Photo via Kyodo News
Notes from the Obstacle Course
Dr. Michael Peckitt
Since early morning on Tuesday 26th July, I have had many tweets, private Facebook messages and texts, all about one event, a stabbing at the Tsukui Yamayuri-en (Tsukui Lily Garden), a care facility for disabled people in Kanagawa. According to The Japan Times:
“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’s better that the disabled disappear,” the police further quoted him as saying.
The police said Uematsu, a former employee of the facility and a resident of Sagamihara, showed up at the station with three bloodstained knives in a bag.
The police initially arrested Uematsu, who is currently unemployed, on suspicion of attempted murder and unlawful entry.
They were seeking to determine the motive for the attack, though it emerged Uematsu had been committed to a mental hospital after he made threats to kill people with disabilities earlier this year.”
The initial inquiries came from journalist friends, and from friends resident in Japan that were disabled or had disabled relatives, some of the latter were Japanese and some were non-Japanese. All whom inquired wanted to know what I thought this attack said about the attitudes towards the disabled in Japan.
To begin with I struggled to understand their question. Does Japan ‘have issues’ when it comes to the topic of disability? Absolutely, Japan like many countries, is no safe haven for people with disabilities, there are many things Japan could do, in terms of government policy and cultural changes to improve the lives of people with disabilities. However, I’m not sure how important the fact that he attacked disabled people is necessary to understanding the nature of Uematsu did. Uematsu’s actions at the care home for disabled people in Sagamihara were possibly the actions of a mentally unwell man, a supposition supported by the fact Uematsu had been committed to mental health hospital earlier in 2016, for threatening to kill disabled people. As The Asahi Shimbun reports:
“According to sources related to the Lower House, Uematsu took a letter to the official residence of the Lower House speaker in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on Feb. 15.
According to police investigators, the letter listed several facilities, including Tsukui Yamayurien, and threatened that some residents would be killed. The letter also demanded that the Diet pass a law promoting the euthanasia of disabled people.
The Lower House reported Uematsu’s letter to the Metropolitan Police Department in Tokyo.
According to the city government of Sagamihara, where Uematsu’s house is located, he told other staffers of Tsukui Yamayurien on Feb. 18 this year, “I will undertake the mass murder of heavily disabled people at any time if I receive an order from the central government.”
On Feb. 19, the Tsukui Police Station, which had been notified about the threat from the facility, questioned Uematsu. At that time, he made the same threat.
Police reported the case to the Sagamihara city government on the basis of the Mental Health Law. The city government forced Uematsu to submit to mandatory hospitalization after undergoing a medical examination.
On Feb. 20, the hospital detected the presence of marijuana in Uematsu’s blood and urine tests.
The hospital discharged Uematsu on March 2, saying that his symptoms had eased. At that time, he submitted a report to the hospital, which said, “I will live with my family after leaving the hospital.”
Since the Sagamihara attack I have been thinking a lot of an another attack, commonly referred to as ‘The Osaka High School Massacre’, when, On June 8th 2001, a janitor, one Mamoru Takuma, killed eight high school students in Ikeda, Osaka, wounding children and teachers. Takuma was found to have mental health issues and was executed for the murders on September 14th 2004. Very few people asked at the time whether Takuma’s stabbing of students ‘said something about the attitudes in Japan towards high school students’, but yet many ask the question whether what Uematsu did speaks to some ‘anti-disability attitude’ prevalent in Japanese society, that this was a kind of ‘disability hate crime’.
As person with a physical disability, married to a Japanese person with a physical disability, I am somewhat sympathetic towards disabled people in Japan that may feel threatened by these events, that feel that disabled people are in general, being attacked as a social group, and see Uematsu’s actions as a symptom of such attacks. However, I ultimately view the situation slightly differently; I see the stabbing in Sagamihara as a failure, of mental health care. Instead asking ‘what does this say about attitudes towards people with disability in Japan?’ perhaps, we should ask instead, how can mental health services in Japan be improved to prevent such things happening again?
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.