Photo/IllutrationPrayers are offered to victims of the May 28 stabbing rampage in Kawasaki’s Tama Ward on June 3. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

Japan is still reeling from a May 28 stabbing spree in Kawasaki that left 20 people, mostly elementary school children, dead or injured.

The attack on Caritas Elementary School pupils waiting for a school bus took the lives of an 11-year-old schoolgirl and the 39-year-old father of another pupil. Of the 18 others injured, 17 were pupils of the elementary school.

The 51-year-old perpetrator fatally stabbed himself.

The rampage, which was greeted with shock across the nation, brought to the fore some serious problems plaguing Japanese society.

Many TV commentators and Internet posts, noting that the perpetrator committed suicide at the scene, said that if the man had wanted to die he should have just done it without involving anyone else.

Only after experts warned that such comments could trigger similar incidents and suicides did the wave of “die alone” remarks subside.

Such thoughtless verbal attacks on the perpetrators of violent crimes, even if they are driven by grief for the deaths of the victims, could unexpectedly hurt unrelated, innocent people.

This is an important lesson for all in this age of social media, which allow anyone to express and share an opinion.

As some news reports focused on the fact that the attacker was an extreme social recluse, or “hikikomori,” an association of families with members suffering from this condition voiced concerns that such people could be wrongfully stigmatized as “dangerous types” even though social recluses rarely commit violence against others.

Misperceptions about this condition serve only to put additional social pressure on those in that situation.

Four days after the Kawasaki attack, a tragic incident occurred that seems to have vindicated their concerns. A 76-year-old former administrative vice minister at the farm ministry was arrested on suspicion of murdering his 44-year-old reclusive son at their home in Tokyo.

The suspect told investigators he feared that his son, who had allegedly behaved violently toward his parents, could attack children at a nearby elementary school like the Kawasaki attacker.

Many mysteries remain with regard to both crimes, which are still under investigation. But the facts that have come to light so far underscore the importance of people having meaningful social contacts.

A report published six years ago by the Justice Ministry’s Research and Training Institute offers some important insights into this issue.

Based on an analysis of court rulings in 52 cases of indiscriminate attacks, the report said the most common psychological factor among the perpetrators was discontent with their circumstances.

Other common factors included weak ties with other people, including their own families, and unstable employment status.

The report argued that policy efforts to create venues where such people can feel comfortable in order to keep them from falling into social isolation would help prevent such crimes.

This is a view that is diametrically opposite to the unsympathetic labeling of recluses as people suffering from problems of their own making, an attitude which causes them to feel they have nowhere to turn.

Our society is clearly required to make steady efforts to create opportunities where people living in social isolation can feel a sense of belonging and provide incentives for them to seek social contacts, one step at a time.

This is, of course, easier said than done. The relatives of the Kawasaki killer sought and received advice from the municipal government, but unfortunately these actions failed to prevent the crime.

Experts say many families of social recluses cannot bring themselves to seek help from specialist institutions and aid groups out of concerns about how they could be viewed by others.

Faced with prejudice, people cut off from society will only to sink deeper into isolation and despair. This vicious cycle must be broken.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 8