A distraction from a tragedy

In his Aug. 11 Big In Japan column, “‘Haiku killings’ recall infamous horror story,” Mark Schreiber does a great job of summarizing the recent beating and arson deaths in the mountain hamlet of Mitake, Yamaguchi Prefecture. Given my plodding translation skills, it certainly would have taken me a long time to ferret out these details from the vernacular press.

What I don’t understand, though, is why Japan’s media would try to link these killings to a half-century-old horror novel that, Schreiber says, was in turn inspired by a 1938 Okayama Prefecture incident in which a 21-year-old man “wiped out six households” with a shotgun, ax and sword.

For one thing, the suspect in the Mitake killings is said to be more than 40 years older than the Okayama murderer. Next, the Mitake suspect, described as a hulking bully, apparently let police find him and arrest him because he was hungry; he’d been dragging his knuckles around in the bushes for a week without eating. By contrast, the Okayama murderer, who had suffered from tuberculosis, ultimately shot himself to death after writing a suicide note in which he pined for love from nonexistent relatives.

Schreiber concludes his article with the statement that older people in Japan are becoming more violent. Whoa! Where does that come from? Even if that’s true — based on the most recent Police White Paper that Schreiber goes on to cite — is the one-off Mitake case supposed to offer further evidence of this trend?

And, again, how does the Mitake case relate to the Okayama incident? Is the comparison intended simply to illustrate the point that small-town life in Japan and people’s stares can drive a guy nuts every now and then? If so, I get it — I lived in Texas for a while.

I’m not dissing Schreiber’s efforts; I’m just saying I would have appreciated more background details on the Mitake killings, especially the behavior that the suspect exhibited in the recent past and just before five elderly people were found dead.

mark ulanhu

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.