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Murder in lotus land

By Tim Hornyak

Tomohiro Kato was tired of life. That’s the explanation he gave police for driving a two-ton truck into Sunday shoppers before randomly stabbing people, slaying seven and injuring 10. He wanted to go out in a kamikaze nosedive into the heart of Japanese weirdness, Akihabara.

But Kato himself is profoundly weird, and his words don’t satisfy anyone trying to make sense of his horrific acts. Looking into his background, who do we find? A boy from Aomori pushed to succeed in school who eventually began beating up his mother. A youth who went from studying at a leading high school to failing his university entrance exams.

A young man facing layoff from his dead-end temp job at a car factory. An angry loner who took refuge in the internet, anime and video games. A smiling man in security camera footage from a knife shop.

The story arc of Kato’s life tells of deep alienation and hopelessness. He bemoaned his fate in online posts, calling himself too ugly ever to have a real girlfriend. A school yearbook lists his “love” as Rutee Kartret, a female character from "Tales of Destiny," a role-playing video game centered on magic blades. He had no friends, instead finding companionship in his cellphone, to which he was addicted. Bitterly resentful of confident, successful people, he was painfully aware of his estrangement from society. He saw himself as irrelevant. “I’m lower than trash because at least the trash gets recycled,” he wrote.

Kato is an "otaku" (geek), but so utterly disaffected that he had no sympathy even for fellow losers. Instead of going to Akihabara for camaraderie, he went to slaughter.

He specified his target in cell phone posts prior to the rampage. Fueled by self-loathing, Kato may have wanted to annihilate the symbolic nucleus of Japan’s fantasylands, that which helped make him what he is. After all, Akihabara and its virtual opiates can only provide a temporary escape from the pain of the real world. The drug was losing its potency, and when reality came knocking, Kato’s shell crumbled like a slain monster in a video game.

Workplace restructuring was the trigger. The 25-year-old was part of Japan’s proletarian underclass, the growing ranks of working poor. The Shizuoka auto plant was laying people off, and Kato’s sense of job security plummeted. When he arrived at work one day and found his uniform missing, he began screaming and then fled. Living in a company dorm room with little in it beside a few DVDs featuring big-eyed cartoon girls, Kato was hard-up for yen and had to sell his computer to get enough cash to rent the truck he used on his rampage. With no friends or family to turn to for support, he didn’t bother seeking help from Japan’s woefully inadequate counseling services. Instead, he quietly planned his last visit to Akihabara.

He was familiar with Electric Town — one of the most photographed spots in Japan. While despising society, Kato craved its attention. He knew the impact his bloody endgame would have if played out on such a prominent stage. There would be amateur crime-scene footage uploaded to the internet, coupled with wall-to-wall media coverage. “My dream: to monopolize the tabloid TV shows,” he wrote. His dream came true in the nightmare on Chuo Street.

Psychopathic loners are nothing new in Japan. Otaku were demonized after the killing of young girls in the late 1980s by Tsutomu Miyazaki, dubbed “The Otaku Murderer” for his collection of anime and horror films. Today, "otaku" are mainstream. The establishment co-opted the subculture and began gentrifying Akihabara, with the foreign minister expressing fealty. Anime and manga became foreign policy.

But the dark side of Akiba is still there. At its core, it’s an antisocial culture, one that fetishizes the virtual over the real, where society is a mere adjunct. Sure, there are cosplayer parades, comic conventions and multiplayer games. But there are also infinitely more opportunities for solitary escape, and this is really the neighborhood’s raison d’être. One of its latest fads, the banal maid cafés, gives patrons the illusion of interacting with real live women. And if real women are too threatening, there’s always Oimoya, a pedophilia shop on Chuo Street that specializes in girls under 15. A community of dysfunctional people is not a functional community.

But Kato’s "otaku" interests did not drive him to murder; his inability to deal with his problems, and his inability to form normal relationships did. He was a downtrodden man desperate to end his isolation and despair. His "otaku" pastimes may have kept his demons at bay for a while, but in the end they proved more powerful. As the Akiba narcotic faded, Kato could only conclude: “Happiness is a dream out of my reach.”

Akihabara is the stuff of dreams. The bigger it becomes, the harder it gets for the many dispossessed young people in Japan like Tomohiro Kato to grapple with that never-ending vexation called life. No wonder he was tired of it.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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a role-playing video game centered on magic blades

yeah, get the blade mention in, nice selective journalism.

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I doubt he would have done this, if he didn't lose his job. Money is the root of all evil...

Also, this article is lame in that it makes it sound like it's such a huge stigma to be a loner and have no friends. Be as lonely as you want to. Don't let anybody stop you.

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This article is closer to the mark than the 'experts have their say on Akihabara rampage' article. I guess that shows us how much our experts know. Perhaps it is easier to see from an outside perspective.

Moral education is lacking in today's Japan, and young people are increasingly being brought up by the television, the manga, games, in which the content is often not selected with the aim of building better people.

Siam this article is not stigmatizing anyone for not having friends. It is pointing out the social alienation that allows these people to see their victims as objects.

"Don't let anybody stop you". Yes, I believe that was one of the killers final thoughts.

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"in which the content is often not selected with the aim of BUILDING BETTER PEOPLE."

Are you trying to start eugenics again... Oh bother!

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LOTUS land? This is Akihabara we're talking about! Get real ffs!

“I’m lower than trash because at least the trash gets recycled,” he wrote.

Maybe if he'd realised that real trash gets incinerated he'd have just committed suicide. Best thing for him, putting him out of his misery and saving lives, pain, time, and police and court expenses - not to mention prison expenses.

Supersonator is spot on about moral education being lacking, but I wish it was only here in Japan, then it would be oh so easy to escape from it.

The world we live in is a sick place, but we must be careful not to use that as an excuse for a complete sociopath like him - there have always been sociopaths, ever since there was a society.

Cases like this are a good advert for the death sentence. There's no doubt about his guilt after all, and I don't see insanity as a reason to spare a mass-murderer - I think it's more of a reason TO execute him, as there's no hope of a permanent cure except his death.

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It's a very weak and bad article!

Otaku, Anime and what ever is not just some groupe of peeps having asocial problems and are interested in the same virtual world, because they can't cope with the reality!!!

The writer of the article is a person who thinks standing in the real world and therefore having the free ticket to bash on something he/she barly understands.

Very soon there is the worlds biggest Cosplay show in japan, many foreigners are coming from around the world . . .all are Otakus in their way, but after all they are from any and every class of the society, there are as many different cosplayers, manga, video game, Movie-lovers as there are different fishes in the sea! And by all means thoses who have worked in the entertainment industry, know, that creativity comes from theOtaku-community , as much in Japan as in the US. I remember in the 80. every movie Otaku around the world having a copy of "Brain Dead"and let young peeps shot thausends of similar horror movies with paps Video cam back then, didn't make them killers either.

The hentai community (especially the child sex lovers) is an other issue, it's just coincidence that japan has a big affiliation to drawn images (Manga , Anime) (wich gives fantasies no limits of expression) and that sadly many Mangas and Animes in the hentai genre, promote pedophile content.

One last thing: Saying cases like this are good for the death sentence advert is complete stupid. The guy didn't tortured, behead, mutilated, dismembred, eaten up his victimes, . . . he went berserk! He was not born like this and we all know by now what are the issues to let a young man to take theses radical actions. If somebody has the right to kill him, then the family members! . . . its a sad story for the victimes, the killer and the society . . . and it's not misses or mister super writer that will make a point analysis on this matter . The article is childish and ignorant.

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I'm not sure the 'ethics' that kids study in school has any effect. We never did that in Australia (or religion). It's the role models who matter.

I think it's important to remember this is just one guy, one murderer.

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8iamhappy8:I doubt he would have done this, if he didn't lose his job. Money is the root of all evil... actually the correct quote is "the LOVE of money is the root of all evil" ...there's a bit of a difference

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Well, not that this looser got everyone's attention, I wonder how many other loosers out tehre are going to pull these kinds of stunts to get attention.

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no, "the love of money" line was created by churches to hide "their love of money" when shaking people down for 10% in the pews.

Money is the root of all evil as suggested. Kato probably did not love it, probably hated needing to have it, and when faced with losing it, and having exhausted all other avenues. lost his head.

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Wilbur wrote:

"actually the correct quote is "the LOVE of money is the root of all evil" ...there's a bit of a difference"

No. It's the LACK of money that is the root of all evil. Think about it. The world would be better off if everyone was rich, and robots were the ones working crap jobs for minimum wages.

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The problem is that in Japan there is a big distinction between winners and losers. This is the source of many psychological problems.

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But the dark side of Akiba is still there. At its core, it’s an antisocial culture, one that fetishizes the virtual over the real, where society is a mere adjunct.

Well done.

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I am really surprised at saying this, but this article is right on the button. I will have to look out for more articles from Tim Hornyak because there is nothing at all to disagree with in this piece. May I suggest to Japan Today (and Metropolis) that they concentrate on publishing more mature intelligent articles such as this, instead of the recent trend in gossip and forced argument. Well done.

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I applaud your work on this article. I can identify with Kato somewhat: I don't have many friends, didn't have a girlfriend until I was in my 20s, I was absorbed in computer games when not in school. Its hard to feel sympathy for a society that rejects you. Would he have been as driven to commit this massacre if he didn't have the guarantee of instant media celebrity?

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Re: Dakrin. But it couldn't possibly have been as bad as Kato's situation. He was crying out for help, but no one responded. I hear many sayings on this, how he lost his job (to add onto the stress factor), and the absorption into anime and manga. But I do have to agree that not all otaku are crazy zealous otakus, I also happen to like games/anime/manga, and I guess that makes me an otaku, but it's to what degree you associate with them. I know that they are just a pasttime activity, and I respectively balance my work time with my play time. So I think that it was a miriad of non-relating factors to being an addict to manga, etc... that drove Kato to do what he did.

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This article is one of the best I've seen on this topic. But is both on and off target with the conclusions here.

I agree in full that what drove Kato to murder was not his Otaku habits but the isolation and alienation he felt as a result of his lifestyle, employment and social condition. Hopelessness and a life divested from society is a dangerous place for someone unhappy and frustrated to end up. Anger at self and others is almost inevitable. And I feel this accounts for a lot of the violence, suicide and murder we see on the rise in Japan.

Where the article is off is in identifying the Akiba community as disfunctional. And for that matter as a community. What Akiba is, is a collection of many communities. Gamers are not necessarily Lolita fans, are not necessarily anime fans. Though some people may cross over into many of these categories.

There are most certainly unhealthy circles in Akihabara. And there are certainly Otaku who are hiding away from reality in the fantacy world. But it is unfair to blanket all Otaku and Akiba communities are disfunctional.

I believe that Akiba, and the subsets it represents do serve a valuable role in Japanese society. Games, fantacy and other hobbies offer overworked and stressed out people an outlet for their stress and frustrations. Game allow people to vent anger in a healthy manner. The distractions allow many to have something outside mad work hours. And some communities there are not clans of isolated non-connected people, but are groups that interact and share a love for something.

Now while I don't subscribe to any of the Akiba subsets or their hobbies, I respect that people should be free to pursue their hobbies and to enjoy what they like. Provided it does not comprise the law or harm anyone.

Kato represents a real community that can be identified. He represents the working undreclass who are alienated and disenfranchised. He represents the isolated tens of thousands who are left out of growth and prosperity with no net to catch them.

If we want to blame someone for Akiba we can blame the government and ourselves. The goverment is to blame for not making mental health care a priority in a country that sorely needs it. They are to blame for poor economic and social policies that leave so many people locked out. They are to blame for not having better programs to recycle people into new opportunities when old ones dry up. And they are to blame for responding with idiotic solutions rather than addressing the root of the problems that cause these rampages.

We are to blame for not holding them more accountable for solving these problems. For stereotyping people rather than looking for ways to help them. And for putting walls up that isolate people when we should, as the public, demand and work for ways to better connect and bind the fabric of our society.

If we want to avoid more Katos. We need to solve the problems that created him. Only then can we have hope that we have seen the last of this kind of tragedy.

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i love your article, sometimes the people dont't want to see the truth.

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I read this in the metropolis last week and have to say he was pretty spot on!

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