swords, knives and spears with blades 15 cm or longer. In the Akihabara attack, Kato used a 13-cm dagger.

Violators of the revised law face up to a three-year prison term and maximum ¥500,000 fine.

It is not yet known what kind of knives Satoshi Uematsu, the alleged perpetrator of the Sagamihara stabbings, used when he attacked residents at Tsukui Yamayuri En, a care facility for people with mental and physical disabilities, in the early hours of Tuesday.

Uematsu is reported to have been in possession of three knives, including a Japanese-style kitchen knife, when he turned himself in to local police shortly after the rampage.