With every change of season, searing pain would flare in the right hand of Hyoe Inukai, a former Asahi Shimbun reporter who died Jan. 16 at age 73.

It was especially bad on frigid winter days, just like now, when lead pellets, lodged in his hand, caused excruciating nerve pain.

On the night of May 3, 1987, Inukai had returned from his reporting assignment and was sitting down to a sukiyaki dinner with his colleagues at The Asahi Shimbun's Hanshin Bureau, when a man in a ski mask barged in and started firing a shotgun.

Inukai was hit with numerous lead pellets, which resulted in losing his right hand pinkie and ring finger.

The masked assailant never said a word as he went on to fatally shoot Tomohiro Kojiri.

"For about six months after the attack, I kept seeing the gun's muzzle pointed at me," Inukai later recalled. "It took about two years for this image to vanish. I was waking up in terror practically every night."

An Asahi Shimbun reader, who learned about Inukai's gunshot wounds, sent him an "omamori" (amulet) from a Buddhist temple known for its "Togenuki Jizo," a statue of a bodhisattva who is believed to bring relief to pain and illnesses. Inukai always carried this amulet.

Until his death, Inukai kept asking himself over and over: "What killed Kojiri but spared me?" and "Was there really nothing I could have done to save Kojiri?"

A "front line reporter" through and through, he served at the newspaper's various local offices, including those in the Shikoku, Kinki, Sanin and Hokuriku regions. And he came to love each place as if it were his own hometown.

"I'm not suited for work in the head office," Inukai said in his late 50s, and requested a post at a local bureau. He was appointed head of the Suwa Bureau in Nagano Prefecture.

In a story he filed in the summer of the year he retired, Inukai wrote: "My memory of that life-and-death moment is too much to forget." He was reporting on the first anniversary of a catastrophic rain damage around Lake Suwako, but his focus was on what separated survivors from those who perished in the landslide.

I had the honor of meeting Inukai at a number of in-house events. A white bandage always covered his right hand.

After 30 years of mulling over life and death, I hope he is now enjoying his reunion with Kojiri over a pot of sukiyaki.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 20

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.