I FINALLY MADE IT BACK TO AKIHABARA THIS MORNING, DRIVEN BY A PERPLEXING, SEETHING BREW OF EMOTIONS -- SHOCK MIXED WITH DISBELIEF MIXED WITH A STRANGE SENSE OF EUPHORIA. It was an otherwise beautiful early summer's day in Tokyo, and it felt great to be back in the old downtown of the city, a sea of black suits against acres of searing concrete. I hesitated as I made my way up 靖国通り (Yasukuni Dori), somewhat anxious about what awaited me, as I approached Ground Zero. Up until now, mass murder had always belonged to another world of existence, something you saw on TV, at a distance, and therefore without much consequence. But as I walked along Yasukuni Dori towards the intersection of 中央通り (Chuo Dori), in a part of Tokyo I had traversed so many times its geography was etched into my own soul, it felt like the horror movie had become reality, just as it did on 9/11 to the world, and just as it did to me on a personal level, when I was arrested by the Japanese police last year. On this familiar pavement, blood had been spilt, a heinous crime committed. Under these gaudy signs, in this concrete wasteland which was not without its charm, once you learnt to love it, evil had stalked its victims, and mercilessly cut them down. The way it might in a dark, perverted, Akihabara comic book. This was amazing in itself, but even more amazingly for me, was the knowledge that I was intimately connected to it all. After all, I had been on the edge of the crime zone as it happened, inside the vast and bustling Akihabara Station some 500 metres or so distant, even though I didn't even know anything was happening at the time. While I was boarding my train in the station on the way to 日暮里 (Nippori), more than a dozen people lay battered and bleeding on the street outside. I felt like I had been caught in an invisible multidimensional web of destiny, as if I was part of the event, and am still part of the event, which is now playing itself out in the media. The fact I have been running a blog on Akihabara for the past couple of years only bolstered my suspicions of divine connection, like this was the story I was always destined to write. That's why I was supposed to be in Akihabara at the time of the slaying, to give me the chance to write about it here, almost in the first person. I didn't know when I started this blog 3 years ago what destiny had in store for Akihabara and for me as well. But I knew now I had to return to ground zero, to find the next piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
THE WRITING ON THE TENT READS 万世橋町会 (MANSEIBASHI COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION), MANSEIBASHI BEING THE NAME OF A NEARBY BRIDGE AND AN OLD NAME FOR THIS PART OF TOWN. The heaving display under the tent is what my good friend Kenichi calls a 献花台 (kenkadai), kind of like a tribute to the spirits of the departed, groaning under tonnes of 花束 (flower bouquets), and surrounded by bottles of green tea, mineral water, sports drinks, canned coffee, and other items for the afterlife donated by visitors (curiously, no sake as far as I could see.) Soon after I arrived, a group of schoolgirls placed a bouquet of flowers on to the kenkadai, clapped their hands in prayer, and began sobbing. It was such an emotional place, that to be honest I needed to bite my lip once or twice, to stop myself from crying. It was also a very Japanese, very Akihabara kind of mourning -- Shinto style but that is a given since it is Japan, the flowers and bottles of green tea donated by strangers was not so strange, it is a way of providing foods and drinks which the deceased might need in their future lives; but there was also the odd manga comic book, thrown on top of the kenkadai and that was a very Akiba, very Akihabara touch, and probably just what the deceased were pining for...
I TOOK SOME PHOTOS OF THE KENKADAI AND THE VARIOUS OFFERINGS ARRANGED AROUND IT, SUCH AS THE GREEN TEA BOTTLES AND CANNED COFFEE AND FAT MANGA COMICS. It soon became obvious, that there were plenty of other photographers around. And a guy opposite me with a notepad in his hand -- didn't he look the archetypical journalist (I used to be a journalist myself in Australia; and still am, on the Internet.) For a humorous Japanese language take and photos of the media presence and the media scrum at work around the Akihabara kenkadai, click here. While I was standing there a journalist from Kyodo News approached me and asked if she could interview me. I think she was kind of looking for a foreigner's viewpoint on the whole thing and whether I thought Japan was a "safety country". While she was talking to me the friend of one of the victims appeared and was immediately mobbed by the media scrum. So, I could be in the newspapers and I am definitely getting some hits online. But it feels so strange being close to such an earthshattering event.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
IT IS A STRANGE THING TO CONFESS, BUT I HAVE FOUND MYSELF TWICE THIS YEAR ON THE PERIPHERY OF MULTIPLE DEATH, WITHOUT EVEN BEING AWARE OF THE FACT. The first time it happened, it was in January this year, I had just come back from my tour of love duty in Vietnam, and I was impatient to get back there for more. It was a long cold drawn out winter, and I spent a lot of time holed up in my room in east Tokyo, dreaming of tropical love. One night in the midst of all that, about four people died in a car crash just around the corner from my house, most of them kiddies. I was probably awake at the time, surfing on the Net and listening to music, as they died in their shell. I just didn't hear the sirens. I found it rather spooky when I found out what had happened, by friends who had watched the news. I noticed the camera crews filming in the midday sleet and snow, as I stormed down the road, on the way to Kentucky Fried Chicken or something. With only one thought on my mind: I want to get back to Vietnam. And I did, eventually, get back there, ending my impatience, or at least levering it down a notch.
Today (June 8, 2008) I was on the train to Akihabara, a place I visit about twice a week on average, not out of love although I do love it, but out of necessity. In transit to somewhere else. I didn't know it at the time, but I was en route at the time, to a brush past another dose of multiple death. As I told my parents afterwards: "I was nearly in the middle of a murder scene today." About lunch time I went through the Akihabara train station on the way to some students I teach on Sundays near my old house. I didn't know at the time but on the other side of the station, 500 meters or so distant, about 7 people lay dead after a man went on a rampage with a knife. I didn't know anything about it until I came home tonight. It is the closest I have ever been to a massacre.
As Caitlinomara reported: "If you're just waking up or haven't kept up-to-date with the news, read the Mainichi Shinbun, the Asahi Shinbun, the Yomiuri Shinbun, CNN, the BBC, or the New York Times. I'd recommend any of the Japanese sources first, particularly in the following days, as they'll probably have more details on this than the foreign newspapers. As of now, it's really hard to say any more than what the newspapers have.
"From the Yomiuri, Kato Tomohiro (25) attacked 17 people, 6 of whom have died at the time of writing. From the 10 PM news, Kato apparently drove his rental truck in a zig-zag fashion, hitting 3 people. He got out, attacked them, then ran through an intersection, down Chuodori, and into a side-street, attacking random people along the way. Before police caught him, he tried to throw away his knife. After he was arrested, it was discovered he had a second knife on him. (Thanks to a friend -- I missed this part.)
"On the 8 PM news clip, I saw people making offerings. The items were different but the feelings were the same. Perhaps grief is a cross-cultural emotion we can all understand.
"I wonder what the aftereffect of all this will be. I suppose the man will be prosecuted and possibly executed in the next few years, if his case plays out like Takuma Mamoru, who was executed 1 year after being prosecuted..."
I too wonder what the aftereffect will be... not on the protagonist or his victims or indeed the nature of the Japanese soul, but rather the impact this wicked mass killing will have on Akihabara. Japanese people in general seem to be superstitious when it comes to death and I cannot imagine them trying to have a fun, in a place where so many have died, so hideously.
Disturbing detail from otaku trends analyst Danny Choo: the Akiba killer designed a character. It got me thinking: wouldn't it be a perverse twist if the killer was an otaku geek, and the whole crime was some sort of macabre playing out, of a fantasy in his demented mind? Wouldn't Akihabara be the perfect backdrop, to act out the drama, kind of like a cartoon transformed into shocking real life?
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Contact the author Rob Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anticopyright June 2008/July 2004.