Japan Today

Two sisters, aged 5 and 3, perish in Tokyo fire


Two sisters, aged 5 and 3, died in a house fire in Tokyo's Itabashi Ward on Tuesday night, police said Wednesday.

Police said the occupants of the house were Kohachi Harada, 22, his 21-year-old wife, and their two daughters, Shion, 5, and Rui, 3.

According to police, firefighters received a call reporting smoke coming out of a 3rd-floor window of a house just after 6 p.m. A local resident said Mrs Harada returned home by car from shopping and panicked at seeing the smoke, yelling that her children were inside, TV Asahi reported.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze about an hour later, police said. The 10-square-meter room on the third floor, where the two girls were, was destroyed. Firefighters found the bodies of the two girls and they were taken to hospital where they were pronounced dead, TV Asahi reported.

Police said the cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but investigators said on Wednesday afternoon that the fire most likely started at the kotatsu and that a cigarette lighter belonging to the mother was nearby on the floor. They also suggested that she may have left a lit cigarette near the kotatsu when she went out.

According to TV media reports, Mrs Harada said she had gone shopping for a short time but as she was on her way home, she forgot an item, and went back. She said she was away from home 40 minutes longer than she planned to be. Her husband was still at work.

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I saw this on the news last night but the children hadn't died yet. First think I though was where were the parents? And as usual leaving young children alone at home for any reason is not a good idea. Honestly, wtf are people thinking???

2 ( +5 / -3 )

I have been in Japan for a long time and have read this same story so many times. I still can't understand why people think it is OK to pop down to the store or wherever and leave such young children unattended.

9 ( +11 / -1 )

@Jeff Ryan Nice post. I'd just like to correct one thing though. It should have read "Honestly, wtf was THIS WOMAN thinking???

For once the article is very accurate and I quote:

A local resident said a woman who lived in the house returned home and panicked at seeing the smoke, yelling that her children were inside, TV Asahi reported.

It's accurate because this woman should not be given the title of mother. A mother is a caring, responsible human being, not only capable of producing a child, but also nurturing and protecting the child.

Japanese law should recognize that women are NOT better suited for child care but are equal to men when it comes to protecting children. From this story it's fair to say that anybody, regardless of gender, can be irresponsible.

5 ( +7 / -3 )

It is stories like this that really fortifies my belief that the Japanese business culture of Dad coming home from work at 10, 11, or 12PM everynight is straight out wrong and a tremendous burden on Japanese housewifes. I know the story does not say that the husband was still out working... but since so many actually are one might easily draw that conclusion. I don't blame the poor mother.... and my condolences to her and her family.

3 ( +5 / -3 )

That is so sad. Something similar happened in my neighbourhood last year. A 3 and a 5 year old should never be left alone in the house, especially not when heaters are on.

1 ( +2 / -2 )

5 and 3 home alone? Now, they are both dead! How many times do we have to read this scenario before these irresponsible twits take note and stop leaving little kids at home alone. Yeah, life is tough, babysitters are hard to find, you have to make money, bla, bla, bla. No excuse! It is just blatant irresponsibility and should be considered negligence bordering on child abuse!

0 ( +5 / -5 )

@Wurthington. I totally blame the 'mother'. It is never ever okay to leave young children at home alone. We're talking about a 3 year old and a 5 year old! She was negligent.

This should be in the Crime Section. It makes my blood boil.

2 ( +7 / -4 )

@Samantha: You, of course, are correct... she should not have but I believe the blame should also be directed at the Father if there is one and Japanese Corporate culture. Too many Japanese women carry an inordinate amount of the burden of bringing up children... no wonder the number of births are down in Japan. The culture of so many men being away on business and or not coming home until late every evening is too tough on mothers. And many of these women are now working part time or full time to boot.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Please stay on topic. This discussion has nothing to do with Japan corporate culture.

I don't understand why this story is under "National", "Crime" maybe. It used to be that most Japanese households had 3 generations living in the same house. Today, you have a nuclear family and there lies the problem. This just hurries the decline from 125M to 80M in 50 years. Still don't understand about moving bodies and then declaring them dead in the hospital. It's sad about the young girls but weren't they dead at the scene? What if it was a crime and not an accident?

0 ( +1 / -1 )


Actually, this does not border on child abuse, but fall right into the category.

The problem is, the practice is so common specially for single parents, busy housewife with an even busier husband, etc.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

It is never ok of course to leave young children home alone, but in the absence of any other help or support this is sometimes what they do and sadly this is also sometimes the result.

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

@Wurthington. I am a working mother with 3 young kids. I have never left them alone...oh apart to put the garbage out, outside our house. (2minutes max). My husband is Japanese and works long hours and believe me, he'd love to be home more. Blame the companies for their ridiculous working hours.

Under any circumstances, you don't go out and leave very young kids alone. There is no excuse for it and as Tmarie once commented, I feel no compassion for a parent or parents that put their kids in blatantly dangerous situations only for their children to end up dead.

I feel so sad for the children entrusted to people who should have protected and nurtured them, only to be let down in the worst possible way.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

@Wurthington~ Sorry meant to add that something does have to be done about the work/life balance here. The extended family is becoming a thing of the past, unfortunately making some mothers or the primary caregiver, feel isolated and overwhelmed at times. I know that feeling. However, when it comes to child safety and wellbeing, common sense must prevail at all times.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

You left them home alone, and now they're dead. You are a miserable excuse for a "mother". May you be haunted by them the rest of your life, and forever afterward.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Samantha, A child can die within those two minutes. Take them with you when you take out the garbage.

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

I don't want to hear any excuses, or sympathy for the guilty. The safety of the children should have been the highest priority. Not work, not shopping, not dropping a letter in the corner mailbox, not pachinko, not slots, not having your hair done, not ...

-2 ( +3 / -4 )

How did the fire start? I leave my 7 and 5 year old here playing wii while I take out the garbage (I take the 2 year old with me, he is too young to leave) and I am not concerned for their safety. There is nothing that can cause a fire here, and they know exactly what to do in a quake (dive under the table). If they are going to get into trouble in the 2 minutes it takes to take out garbage they could equally get into the same trouble while I am in the toilet, or in another room. It is no good condeming mothers for taking their eyes of their children for 2 minutes. It is just not realistic.

1 ( +8 / -6 )

home alone is not funny and time and again we see it can be dangerous.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

What was this mother thinking? Some parents can be so clueless sometimes, and unfortunately it's the kids that have to pay the price.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Yahoo News is saying the fire was probably either started by a cigarette the 21-year-old mother didn't put out properly before she left, or the children were playing with a disposable lighter left close to an ashtray on the kotatsu.

The lighter was the old type, not the new childproof type that's supposedly regulatory now; both parents are smokers (how on earth can a couple of kids barely into their 20s and with two young children afford to burn money???) and it seems the parents knew the children 'liked to play with the lighter'.

The five-year-old died of smoke inhalation, and the three-year-old suffered burns all over her body.

When I started reading this thread I felt angry at the usual slagging-off of the parents and groundless speculation based on no information. Well, now we have the information, and I feel even angrier. Stupid, stupid, parents. Having babies at 16. Leaving the babies home alone. Smoking. Stupid, stupid, stupid parents.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

It makes me wonder. Are there Neighborhood Support Groups organized for families in Japan? As was posted earlier, many families do not have extended family nearby and with husbands so often gone it would be a help. Many women have friends that can help out but many also do not. This problem needs to be addressed. Perhaps Japan Today might make this a problem in which they help Japan overcome.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@JapanGal. You are so right. When my kids were super young ie 0-5, I used to. The twins are 8 now and I feel that 2 minutes in the house is fine....just about. My 4 year old saunters out with me as she likes to 'help' Mummy. I stil whizz out and back as I worry about aftershocks and the damage a big one could cause.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Well, since the blame game has started, let me join it: Lets blame the severely declining quality of Japanese white appliances, the poor quality of those heaters (every year we have at least one recall), the bad habit of even modern people to put straw mats, tatami, in their rooms, the overall construction of the local houses, the lack of help by grandparents and other relatives, the companies who make their eployees work until very late, etc, etc.

I also have two kids-2yrs 6m old toddler, and 5 m.old baby. I avoid leaving them alone, so when the dad is abroad, I don't even go out to throw the garbage(the garbage must be taken out by 8AM), because my child might wake up and look for me. At that time (usually a week), my balcony is full of garbage bags, some of them containing used diapers, and stinks like s..t.Smiply going shopping is really hard, because people treat you like some nasty bug, and all over their faces is written "Jama!!!Jama!!!"I have spinal stenosis, and every night the pain is so severe that I can't sleep, but I can't go to see a doctor, because there's no one to look after the kids while I'm being examined. Not to mention how many times some grumpy racist Japanese oyaji taxi drivers refuse to take my stroller , when I have to go to the city office, ot to the nearest big hospital. Some people have the luck of being supported by grandparents, or can affort to hire a babysitter. Well, we are both gaijin,so no GP, and we don't have money for a babysitter.

Very sad, very unfortunate, I wish that it hadn't happened. I know the mother probably is going to blame herself to the rest of her life, or if the torture she 's going to go through from now on could be called life.

-5 ( +4 / -5 )

@Wurthington. Good points. I have zero family support and I cannot believe some of the situations I've had to go through. It's the major reason we are thinking of relocating back in my country. Tons of family support plus there are support services more readily available than here in Japan. We'd like another child. But no way here. There is only so much positive thinking can do! Plus, I don't personally feel it's a natural way to bring up children.

1 ( +3 / -1 )

@Cleo - now I hear the details you are right - stupid stupid parents and quite honestly they should be charged with negligent homicide, if such a thing exists here.

But I wish people wouldnt lump all parents into the same boat here. Every situation, even every child is different. There is a vast difference between a 21 year old smoker who goes out and leaves a 5 and 3 year old with a half-lit cigarette, and a responsible Mother who knows her kids and what they are and are not capable of and has judged based on her circumstances that it is safe to tak the garbage out.

-1 ( +6 / -6 )

Are there Neighborhood Support Groups organized for families in Japan?

No, not really. Very much case by case basis. It is more unofficial - friends you meet through the jidokan or yochien who live in or near your building, but even then, I dont like to call on people to help unless I really have an emergency - like yesterday when I had to go to the big hospital through a small clinic referral to be diagnosed with this condition, and so because of the wait was going to be late to do the yochien pick up. Then I called my friend and asked her to help and of course she did, but I only like to do that in a real emergency, otherwise it is not fair.

There are family support services with babysitters, helpers and things, but it is more official and has to be organised and booked in advance, so when you get a sudden situation - like the example I gave above - I couldnt just suddenly call on them from the hospital and ask them to pick up my son - thats not possible.

-4 ( +4 / -6 )

@Sasoriza~ Totally identify. When the twins were small, my life mirrored yours. It's hard work.

JapanGal-Plenty of Japanese have the same problem. What are lounging to say to them? Go where? Do what? It's exactly that kind of attitude that exacerbates the problem here. My hubby is Japanese and I have had exactly the same feelings as Sasoriza. It isn't about being a 'gaijin'. It's about family dynamics changing in a country that is stuck in another century.

If you have extended family living nearby who are fit enough and willing enough to help, you can get by. Otherwise it can be a nightmare.

Take care, Sasoriza.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Regardless of what SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE the end result is a tragic loss of two young girls who will never be able to experience life. R.I.P hope their family is ok. Unfortunately this will not be the last time something like this happens.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Having babies at 16. Leaving the babies home alone. Smoking. Stupid, stupid, stupid parents.

@cleo: Thanks for the background research. Seeing this line, I can tell that these parents were not ready to be parents, simply by the fact that a 16 year old girl had a child five year ago. A 16 year old girl in a place where it is still somewhat the norm for adults to have the attitude of "cute (kawai)" and childish behavior by supposed adults is still rampant. This woman probably thought that it will be fine to go out, since nothing bad will happen.

Such a pity that these two kids had to die. I hope that justice will be served in this case.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Man... how many times do we have to read about little children dying because of parental negligence and abuse. So, it's clear no one was at home while these little children burned alive, so where were the parents? Dad may well have been at work, and if that's the case I'm sorry, Wurthington, but we cannot blame him or Japanese corporate culture any more today than we could have yesterday, or with any other family that grows up with all the members alive and intact. This is mom's fault. I agree that women carry a lot of burdens that their husbands may not (not in all cases) in terms of child-rearing, but this woman made a conscious choice to leave her children at home alone, probably with a kerosene stove nearby their blankets or something else flammable, and now she has to deal with the very, very sad reality that had she not her children would probably still be alive.

RIP to the little ones, and my heart goes out to the family -- even the mother who made a stupid choice. I hope the children were sleeping and passed away without any pain or suffering (ie. carbon monoxide).

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Wurthington: "It makes me wonder. Are there Neighborhood Support Groups organized for families in Japan? As was posted earlier, many families do not have extended family nearby and with husbands so often gone it would be a help."

I DO agree with you in terms of the nation needing more immediate support with community. Much like towns back home where you know your neighbours well enough, there ARE people in the community who may be willing to pop in and take care of your kids for the short time you need to run out, or who are willing to babysit if you need to go out for longer than just a run to the supermarket, say. I think there's more hesitancy to impose on one's neighbours in such cases, but I know in the town I used to live in my neighbours would have done it if I asked. A big city here is much like anywhere else; people often don't know their neighbours well enough to trust them, let alone ask them to watch over kids. So yeah, some sort of organized community care and support would be good -- even if it were only a local kid who's free to babysit on a whim.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Readers, please leave the subject of racism out of this discussion.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A lot of fires this year. Terrible situation for this lady to be in, but there are always excuses. Leaving them home alone at that age is 100% irresponsible. Running out to do the garbage is nothing. 2 minutes here or there is the only free-time any parent has.

Yet, too tired and too stressed is how every parent feels. You just deal with it. Sometimes you have a crap day and lose it, and sometimes you don't. Yet, most towns and cities do have daycare services that are available for about 500¥/hour. We use them all the time and usually with little notice. Not to mention the kindergartens have after-service, too. Not sure about city-life but in the country there are plenty of options for dual-income families. Sorry to those of you that live in the urban sprawls, but I'm pretty surprised at some of your situations above. Quite the eye-opener.

Not sure who's thumbing down the moms up there, but get a grip and realize once you have kids and have to balance your schedule and learn to not be selfish ... you'll see.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The loss of their two daughters, regardless of the cause, has sentenced the parents to a life of suffering no court could impose a worst punishment.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

When my first child was born, my wife's female relatives told her it would be fine to leave him alone at home for an hour or so while shopping. This is a very common practice in Japan.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

It's really obvious that Japan needs a law stating the minimum age required to be home alone with no adults on the property...people just don't get it. So many stories of kids dying in fires, falling off balconies, that are being left alone, and they are not even old enough for elementary school. I used to teach in 2-5 in preschool and could not imagine leaving even the most mature and sensible of those students alone in a house for even 15 minutes, let alone 30 or more. And just because a 5 year old seems really really mature next to a 3 year old, doesn't mean they're actually trustworthy.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Nicky Washida:

" I leave my 7 and 5 year old here playing "

7 and 5 is a big difference! Leaving a second grader at home for a while is one thing, a kindergardener plus a toddler quite another.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Yet another parent with no common sense. So sad RIP little ones.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I find the death of these two angels due to their mother's negligence to be offensive.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Well said Cleo. Kids having kids. This easily could have been prevented. Cue my usual comments are careless mothers, parenting and all that jazz. So sick and tired of reading stories like this.

What was she thinking?! Clearly she wasn't. Now, was this an accident or a mom with a plan?!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Not sure what else to add. I'm a father too, and I couldn't imagine leaving my son home alone at that age for any length of time at all. Perhaps by age 10, but not before.

I see this accident as inevitble. This is the kind of parent who, if she DID take the kids, would have driven while they roamed around the car, or put them both on a rickety bicycle with no helmets. A disaster waiting to happen.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

These little girls were dealt a very poor hand in the parent stakes...

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It's really obvious that Japan needs a law stating the minimum age required to be home alone with no adults on the property...people just don't get it.

YES, YES and YES! People who leave kids alone should be charged with child endangerment and be punished accordingly. Seriously, how many children have to die before Japan does something about this?!! Proper education about child-rearing for new mothers and fathers would help, too. ie NO, it is NOT okay to leave kids alone while you go shopping. And having fathers home earlier would be another step towards children's safety and the mental well-being of mothers...

RIP little ones.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Central heating, thick insulation. If both existed in this country, these incidents wouldn't occur. And CO2 emissions would be cut to boot.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Happens all the time here. She was away 40 minutes longer than expected which means she was out well over an hour. 5 and 3 in the house that long eh? Charge the mother. Tough one to accept but too bad.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

leaving 2 small children home alone = EPIC FAIL

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The blame for this lies solely on the parents themselves. There should be no scapegoats here. No job is worth working long hours if it takes you away from raising your kids properly. As for me, my job is one in which I chose, and in which I am able to come home by a respectable time (6:00pm). My wife and I made it a point to make time so that there would always be at least one of us with our child when he was younger, whether it be through taking a few years off, as my wife did, until she could slowly re-enter the workforce, I watching him on weekends and my days off, while my wife went to work, or me taking extra days off when he was sick, etc. Yes, raising a child (or children) is tough, but their safety and well-being should be the top priority over anything in this world. Any "sacrifice" to me is worth it, if your child is safe and happy.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Children at these ages should never have been left alone to begin with. As sad as this tragedy is, the mother is totally at fault here and should be legally charged for the death of the two children.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Jefflee, how do you imagine central heating and thick insulation would stop little children playing with lighters their dim parents left lying around the house?

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

The mother should have got ridden of all the old lighters and replacing them with the new PSC (child resistant) lighters. It might have prevented this tragedy.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

5 and 3, and she gets in a car and leaves them at home?

No, I just don't get it. I can't think of a situation where anyone would have to do that.

But, I wouldn't have done that at 16 either. Beats me.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@CrazyJoe. The 'mother' shouldn't have left two young kids at home...full stop.

2 ( +1 / -0 )

May these two beautiful Angels be resting together in peace forever.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Is a smoker: Stupidity Indicator Number 1

Has a child at age 16 (17 for the father): Stupidity Indicator Number 2

Has ANOTHER child at age 18 (19 for the father): Stupidity Indicator Number 3

There's no reason to be asking "what was she thinking", because she hasn't been doing any thinking for at least five years.

4 ( +4 / -1 )

What a shocking and sad bit of news :(

Fadamor not everyone who has a child at a young age turn out to be stupid and bad parents. My fiancee's mother had her eldest sister at 15 and the 2 oldest sisters are both now at university, and all 3 girls have been brought up fantastically. While I had my first child at 18 and at 21 I'm expecting my 2nd and my daughter is well looked after. So don't assume that young parents are bad. A fair few are but not all.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This might be out of line, but maybe this isn't an accident. Anyone who visits this site regularly knows that parents of this age, in Japan, have a tendency of not wanting to be parents anymore.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@Cleo "...the fire most likely started at the kotatsu."

As kotatsu are space heaters, the heating elements are exposed and often get wickedly hot, to compensate for the frigid ambient air. Central heating is integrated into a home's structure -- away from kids prying hands -- and anyway insulation retains heat, meaning the heat projecting components don't have to run at dangerously high levels of heat.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

JeffLee - It wasn't the kotatsu that started the fire, it was the kids' playing with a lighter. Likely the kotatsu cover that caught fire first.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

You can't really blame this on the parents being young. Parents of all ages abuse, neglect and kill their kids. It's only the last 10 years or so that women started having children at an older age. My mother's generation most of the mums were in their early 20s....some teenagers. I know a lot of great,responsible young parents. I also know a few 'older' mums who really shouldn't have become mothers.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Wotound. I sometimes wonder about that. To play Russian roulette with your child's life like that. I am not a perfect parent but my children's safety comes paramount to everything else. These days, some parents constantly seem to put their own needs, wants and comfort above their child's. Bringing a life into this world is ALL about responsibility.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have read articles about younger mothers having higher rates of abuse and neglect towards their kids. So yes, I do think you can question the age and maturity of young parents. Certainly not all, but many. With age brings maturity and experience. That isn't to say older moms are all better as we saw last week with the mom killing her son. However, this girl (and her husband) have made numerous errors - unprotected sex, smoking around their kids, leaving lighters around, leaving the kids at home alone... Sorry but I do think in this case we are allowed to question her age, maturity and parenting skills - or lack there of.

You also can't compare having kids 30/40/50 years ago to having kids now. I think there were a lot more expectations and less dependence on parents to help support grand-kids like there is today. I mean, if you really wanted to go back and look, 150 year ago our countries were having 13 year olds married to guys in their 40s. Everything done by hand, numerous kids.... Not the same situation as today when everything can be bought, TV running all the time and very little responsibility taken when things go wrong.

Kari, I'm glad things are working out well for you and this will sound patronizing but if I knew everything I thought I knew when I was 21, man, I was a smart cookie. At 21 you may be very, very mature for your age but just think of how much more you'll know when your 30, 40, 50... when it comes to raising kids and the like.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Sam, your mom and her friends in their 20s vs a JAPANESE girl at 16. HUGE difference in maturity and responsibility.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@Tmarie. Yeah, I've read studies that single mums are morely likely to be abusive or neglectful. Age, financial situation etc do play a role. Here in Japan, I've met some very immature ladies in their 30s and even 40s. People who really shouldn't have had their kids.

My Dad was 18 and my Mum was 19 when I made my entrance into this glorious world. They sucked it up and were great parents. I think it was a different generation too. Different principles and ideas about life. It's probably the same in Japan. People used to just 'get on with it' .

2 ( +2 / -0 )

What happened to taking the kids with you?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Puller, this is Japan. That is too mendokusai! Best leave them at home or in the car!

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Puller, this is Japan. That is too mendokusai! Best leave them at home or in the car!

tmarie: It is not solely a "Japan" thing, or an "American" thing. Irresponsible parents exist throughout the world. I've heard of and seen enough to understand that being irresponsible and negligent has everything to do with each parent themselves and thus have no one to blame but themselves. I've also met enough responsible, caring, and loving Japanese parents to know that it is not the norm.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Indeed it does happen around the world but it seems to happen a lot more here. I don't think anyone said it was the norm.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Indeed it does happen around the world but it seems to happen a lot more here

In reality, it doesn't.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Start allowing healthy, so inclined retired people to become either private, or govt. paid babysitters. They can be useful to society and add some yen to their pensions...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In reality, it doesn't.

Perhaps it doesn't but it seems like it does.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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