Photo/Illutration The bustling street where the massacre occurred in 2008 in Tokyo's Akihabara district. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Both “loneliness” and “solitude” denote a state of being alone, but there are subtle differences in meaning.

The former has a negative connotation, but the latter has a proactive ring to it because it implies an “ability to be alone,” according to psychiatrist Ken Takaoka, co-author of the book “Kodoku kara Kangaeru Akihabara Musabetsu Sasshojiken,” which examines the so-called Akihabara Massacre by focusing on the concept of loneliness.

Takaoka defines solitude as “loneliness one can live with.”

On June 8 exactly 15 years ago, seven people died and 10 others were injured when a truck rammed pedestrians in Tokyo’s Akihabara district and the driver jumped out and started stabbing people at random. 

Tomohiro Kato, the perpetrator who was executed last year, possessed a distorted sense of loneliness. Despite having published four books before the court finalized his death sentence, he never offered a satisfactory explanation of the nature of his loneliness.

Instead, his books were replete with words expressing an extreme dread of isolation.

He wrote that he felt lonely playing at a game center recommended by his friends, but he did not feel isolated because he was indirectly interacting with his friends.

He also noted that he was lonely when driving a vehicle of the transportation company he worked for, but he did not feel isolated because there were people waiting for the goods he would be delivering.

He explained that just “feeling lonesome for no reason” meant he only felt lonely, which is different from being isolated--a state in which one has no contact with society.

It appears as if he was differentiating between loneliness that is felt by other people and is of no real consequence to himself and his own sense of isolation that was unique.

Despite the prolific writings he left behind, the Supreme Court merely noted in its verdict that “his sense of loneliness was growing profound.”

Actually, Kato asserted in his final book that nobody understood the truth behind the massacre.

There are no “grades” for loneliness, but there are complex shadows and light. I believe there are times one wants a kind of loneliness that brings freedom and independence. There is no need to be embarrassed. It’s perfectly fine to assert how you feel.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 7

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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.