KAWASAKI – Hanako Kuribayashi was known as being a thoughtful and good-natured girl, while Satoshi Oyama was recognized as a specialist in the Burmese language and a highly qualified Foreign Ministry official, before they were killed in Tuesday’s mass stabbing in Kawasaki.
The two fell victim when a man wielding knives stabbed 17 students and two parents waiting with them for their school bus in the city near Tokyo. The suspect, identified by police as 51-year-old Kawasaki resident Ryuichi Iwasaki, died at a hospital as a result of a self-inflicted stab wound to his neck.
Hanako, 11, was a sixth-grader at Caritas Elementary School, a private Catholic school.
At a news conference, Satoru Shitori, vice principal of the school, said Hanako had approached a family who had come to visit Caritas in hopes of transferring last week to tell them about the appeal of the school.
“You can study foreign languages here. Join the school,” she had told them, according to Shitori.
“She came to see me even during the breaks,” the vice principal said. “This is a memory I’ll cherish.”
Hanako was also known around her neighborhood for her cheerful personality. Next-door neighbor Takashi Kimura, 72, often saw her walking her dog with her mother.
“She was an active child who spoke clearly. She was out shopping with her mother the last time I saw her. I can’t believe things like this happen,” he said.
Principal Teiko Naito said Hanako was “full of smiles and always said ‘good morning.’ “
“I can’t believe this,” Naito said.
Hanako’s father met with reporters outside their home Tuesday afternoon.
“Please spare us today,” he said. “We’ll respond in the future, but I can’t leave my wife alone today.”
Oyama, who worked for the Foreign Ministry and was the father of one unharmed student, was well-known as a specialist in Burmese — even outside the ministry — and had a promising future ahead of him, likely as a diplomat to Myanmar.
According to the Foreign Ministry’s website, Oyama joined the ministry in 2004 and was sent in 2007 to the Japanese Embassy in Myanmar, where he often worked as an interpreter.
“He was a Burmese specialist and an extremely brilliant young official. This is very deplorable,” Foreign Minister Taro Kono told a media gathering.
“He had worked for the embassy in Myanmar and was someone who led Japan’s diplomacy with Myanmar,” he added.
The 39-year-old was married and often seen playing with his child near their home.
Former Ambassador to Myanmar Tateshi Higuchi was shaken when he heard news of Oyama’s death. Highly qualified, warm-hearted, humble and genuine were among the words he used to describe him.
“He was young, but any manner of praise would apply to him,” the former ambassador said. “I’m incredibly shocked.”
Oyama had helped Higuchi in 2014 prior to Higuchi’s move to Myanmar, and had acted as an interpreter when meetings were held by dignitaries from both Japan and Myanmar, including de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, during the four years Higuchi was ambassador.
“I’ll remember how extremely supportive he was,” Higuchi said. “I can picture his friendly smile.”
Oyama and his wife were graduates of the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. She was also knowledgeable in Burmese and the like-minded couple got along well, the former ambassador said.
Ma Myintmyintthan, the manager of a Burmese restaurant in Tokyo that Oyama and his family had been visiting since two years ago, visited the site of the attack Wednesday to offer prayers.
“He was always singing Burmese songs joyously. I saw the news on the incident and couldn’t believe it was Oyama (who was killed),” the manager said.