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25 years on, slain Japanese exchange student recalled by friends


On the evening of Oct 17, 1992, a 16-year-old high school exchange student named Yoshihiro Hattori, thinking he was attending a Halloween party, rang the wrong doorbell of a house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Bonnie Peairs opened her door to behold an unfamiliar Asian dressed to resemble John Travolta doing a dance outside. Her reaction was to run shrieking to her husband, Rodney, to bring his .44 Magnum revolver. Confronting the intruder, Peairs shouted a warning -- "Freeze!" -- and when the youth, failing to understand the term, kept walking toward toward the door, Peairs aimed for center mass at a distance of less than two meters and pulled the trigger. He then locked himself in the house until the police arrived 40 minutes later. Hattori died in the ambulance from exsanguination.

Based on the argument that Peairs had stood his ground in defense of his home, a jury acquitted him of criminal conduct; but he subsequently lost a civil suit in 1995, and Hattori's parents were awarded $650,000. A supermarket worker, Peairs could only pay a fraction of that amount. Out of remorse, he vowed he would never own a gun again.

Does time heal all wounds? Perhaps not for Hattori's high school classmate Keisuke Nishikawa, who told Tokyo Shimbun (Oct 28) he had also gone to study in the U.S. one year after Hattori's death and while there, took part in local campaigns for stricter controls on guns, collecting signatures for a petition. In November 1993, the U.S. Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act -- better known as the "Brady Law" -- requiring gun purchasers to show identification when purchasing firearms at gun shops.

In March 1994, however, Takuma Ito and Go Matsuura, two Japanese university students at Marymount College in Southern California, were shot and killed during an attempted carjacking. Soon afterwards, the weekly magazine Shukan Gendai went so far as to run an article with the acerbic headline: Amerika de korosarenai tame no ikikata oshiemasu (Here's how to avoid being killed in America).

For a while it appeared that the U.S. was making headway against the spread of firearms, but with the election of conservative Republican George W Bush and 9/11, the law was rescinded. America's current president has not shown interest in supporting new restrictions.

When Tokyo Shimbun asked Nishikawa -- now age 43 and a company employee -- to comment on the recent mass shootings in Las Vegas in which 58 people were killed, he remarked, "Nothing changes. I guess these shootings will just keep going on forever."

Another friend of the late Hattori, 41-year-old Ryohei Kasai, went to the U.S. under the same AFS exchange program, where he studied in Washington state. He, too, took part in the signature-gathering activities, although members of the host family with whom he was staying refused to sign.

"There's nothing bad about Halloween," he tells the newspaper. "But every year when this season comes around, I'm reminded of Hattori-kun. There was a person who wanted to enjoy Halloween, but he couldn't. I would like for people to recall that for a moment."

"There are some kinds of foreign 'culture' that we can't understand, but that doesn't mean we don't respect them," said Akiyuki Minami, Hattori's former high school rugby teammate and now a company president. "I also understand that the gun issue in the U.S. is difficult to resolve. I think Americans do want to resolve it somehow. It's too bad they haven't been able to get things moving in earnest."

© Japan Today

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It was a bizarre time. In the Yokohama boys' high school where I was, all my eikaiwa students learned the word 'Freeze!' with appropriate gesture without me teaching it. In one class one kid called Hattori got this treatment for months before he eventually quit - who knows - as a result of bullying.

Poor Hattori-kuns!

Endemic gun-related use in crime and in mistakes (remember to take out the firing pin and to check he chamber when you put the gun away people) is not a problem for me as I have no wish whatsoever to go to the States. So many people there seem to have no idea of the levels of anxiety people outside their country have of otherwise nice relatively normal people inside the country.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

While testifying at his own trial, Peairs reportedly broke down on the witness stand and wept with remorse. By killing Hattori he destroyed his own life as well. Gun owners who engage in homicidal fantasies seldom understand that if they take a human life --- often even in self defense --- their conscience will haunt them for a long time afterwards.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I'm for gun control but perhaps the Japanese Education system should share the blame. I hear often that Japanese exchange students in the states wind up in some kind of trouble because of language barriers. Don't send KIDS to the states if they can not communicate in English. Daily conversation at minimum.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Don't send KIDS to the states if they can not communicate in English

Because lack of fluency is a death sentence? I should think most of them go hoping to learn a bit of English.

If kids want to polish up their English language skills, better to go to a place where they don't shoot people at the drop of a hat and as a bonus speak standard English. The UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia (but if you go there, watch out for the drop bears).

I was appalled at the time that a man who shot a kid at point-blank range for no reason whatsoever (if he was afraid he could have just shut the door and called the police) could be deemed by a jury of his peers to be not guilty of any criminal conduct.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

since1981Today  05:29 pm JST

I'm for gun control but perhaps the Japanese Education system should share the blame. I hear often that Japanese exchange students in the states wind up in some kind of trouble because of language barriers. Don't send KIDS to the states if they can not communicate in English. Daily conversation at minimum.

So the blame would not entirely rest on the guy who pulled the trigger and shot an innocent person, it would partly reside with a nationwide system of administrators, bureaucrats, and teachers half a world away for not having the foresight to anticipate that one of their students would be murdered over a simple misunderstanding?

To argue this is tantamount to arguing that the US is a lawless, dangerous place where ordinary citizens cannot be trusted not to be violent toward innocents, and that therefore it is unsafe to send Japanese students there.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Peairs could only pay a fraction of that amount. Out of remorse, he vowed he would never own a gun again.

I would like someone to revisit him, see if he has kept his vow.

I'm not a gambling woman, but I wonder how much I would lose by betting he has not?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@katsu78, Iam just wondering why English words like "please" is taught in katakana as "purisu". the idea of learning English is to be able to communicate with other English-speaking people either locally or abroad. So, yes, the school system is at fault. They can at the start teach please with purisu but they shld teach at the same time how it is pronounced properly. And that is my advocacy if ever. This is not disregarding the fault of the exchange agency which sent him. Just sad losing a young life unreasonably!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Some of these comments and a lot of comments from the previous posting 5 years ago are not surprising. It's interesting how Americans quickly get into defensive mode and tell others how to behave when visiting the US. I suppose these are the neanderthals who don't get out much, thus don't have a good grasp on the concept of human civility towards others, like in other evolved countries. Instead of focusing on how to improve the US way of life so that they can evolve to a first world country, they still focus on the wrongs of other people. Basically, devolving to grade school name calling mentality. It used to be America and democracy was the "shining beacon" to the rest of the world. Now US high school students are not even ranked in the top 20 in the world. 50% are living paycheck to paycheck. Highest incarceration rate in all the "first world" countries. white people opioid epidemic. A racist, misogynistic, lying loud mouth with absolutely no government experience was chosen out of 15 republicans to run for the presidency and eventually win (by electoral vote). Debt ceiling keeps getting higher and higher each year. So does America have a lot of fixing to do? Yeah, I'd say so.

Japan, take comfort. Average Americans do not kill only foreigners. They kill about 40,000 of their own family, friends and acquaintance each year by guns. Yeah, that's how f*cking crazy they are.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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