Does Kawasaki stabbing rampage signify start of lost generation's revenge against society?

Local residents pray at the site where a stabbing rampage occurred in Kawasaki on May 28. Photo: REUTERS file

The reaction was unpleasant but inevitable. What else can one say, after all, about a man who indiscriminately stabs children and adults at a school bus stop – killing two, wounding 16 – before taking his own life? “Die alone!” cried the horrified public – online, on air, and in private. Social workers and other experts who deal with the intense form of social isolation known as hikikomori warned against such outbursts. They deepen prejudice against people who have enough to cope with as it is, and may also, the experts warn, encourage suicide and murder.

The warning had its effect. Outrage grew guarded. But Friday (June 21) asks a disturbing question that cannot be suppressed: Is this the beginning of the lost generation’s “revenge against society?”

“Lost generation” is the label the media stuck on the generation coming of age in the 1990s and 2000s. Recession-mired corporations were not hiring. Young people coming into the job market during those 20 years and more were out of luck en masse. The result we live with today is a very large number of people who should be in their working prime either stuck in low-pay, dead-end part-time jobs, or, having given up on that, living as hikikomori recluses, at worst scarcely ever emerging from their bedrooms in their parents’ house.

Precisely what drove Ryuichi Iwasaki, 51, to his murderous pre-suicide assault at the school bus stop in Kawasaki in late May is not known, but the intolerable and unnatural stress of hikikomori life evidently underlies it. One indirect repercussion of his outburst, probably inconceivable to him, manifested itself days later. A father allegedly killed his 44-year-old hikikomori son – partly, apparently, in fear that his son would commit some similar assault on children.

Hideaki Kumazawa, 76, is a retired government bureaucrat. A Tokyo University law school graduate, he joined the agriculture, forestry and fisheries ministry immediately after graduation and rose very high in it. He is described as friendly but just a touch arrogant. “A Diet member would come to him with a question,” Friday quotes an acquaintance as observing, “and the expression on his face would seem to say, ‘You come to me to ask me this?’”

Such a man would naturally expect much of his son, but Eiichiro Kumazawa seems to have slipped through the cracks. As a computer gamer, however, he did distinguish himself, becoming notoriously expert, in his circle, as a player of Dragon Quest X. Gaming aside, he seems to have been mostly idle and solitary – living in his room in his parents’ house. His father, after his arrest, reportedly told police of violent behavior he feared would get worse.

There was another fear. Near the house was an elementary school. When the kids were noisy, Eiichiro would grow furious and utter threats. Would he end up emulating the Kawasaki attack? Desperate, the father reportedly felt he had to do something before it was too late.

Are these merely isolated incidents, or an early sign of worse to come? The hikikomori population aged 40-60 stands at roughly 610,000, Friday notes. Author Ryo Arakawa, who has researched and written about the issue, is dubious about labor ministry measures to move them into the workplace now that a labor shortage has opened up. The ministry underestimates, he says, the degree of support these people need after having been out of circulation for decades. There’s a lot more to it than simple job training.

Moreover, “it’s not just one problem called hikikomori,” psychiatrist Hideki Wada tells Friday. The term covers many personality types, wounded differently and responding differently. “Some,” says Wada, “failed to form social ties in school and have been hikikomori since then. Others were abruptly laid off at work, and never recovered from their distrust of other people.” There are many ways to go off the rails or fall through the cracks.

“Killing my son was the only thing I could do,” Hideaki Kumazawa reportedly said. It suggests the state a family can sink into without adequate social and expert support.

© Japan Today

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Interesting how there is never any blame placed on poor parenting.....accept of course by those commenting on JT. Kids need to be taught responsibility from a young age. To the moms, stop being a slave to your kids. They can clean their own room, get their own drinks and snacks, do chores around the house. I and my kids started from the time we could walk.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Are these merely isolated incidents, or an early sign of worse to come? The hikikomori population aged 40-60 stands at roughly 610,000,

I think they just answered their own question there

4 ( +4 / -0 )

This just goes to show how important it is for parents to actively engage their children, not just provide for them.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

There is no opportunity for some of that generation, and many give up on trying to improve themselves. I blame the conformist zombie life society at large. I dont excuse what he did, but Japan needs to reexamine itself and how it treats its people.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I blame the conformist zombie life society at large.

It's not the only cause but it's a big one. What can you do with half a million people who want no part of your country's society?

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I wouldn't say revenge simply b/c I doubt if those who become violent think in such terms. Maybe comeuppance given how poorly institutions at all levels have abandoned in excess of a million people--families, hospitals and clinics, and of course government at all levels. Japanese society seems utterly incapable of broadening or diversifying what it means to be successful. I can't tell you how many families with ronin I know. Why in the world would you postpone your life by a year or more? Why is this normalized? Pick another school and get on with things. But since validation comes only in the form of high level academic success, satisfying parents' own ambitions for their children...

Japan is still pushing a conformist, one size fits all approach to child rearing and education, bludgeoning triangle shaped young people into circular holes. There will always be blowback.

And I don't think it's necessary to distinguish between generations of hikikomori. In total, the est. is well over a million. The bubble bursting 20 years ago is clearly not the only cause of an ongoing problem. More are shutting themselves off all the time.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I don't think they want revenge, most of them just want to be left alone.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Agree with the comments on poor parenting. But I guess the big issue is once these parents are gone or incapacitated, what do we do with the hikkomori? They won’t have a place to live (I’m assuming the house will be sold after inheritance tax), they don’t work so don’t have any income unless there’s money left over from the parents, they don’t pay taxes so continue not to “pay their share”, etc. other than the ones you read about in the news when they’re found with dead parents in the house, how do they cope?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

This being Japan, recluses are given a group label and a box to reside in called hikikomori. But similar things happen in many other advanced economies where certain narrow pathways are considered the successful ones and others are not. Many people in other countries also don’t feel properly valued or accepted in their society and can’t deal with all the pressure to conform. They too settle down in their own quiet corners where they feel comfortable to live out their lives. It’s just more extreme in Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

hikkikomori must be data-based and an AI predictive algorithm should be implemented into a nation-wide smart camera system in order to thwart possible hikkikomori attacks on the public at large.

the lost generation is a strange group of people. born too late into a paper-based society, and born too early to ride the digital transformations taking place.

young people in their 20s right now are doing well in Japan -- low competition, highly trained, better at speaking English, and able to be more flexible with their skillsets.

the hikkikomoris need to be monitored so that they don't disrupt the lives of others.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

The parents are at fault too. If they hadn't coddled and catered to these people, there probably wouldn't have been a problem like this. A lot of these so-called shut-ins are just spoiled and lazy. The parents should have done what was necessary to get them into society and have them deal with life's inevitable ups and downs. I have a lot of friends who came of age in that generation and none of them even remotely come off as 'hikkikomori' types. They left the nest, found decent jobs and are functional contributing members of society with their own children. I am sure some of the shut-ins have some kind of mental disorder but many of them just didn't get the tough love they so sorely needed.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

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