Akihabara Bloodbath – Estranged Killer? Otaku Connection?

Yesterday, around 12:30pm, tragedy hit Akihabara. 25 year old Kato Tomohiro drove a 2-ton rental van into Walker’s Paradise, hitting three people. He then left the vehicle wielding a survival knife, and indiscriminately mowed down pedestrians as he ran south down the vehicle free street. Fifteen victims later, a police officer was able to corner him in an alley and disarm him. For the next five hours, the entire street was taped off and lined with emergency vehicles as rescue workers attempted to save lives and stations of investigative teams worked quickly to gather evidence and eye witness accounts. At the end of the day, seven people were pronounced dead while ten were in stable condition.

Initial reports quoted Kato as saying he did it because he was “sick of life;” however today’s reports have changed to the more elaborate, “I came to Akihabara to kill people. The world at large has become intolerable. Anyone would do.” Though police are still questioning Kato in regard to motive, no further statements are available. Today’s news was also peppered with even more amateur camera and video work. Indeed, Kato chose the perfect place to make a very high-impact crime.

Many have jumped at the opportunity to make wild otaku-based accusations and assumptions. For example, in less than 24 hours it was outed that he was leaving English scrawlings in a JHS yearbook – er, rather, he was in tennis club… Which is to say that he made a sketch of a Tales of Destiny video game character in a friend’s yearbook. Clearly this underlines the fact that the perpetrator has undeniable links to Akihabara and the unpredictable otaku freaks that populate the area.

Yahoo! News Japan mistakenly reported that the event was alluded to in a May 27 2ch BBS posting. The post, which predicted that a tragedy involving a “Ninja-guised knife-wielding perv” would befall Akihabara on June 5 turned out to be nothing but a rant about the Xbox360 release of Ninja Gaiden 2. Though Yahoo! pulled it’s initial article, other news agencies picked up on the thread and have, by now, created yet another meme incriminating otaku and 2ch. Other news sources are saying that Kato had “been to Akihabara many times.”

At first glance Kato bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Ito Atsushi, who played Densha Otoko in a televised drama of the same name; however, it may be safe to say that the similarities stop there.

Though police officers now line the streets, quickly disbursing crowds and attempting to stop performances, Akihabara is still a haven for otaku, cosplayers, computer buffs, gamers, misfits, and even the occasional high profile panty-flasher. An associate once wrote, “they are perpetually broke, and perpetually happy,” speaking of two interviewees who frequent Electric Town and its various maid cafes. Sundays are an especially festive day when the main street in front of JR Akihabara Station’s Electric Town Exit is blocked off to traffic, creating a “Walker’s Paradise.” Markedly less than in times past, cosplayers and performers still gather in the vehicle free zone, while cameramen compete for cool points getting extreme angles with massive zoom lenses. Though there are some shops and services of questionable reputation, there are probably some where ever you’re reading this article. Akihabara is no more a place for pervs than anywhere else.

Incidents like this in Japan are extremely rare, and as a result, whenever they happen both the media and the general public tend to get a little crazy.  As in most developed nations, Japanese society tends to blame youth, video games, and pop culture in response to greater social woes.  Given that this event happened in Akihabara, the propensity to develop such connections is even greater.  However, the notion that an otaku would choose Akihabara for a stabbing spree is equivalent to an Islamic-extremist choosing the city of Mecca for a suicide bombing.  Indeed, it’s totally ridiculous.

Anyone who had an affinity for the “Akiba” portrayed in the media would have alternatively mowed through pedestrians coming out of the Showa Dori side of the station, where large corporate entities are displacing smaller local shops and two huge new buildings are vying to attract fashionable female consumers. Many argue that these are the forces cracking down on cosplayers and street performers, calling for a “cleaning up” of the district on their own terms. Indeed, some have already predicted that Sunday’s incident, in combination with the ongoing panty-flashing fiasco, may put an end to Walker’s Paradise. Thankfully – or otherwise – all of the corporate money now flowing into Akihabara will protect both the town’s reputation and the otaku image to some extent, as both tourists and consumers will have to be ensured that the area is still a “cool” place to visit in order to maximize profits.

This event is truly horrible, and will undoubtedly shake the community for some time, though it’s difficult to say how things will fall into place in the end. In memory of the victims, some people have begun leaving flowers in front of electronics retailer Sofmap, where the violent escapade began.

**Update: June 10

Today, Sofmap has erected a tent in memory of the victims, and for people to leave flowers and other items for the deceased.  The company president made an appearance before the store to give a speech, where the terrible chain of events began.  All Sofmap shops in Akihabara have lowered their background music, turned off demo-displays, and at least one event has been canceled.  Employees will also not be openly soliciting customers in the standard “barking” fashion in what seems to be a day of relative silence in response to Sunday’s tragedy.

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