Japan is for the most part a safe country. Gun-control laws are so strict in this East Asian nation of more than 120 million that fatalities remained in single digits last year.
And yet we still feel a palpable sense of relief when we make it through any given year without a mass murderer surfacing to inflict pain and suffering on their victims’ families. Take the following cases, for example:
On Aug. 18, a former Yokohama nurse suspected of being a serial killer was served a third arrest warrant over several fatal poisonings at a hospital where she once worked. Ayumi Kuboki earlier told prosecutors she injected disinfectant into intravenous drip bags being administered to about 20 patients.
In July 2016, former nursing home worker Satoshi Uematsu stabbed 19 people to death in a facility for people with intellectual disabilities in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture.
In June 2008, Tomohiro Kato drove a motor vehicle into a crowd before going on a stabbing spree that left seven people dead and 10 injured on the streets of Tokyo’s Akihabara neighborhood.
In June 2001, Mamoru Takuma, a former soldier and ex-convict, killed eight children at an elementary school in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture. Takuma remained unrepentant until his execution in September 2004.
The country’s worst massacre took place in the Okayama village of Kamo in May 1938. Mutsuo Toi, a 21-year-old man, cut off electricity to the hamlet and killed 30 people, including his grandmother, with a shotgun, sword and ax before killing himself. Toi claimed to have felt ostracized from the other inhabitants in the village.
What lessons can be learned from these cases?
Some guidance can be found in a 2013 Justice Ministry paper titled “Research Into Indiscriminate Cases of Mass Murder and Injury.” The 198-page report examined 52 instances in which an individual seriously injured and/or killed people they didn’t know without a clear motive in an attempt to learn from them and hopefully prevent similar attacks.
The report classified the attacks into five separate motives. Forty-two percent of the cases were fueled by a grudge, while 19 percent were driven by anger or envy toward a group or entity. Seventeen percent wished to escape society by being incarcerated, 11.5 percent wished to commit suicide or be killed in the act and 9.6 percent simply wanted to kill.
Others included in the report gave no clear motive, but drugs or mental illness were believed to play a part in the crime.
While it recognized that the sample size was small, the report drew some interesting conclusions.
First, the report found that many mass murderers had previously been institutionalized. As a result, the report said, people who had been incarcerated for violent acts needed to receive ongoing treatment once they were released.
The report suggested only one alternative.
“In order to make (these) individuals not feel socially isolated, we need to work with all facilities to address mental illness, and prevent suicidal behavior so that people feel they have ‘a chance in the world’ and a place they feel at home,” the report said.
In the end, the report concluded that untreated suicidal impulses could tragically lead to homicide.
At the same time, the report was unable to identify any solutions that would help anyone who was fixated on the idea of murder.
As for my own conclusion? Given the subject matter, it all seems quite simple: By shining a light on the darker side of human nature, perhaps some kind of understanding may be found that might prevent future tragedies.
And as the report also notes, further study is required.
Dark Side of the Rising Sun is a monthly column that takes a behind-the-scenes look at news in Japan.