Kyoko Suzuki, a 69-year-old artist, lost her son in a traffic accident 18 years ago. He was a university student.

She penned this poem: "It takes the deaths of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands and hundreds of millions souls/ before people realize they are amid 'kotsu senso' (traffic war)."

Also this: "Under the law of this country, life weighs no heavier than a grain of rice."

Driven by grief over her son's untimely death and the insufferable lightness of the sentence given to the offender, Suzuki stood up to the injustice with other bereaved families of traffic accident victims.

The group collected 370,000 signatures, which led to the criminalization of dangerous driving resulting in death and injury.

The Yokohama District Court on Dec. 14 found a man guilty of this crime for a road-rage incident that victimized a family of four on the Tomei Expressway in June last year.

The defendant was sentenced to 18 years in prison--hardly an excessive punishment, considering the grief and shock of the family's two young daughters who survived but lost both parents on their way home from a family trip.

The girls' paternal grandmother recently told The Aashi Shimbun of how she was holding up.

She said she tried to pull herself together by going to a karaoke party, her favorite pastime. She sang Kyu Sakamoto's "Ue wo Muite Aruko" (Sukiyaki), the original Japanese lyrics of which go: "Walk with your head lifted up/ So your tears won't fall."

Tears spilled as she clutched the mike, she recalled, so she had no choice but to lift up her head to keep singing.

What enabled investigators to clinch this road-rage case was a dashcam installed in a car traveling in the immediate vicinity of the site of the crime.

A 76-year-old engineer, who lost his son in a traffic accident, was deeply involved in the development of the dashcam.

"Because law enforcement authorities don't disclose details of the circumstances of accidents to the bereaved families of victims, I suffered the agony of not knowing exactly how my son died," he said.

Traffic fatalities today average 3,700 a year in Japan and 1.3 million worldwide.

Each victim leaves behind loved ones--families, best friends and so on--who are thrown into the deepest depths of sorrow and sense of loss.

It is these people who have stood up and helped rectify flaws in the system because they truly understand the depth of the problems inherent in a motorized society.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 15


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.