Murder and the Media in Japan: Better to be Mad than Bad


Murder and the Media in Japan: Better to be Mad than Bad

Notes from the Obstacle Course
Dr. Michael Peckitt

Here in Japan I like to read as many newspapers as I can and watch as much news TV programs as I can. Not only do I like to be informed, I find how the media covers an issue fascinating, particularly when it comes to the media covering crime.

I find two recent incidents to be of particular interest. The first is the killings of 19 disabled people (and the injuring of 27 others) at the ‘Tsukui Yamayuri-en’ Sagamihara care home in the early hours of July 26th, police have arrested Satoshi Uematsu for the crime, and he has reportedly admitted the offence.  As The Japan Times reported:

“A knife-wielding man went on a rampage early Tuesday at a care facility for people with disabilities in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, killing at least 19 people and wounding 25 others, 20 of them seriously, in one of the worst mass killings in modern Japanese history.

The Kanagawa Prefectural Police arrested Satoshi Uematsu, 26, after he drove to Tsukui Police Station and turned himself in at around 3 a.m. Tuesday, about 15 minutes after staff at the Tsukui Yamayuri-en (Tsukui Lily Garden) facility had called police.

Police quoted him as saying, ‘I did it.’”

It is of course; true that Uematsu was involuntarily committed to a hospital after he wrote a letter to Tadamori Oshima, the Speaker of the Lower House of the Diet or Japanese parliament, wherein Uematsu comes close to outright threatening to kill the residents of a institute for disabled people, and that it was this letter that initially alerted police to Uematsu as a possible threat, and he was ordered by a court to report to a hospital.  However, according to The Japan Times:

“Noting that the hospital diagnosed Uematsu as having cannabis-induced psychosis, the team said that condition alone was unlikely to have led him to the idea of murdering the disabled.

Prior to his hospitalization, Uematsu had submitted to the speaker of the Diet’s Lower House a letter describing plans to attack care facilities and explaining his desire to kill people with disabilities, which he had also shared with friends.

The report said that had the hospital conducted psychological tests, it might have come to a different diagnosis and treatment plan.

The hospital also failed to adequately explain to Uematsu’s parents the need for him to live with his family, although it did recognize the importance of family support after his return home from the hospital, according to the report.

When terminating his mandatory hospitalization, the hospital reported in writing to the Sagamihara Municipal Government that his symptoms had disappeared, without attaching a comment about the support needed to prevent him from using cannabis again.”

Some in the media are quick to use Uematsu’s possible mental illness, and the Kanagawa police’s unwillingness to name the victims, as way of explaining what Uematsu did.  It would apparently be unthinkable that Uematsu is simply a bad guy with a particular hatred of disabled people -and is willing to carry out a threat to kill them. I am not disputing  that Uematsu may be mentally ill – although I do think it is better to leave such determinations to the medical profession (and not the media), and in particular psychiatrists – they after all are trained to evaluate mental health, rather than offer mere speculation. What interests me is how quickly the media attributes Uematsu’s alleged actions to a potential and yet unconfirmed mental illness, as no medic has confirmed it in the media.

Compare the way the media initially dealt with Sagamihara killings with recent shootings in Wakayama city.  Yasuhide Mizobata, aged 45, a former employee of a Wakayama city barricaded himself in an apartment on Monday 29th August and the standoff ended Wednesday 31st August.  As The Japan Times reported:

“Police were trying to persuade the suspect in a fatal Monday shooting at a construction company in the city of Wakayama to surrender and end the standoff at an apartment building on Wednesday morning.

Yasuhide Mizobata, 45, a former employee of the company and the second son of the company’s president, has two guns and fired an apparent warning shot at around 6:40 a.m. from the apartment where he has barricaded himself in. No one was injured.

He also pointed a gun at himself a few times but has been talking to the police.

Mizobata locked himself in the apartment near the company and the police blocked the surrounding area.

They obtained an arrest warrant for Mizobata on suspicion of murder and attempted murder for the shooting Monday morning that left one dead, one unconscious and two seriously wound…According to investigators, security footage showed Mizobata leaving the company shortly after the shootings and heading toward a car in the parking lot.

Mizobata was recently convicted under the Stimulant Control Law and was supposed to have been taken to prison Monday. At the time of the shootings, he was still out on bail.”

Mizobata, whom it is reported later shot himself in the stomach, (a wound that was ultimately fatal) was before his death, according to The Japan Times, “suspected of killing a former colleague and injuring three others by shooting them during a meeting at a construction firm in the city on Monday.”

I cannot help but be struck by one thing about these two cases. Almost as soon as it happened, questions were asked about Uematsu’s mental health, and it was reported in The Asahi Shimbun, that he tested positive for marijuana. The media appears want to say that Uematsu is a mentally unwell man who killed disabled people. I find it curious that despite the fact that with the Wakayama shootings, where the suspect Mizobata was already found guilty of violating the Stimulant Control Law, and was suspected of killing one and injuring three others, that no similar questions were asked of Mizobata’s mental health.

As a disabled person, it is difficult not to conclude that there is a double standard at work here. Both are atrocious crimes in which someone was killed. Yet only in the case of killing disabled people is the suspect’s mental health so extensively scrutinized by the media, as if there simply has to be reason to explain why someone would killed disabled people, other than they simply didn’t like disabled people.

Mental illness could be seen as excusing someone from culpability for a crime, so I ask why we are apparently so keen to see Uematsu being as mentally ill but not Mizobata? As someone whose attacker referenced my being disabled I assure you, there sometimes are mentally well people who simply like attacking disabled people. And mental illness was apparently not needed as reason to explain the Wakayama shootings, where there were presumably, no disabled people involved.


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.

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