National / Crime & Legal

Japanese man pleads guilty to deadly knife rampage on shinkansen

Kyodo

A man pleaded guilty Thursday to murdering a passenger and trying to kill two others in a random knife attack on a shinkansen last year.

According to the indictment, Ichiro Kojima, 23, seriously wounded two women in their 20s with a machete on the Nozomi 265 train en route from Tokyo to Osaka on the evening of June 9, 2018. He also used a knife and machete to fatally stab Kotaro Umeda, 38, who intervened in the attack against the women.

“I did it with the intent to kill,” Kojima said in the first court hearing in his lay judge trial held at the Odawara branch of the Yokohama District Court.

Prosecutors said Kojima found it too difficult to live on his own and “wanted to go to prison” as he had been homeless and sleeping outdoors, including in a park in Nagano Prefecture.

Kojima, who did not have a good relationship with his parents, quit work due to stress and lived with his grandmother until he left her home in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, in December 2017, prosecutors said.

He underwent a psychiatric examination over a four-month period before prosecutors ruled him fit to face a criminal trial and indicted him in November last year.

Prosecutors are scheduled to make their closing arguments Dec. 9 and the ruling is expected to be handed down on Dec. 18.

A long queue formed for the 35 public gallery seats available in the courtroom. A 58-year-old woman from Yokohama said, “This case was shocking as I use shinkansen often. I’d like to hear the accused’s account to learn why it happened.”

While operators often boast of the safety of bullet trains, with no fatalities caused by derailments or malfunctions across decades of service, a few serious crimes have been committed aboard the trains.

In June 2015, a 71-year-old man died after setting himself on fire on a train on the Tokaido Shinkansen line. A female passenger was also killed in the blaze.

The stabbing incident prompted shinkansen operators to make shields and stab vests available to police and other security personnel. An increased number of security cameras were also installed to allow for more stringent monitoring. Patrols at stations and on trains were increased as well.

However, Central Japan Railway Co., the operator of services on the Tokaido Shinkansen line, ruled out implementing luggage screening due to the inconvenience it would cause.

As Tokyo readies to host the 2020 Summer Games, the transport ministry has tested the use of body scanners at some subway stations to detect dangerous objects hidden beneath passengers’ clothing.

In an effort to implement tighter security measures on public transportation, the government banned passengers from carrying unsheathed knives on trains, buses and taxis from April this year.