Notes from the Obstacle Course
Dr. Michael Peckitt
It is has been nearly two weeks since Satoshi Uematsu killed 19 disabled people and injured 26 others, as they slept at the Tsukui Yamayuri-en care home for the disabled in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture. It is difficult to know how to respond Uematsu’s killing of disabled people, and I feel that any response is inadequate. What can you say when so many disabled people have been killed or injured? I am not capable of writing anything meaningful that can somehow explain what Uematsu did. However, a day or so after July 26th – the day of the attack – several friends of mine, friends who are a part of the disability community both in the UK and the USA began making posts about how the Sagamihara killings were not be being discussed as a disability hate crime. They are suspicious of the fact that the media does not seem to view language like this from Uematsu’s letter to Lower House Speaker, Tadamori Oshima, warning of his attacks as evidence of a disability hate crime:
“Thank you very much for reading this letter. I can wipe out a total of 470 disabled individuals. I am fully aware that my remark is eccentric. However, thinking about the tired faces of guardians, the dull eyes of caregivers working at the facility, I am not able to contain myself, and so I decided to take action today for the sake of Japan and the world…I envision a world where a person with multiple disabilities can be euthanized, with an agreement from the guardians, when it is difficult for the person to carry out household and social activities. I believe there is still no answer about the way of life for individuals with multiple disabilities. The disabled can only create misery.”
One reason for the lack of discussion of the Sagamihara killings as a disability hate crime, is that whilst on April 1st 2016, the Law to Eliminate Discrimination against People with Disabilities became law here in Japan, and does effectively ban discrimination against people with disabilities, one cannot since April 1st, for example, erect signs that say ‘no disabled’ (and yes I have seen such signs as a resident in Japan), Japan has no national hate crime legislation that deals specifically with disability hate crime.
Some ask why the names of Uematsu’s victims are not being printed. The media here in Japan, such as The Sankei Shimbun, has highlighted the fact that Tsukui police decided not to release the names of the victim and the reason given was that it was out of respect of families of the deceased. Two names of two victims have been released, volunteered by their relatives, and as they were reported in The Japan Times, over the last couple of weeks in these two articles. Other than that, all we know of the victims, from the police at least, as The Japan Times reported, is this:
“The nine men and 10 women killed ranged in age from 19 to 70. Police have not disclosed their names on the grounds that their relatives do not wish to have them identified due to their disabilities.”
Many do wonder why the Tsukui police made the decision not to release the names of the victims, if this was a case of ‘simple’ murder it is likely the names of attacker and victim would be printed as a matter of course. However, here in Japan there is often a stigma attached to disability, a culture of shame that affects not only the person who has the disability, but also the disabled person’s family. As Suzanne Kamata, a long term resident of Japan, and a mother of a daughter with multiple disabilities, writing in a blog about Sagamihara and the non-disclosure of the names of the victims says:
“Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise me. After living in Japan for over twenty-eight years, over seventeen of them as the mother of a daughter with multiple disabilities, I know that there is still stigma attached to people with disabilities, and that they continue to be marginalized. As my own daughter nears high school graduation, she has been visiting various welfare-supported work centers to see where she might fit in. I couldn’t help noticing that many of these centers are in remote locations—i.e. outside the metropolis, in the middle of a stretch of rice paddies—and I have been told that people in one neighborhood were opposed to the establishment of a group home for disabled adults in their midst. I couldn’t help thinking that while my very social daughter may not be capable of passing the difficult exams that lead to employment required by many companies, her abilities far exceeded what these work centers would require of her. I can’t help thinking that there are many others who are, yes, looked after, but who fail to reach their potential, who could contribute more greatly to society with the proper support. I believe that if individuals with disabilities are not hidden away but better integrated into mainstream society, attitudes toward them will change.”
Nobody, of course, wants to intrude on the families’ grief, their children have been murdered and that murder should not have happened. However, some see the Sagamihara killings as an attack on disabled people in Japan as a social group, and that the reaction of the police and to some extent the media, in not releasing the victims’ names, or encouraging a discussion about disability in Japan, has been less than productive to say the least. Disability, or more specifically people with disabilities, should not be hidden from view, and when Uematsu is tried for murder, it will be very difficult to keep the victim’s names a secret, due to court records. As Suzanne Kamata says:
“The first step toward normalization is visibility. How can we mourn those who are denied their humanity? Show us their faces. Tell us their names.”
Dr. Michael Gillan Peckitt is an academic who lives in Nada-Ku, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. He runs the Japan and disability related website ‘The Limping Philosopher’ (https://thelimpingphilosopher.wordpress.com) and you can find him on Twitter @Peckitt. Check out his ebooks on Amazon.