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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Three ugly words in Japanese

通り魔 誰でもよかった 引きこもり

Tohrima, a word that literally translates as "passing devil," is, sadly, becoming more and more current in the news in the Japan. It means "random killing," and there have been 67 cases of it in Japan since 1998. The four cases in 2006 doubled to eight in 2007, and this year there have already been at least four.

Just this Tuesday, weeks after the June 8 killing spree in the electronics district of Akihabara, a 33-year-old man stabbed two women, killing one and wounding the other, in a bookstore in Tokyo's Hachioji City.

Apparently he told the police that his reason for doing it was because of family- and work-related frustrations, and that "with the recent spate of random killings (tohrima), I realized how easy it was to kill people with a knife." This randomness of is often also expressed as "daredemo yokatta," or "anyone would do".

The typical profile of such killers is characterized by another word that has long been part of modern Japan's social vocabulary, hikikomori. It means "withdrawal" as in "into one's shell", and refers to the estimated one million young people across the country who refuse, or feel unable, to have anything to do with anyone else, and remain more or less permanently indoors, isolated from the outside world.

The last two tohrima killers, too, fall basically into the hikikomori profile. The only significant contact this week's Shoichi Kanno had with anyone was brief sporadic visits to his family, who were nevertheless kept completely in the dark about where he lived, even. And Tomohiro Katō, the Akihabara murderer, had been unpopular at high school, had little to do with his family, and unsuccessfully attempted suicide in 2006.

Tohrima, daredemo yokatta, hikikomori: three ugly words that Japan has nevertheless gotten very used to.

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