And so it goes. On the 5th anniversary of a young, depressed Japanese man entering an elementary school with a knife and stabbing a number of students to death, we had a repeat; a young, depressed Japanese man entered Akihabara in Tokyo, driving a truck. He mowed down a number of people then jumped out and started stabbing them until he was eventually subdued by the police. The prime minister of Japan, Yasuo Fukuda, has ordered an investigation into the ‘social background’ of the man now in custody.

As people have commented, a proper investigation into this man’s social background would involve having to take a long, cold hard look into the heart of modern Japanese society. The investigation would have to look at how this society fundamentally operates. Japan is built on living and working as a group, which stifles creativity and dissent, which excludes any who don’t fit in – sometimes violently and absolutely.

It’s a society that works on being in a constant state of denial. (It sounds like I’m stereotyping here, but actually, in a homogeneous society like Japan, it’s unfortunately quite possible to do this) Workers are still led to believe in and work within a system that worked 40 years ago, but hasn’t changed at all since then. Men work from early in the morning until late at night, putting in tens of hours of unpaid overtime every month. They then have to go out drinking with their superiors and colleagues, destroying their bodies and then have to go back to work the next morning to repeat the process. They never see their families, creating a disconnect between them and their wives and kids. To compensate their wives turn to rampant materialism and the kids take it out on each other or turn inwards, some becoming Hikikomori, or ‘shut ins’, unable to face the world outside. To admit any kind of mental flaw or deficiency is a taboo in Japan, so there is a dearth of mental health professionals and institutions, medicine is rarely available, and the stigma attached to it is so great that people would rather disappear than have to deal with it.

As the world starts to learn more about the man who did this thing, it appears that he is, in one sense, a victim himself. He was a poorly paid part-time worker who was losing his job in a society struggling to deal with the idea of not having a well paid job for life. He advertised what he was going to do, when and where and how, even posting updates on the internet for all to read, but we only found out afterwards. He said he hated his own life. Now, for the life of me I will never understand how someone who hates themselves would see that somehow taking a bunch of innocent peoples’ lives is ever justified… words fail me at this point…

And there was another attack just a few hours later with some similar overtones…

The point is that if ever there was time for an investigation into the fundamental fabric of a society, now is the time.

The problem is that Japan refuses to take a look at itself, because it is afraid of what it knows is there. We’ll likely get more denial, more suppression and repression. Japan will continue, under it’s own inertia, to plod along, getting older and emptier until there will be only a shadow of what was once a great country, and potentially so much more. It’s probably too late to change.

We will, sadly, probably also see more of this kind of thing.

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