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  • » 06/13/2008, 00.00


    A shocked Japan ponders Akihabara massacre

    Pino Cazzaniga

    In a society now in fear and seeking solutions, there are some who want to give greater power to the police, and some who are pondering the psychological or social causes that might favour the tendency to brutality. The role that religion can play should be explored more deeply, but here the Church is "timid".

    Tokyo (AsiaNews) - Akihabara is the Tokyo neighbouhood known in Japan and abroad for its electronics shops and as a centre for the modern subculture, including anime.  On Sunday, the entire area is closed to traffic, and the "electronics Mecca" becomes a pedestrian paradise, especially for the young.  But on Sunday, June 8, this paradise became an inferno: shortly after noon, a car entered the area at a high rate of speed, running into some of the pedestrians.  The driver, Tomohiro Kato, aged 25, got out of the car and, with a knife, began stabbing people indiscriminately, killing seven and wounding ten before he was stopped by a policeman.

    "I am sick of the world and sick of living.  I came to Akihabara to kill, it doesn't matter who", he told police.  The horrible crime has thrown the entire nation into distress, in part because the killer was not out of his mind, but was acting with complete clarity and determination.  His statement to investigators corresponds to one of the many messages that Kato sent to an internet bulletin board with his cell phone, describing his plan hour by hour.

    Japan, which boasts a high level of public safety, has now been mortally wounded in its pride.  The young criminal had never displayed any signs of an antisocial mentality; he spent his childhood and youth in the prefecture of Aomori (northern Japan), and was relatively successful in school.  It nonetheless seems that he did not have a good relationship with his parents, who were concerned about nothing but their son's intellectual formation.  After moving to Susono, a town in the prefecture of Shizuoka, he was hired by an auto parts factory, where he was a good and diligent employee.  But his diligence disappeared on the Friday before the crime: for the first time, he did not come to work.  He spent the time buying knives, renting the vehicle, and finalising his plan of action.

    Now Japanese society no longer feels safe.  Unfortunately, the horrendous random massacre is not without precedent: exactly seven years earlier, on June 8, 2001, a man broke into an elementary school classroom near Osaka, killing 7 students and wounding 15, plus the teacher.  Over the past 10 years, there have been 67 other cases of indiscriminate killings in Japan.

    Without underplaying the responsibility of those who carried out these horrendous crimes, the most respected newspaper analysts agree in affirming that Japanese society is seriously ill.  The fact that the massacre of Akihabara took place in the "electronics Mecca" is symbolic.  For 60 years, the most important Japanese institutions, like politics and education, have made the economy not the means for the development of man, but an idol that enslaves and kills him.

    Unfortunately, the means suggested for escaping this chilling situation are either superficial or vague.  The newspaper Yomiuri notes that the psychological or social causes that favour the development of the tendency to brutality must be identified.  But as for society as a whole, the editorialist limits himself to calling for greater powers for the police, the institution to which Japan traditionally turns to ensure social "harmony".  Shocked by the indifference of Kato's many internet messages, he writes: "the police must be able to obtain authorisation from the judiciary that would permit them to investigate or search the records of website operators, and ask them to identify the source of these messages".

    But the editorialist for Asahi is on the right track.  Without underestimating the importance of legal investigations to discover the truth, he says "this is not enough", and adds: "There is something in this apparently tranquil society that drives young people to act irresponsibly and violently.  It is urgent that we find the cause of this".

    We dare to say that even sociological analysis is insufficient.  The origin of the moral evil is in the heart of man, which in a social context becomes the heart of society.  Without confusing their respective domains, but also without separating them, we maintain that religion, when it is authentic, has enormous therapeutic power.

    And here reflection is not focused on Japanese society, but on the Christian Churches present in Japan and especially the Catholic Church, to which I belong.  For decades, the Church here, seeing itself in terms of its slight numbers, has tended to consider itself a "small flock", but not in the evangelical sense, and feeling the pressure of a society that is apparently resistant to the power of the Gospel, it has buried its precious talent in the ground.  Reading the synoptic Gospels in the light of faith, one sees that Jesus Christ, in sending the little group of the Twelve ('a small flock') into the world, endowed them with two powers: that of the Word, and that of Exorcism.  We maintain that these same powers belong to the Christian communities present in Japan's gigantic cities, like oases in the desert.

    I experienced this myself almost at the exact same time as the horrendous crime in Akihabara.  That Saturday, I was asked to stand in for the pastor of a city in the prefecture of Shizuoka.  On the "bullet train ", I travelled, in the opposite direction, the same path that the miserable killer would travel the following day.  Then, on Sunday, I led three times the worship celebration that we Catholics call "Mass": I saw the faces of the three congregations light up, little by little, in the splendour of hope.  But the culmination of the experience came in the early afternoon, precisely when in Tokyo the friends and relatives of those killed were plunging into inexpressible grief.  I found myself in a room in an enormous hospital, and in front of me, sitting on the bed, was a 70-year-old man afflicted with an incurable and inoperable disease.  I knew that his life had been rich, and that he had been very active among his family and professionally.  Not a single complaint; his manly serenity fascinated me.  It was not difficult for me to feel small in the face of such a witness.  My sense of wonder reached its height when, as I was leaving, he accompanied me to the elevator, pulling his oxygen tank along with him.

    A few minutes earlier, he had received that holy bread which we Catholics believe to be the body of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

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