Tomohiro Kato is us, a lot of people in their 20s seem to be saying. It’s a shocking admission, given that Kato faces a possible death sentence for one of the most appalling mass murders of recent times – the one in Tokyo’s Akihabara in June 2008. A laid-off temp worker with nowhere to go and no one to turn to, Kato rammed a rented truck into a throng of pedestrians, then went on a rampage with a knife, killing seven and wounding 10.
“Kato-kun is just like me,” a 27-year-old woman from Shikoku tells Weekly Playboy (Feb 14). She had traveled to Tokyo on an overnight bus, and was in court on Jan 25, the day prosecutors called for the death penalty. She’d made the eight-hour trip at least 10 times before. That’s how closely she has followed the trial – and how closely she identifies with the defendant.
“Just like me,” she says, “he wanted to live a normal life. But in today’s world, living a normal life isn’t easy. Once you slip off the rails, you can’t get back on.”
Kato is 28, and many people his age have known enough despair in their own lives to feel they understand him. “Granted he may deserve the death penalty,” muses a 28-year-old Weekly Playboy editor, “but it still should not simply be left at that. I myself could have been a victim that day. I could also have been a perpetrator.”
“Is the Akiba incident over?” the magazine asks. Will executing Kato contain, purge or ease the “explosive” frustrations seething among a generation of young adults stymied by a moribund economy and a warped demographic weighted against them in favor of the numerically superior and growing ranks of care-consuming, social welfare-dependent elderly?
Perhaps never anywhere has it been so difficult to be young as it is in today’s Japan. At the Akihabara “pedestrian heaven” on Jan 23 as it reopened for the first time since the murders, Weekly Playboy talked to some of the young people milling about and found no one turning Kato into a hero – but no one condemning him outright either. “The only difference between me and him,” says a 27-year-old man who’s been through more than his share of unemployment and sexlessness, “is that I have some friends who help me take my mind off things.” Otherwise, “I might be where Kato is.”
“The mass media has written us off as the ‘Seito Sakakibara generation,’” sardonically observes a 28-year-old freelance writer. Seito Sakakibara was the alias adopted by a 14-year-old killer of two children in Kobe in 1997. Since then, the thwarted generation’s rage has boiled over in acts of isolated violence of which the Akihabara incident is perhaps the worst but not the last.
“People want to know why incidents of mass murder arise,” Weekly Playboy sums up. “The death penalty by itself isn’t going to solve anything.”© Japan Today