Monday, June 9, 2008

The Akihabara Knife Attack...

On Sundays, the main street in Akihabara is closed to traffic so the shopping throngs can walk freely, safe from danger, buy duty-free electronics and the latest computer games, visit maid cafes and shop for manga and cosplay goods. Yet last Sunday, June 8th, suddenly a white rental truck came driving along, plowing into people, and then a man with a knife stabbing passersby. When a cop tried to talk to him, the man stabbed the officer repeatedly. When he was finished the man had killed 7 and injured 10 more.

Why? People who work there are trying to understand it. Akihabara attracts tourists and geeks alike. And evidently, one twisted, unhappy individual with mayhem on his mind. A 25-year-old from right here in Shizuoka prefecture, a temp worker with more problems than solutions.

I'm not really an Akihabara kind of person, prefering Shibuya, Shinjuku and Harajuku. But on my last trip to Tokyo I decided to explore there and spent two fun, rain-splashed afternoons strolling around, looking for hardcore otaku and akiba-kei (fanboy/girl and Akihabara fanboy/girl) sites, checking out the maids in sexy-cute Victorian costumes outside the station as they shilled for their cafes, finding toy and model shops chock full of colorful plastic toys. I've been planning a big photo essay post about Akihabara...

Before it just seemed frivolous and fun. Maybe even harmlessly creepy in some respects. Now it seems a little haunted, tainted. Despite having so frequently lost friends and family (including someone very close recently to something so stupid as to be almost incomprehensible), I can only imagine how the victims' families must feel. In some cases they must have actually watched the murders taking place in broad daylight, amid the same sights and sounds I drank in so recently and thoroughly enjoyed. What a horrific disconnect from reality that must have been. For them, those buildings and signs forever have a different meaning. Something sinister, I suppose.

I don't think there are any broad trends at work here; analyzing Japan and making absolutist statements tends to be a favorite pastime of ex-pats living here. But this is a personal tragedy for real human beings. Whatever external causes you might name, there are almost certainly many more internalized ones, dark places inside this young man that are his and his alone and universal at the same time.

My heart goes out to those left behind.

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