In early June, police in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, arrested Hideaki Nozu, a 23-year-old university student, on suspicion of killing his 47-year-old mother, 75-year-old grandmother and 22-year-old younger brother.
Upon his arrest, Nozu readily confessed to the deed, telling police "I intended to kill my family."
As reported in Spa (June 30), Noda's weapon of choice was a crossbow measuring more than 50 centimeters in length. Also known in Japanese as a yokyuju or "Western bow gun," a crossbow can shoot 50-cm-long bolts at a speed of 400 kilometers per hour, as far as 300 meters. If a bolt strikes a vital spot, such as the head, it can kill almost instantaneously.
Several previous murder cases involving use of crossbows have occurred over the past decade, including the killing of a high school student by a classmate in Tokyo in November 2009 and a parricide in Hiroshima in 2011.
Despite their lethality, sales of crossbows have not been regulated in Japan and they can be purchased online for around 20,000 yen. As long as a person does not use one for a criminal act, he is free to enjoy it to his heart's content.
"It's common to find people in Western countries who use the crossbow to hunt turkeys and other animals for sport," says Riki Noda, the nom de guerre of a Japanese man who formerly served as a parachutist in the French Foreign Legion. "One appeal is that they don't produce a loud noise like a firearm, so the prey being stalked won't flee."
Another potentially lethal but unregulated weapon is the slingshot, which either takes the English name or is referred to in Japanese as gomu-ju ("rubber gun").
"Slingshots can fling rocks instead of pachinko balls," said Noda. "In Afghanistan I had the experience of being attacked in remote mountain villages by people armed with them. They would shoot at us from about 100 meters away, using rocks, which can be deadly if they hit the right spot. I can remember the unpleasant characteristic whizzing sound the stones made as they flew past."
Other devices sold openly without restrictions include various types of cudgels, blowguns (fukiya), throwing knives and nunchaku, an Okinawan weapon consisting of two wooden or metal sticks connected by a short chain or cord. Popularized in the west by actor Bruce Lee, it is difficult to master, but when swung connects with terrific force. It can also be used to choke an opponent.
Another item is the jitte, a metal shaft with a protruding hook at the bottom, once utilized as truncheons by lawmen in the Edo era.
"There haven't been that many crimes committed with bow guns, and as they can be used in competitive sports, regulating them was difficult," remarked Yutaka Saito, a Niigata-based attorney, who pointed out that sales of daggers were once unregulated.
"Then in 2008, a random slasher in Akihabara armed with a dagger was able to kill seven people. By the following year their sales had been outlawed."
Saito gave the opinion that bow gun owners might be encouraged to behave more responsibly if they were required to register them with the authorities.
"Controls on them were previously debated," he recalls. "The government promised to give it serious consideration, but nothing ever came of it. But with the deaths of three people this time, I think restrictions should be on the table. If permits can be issued for people to use them in competitive activities similar to skeet shooting, I think it would be a good thing."© Japan Today