News Commentary: Workplace Violence in Japan

by Park Dietz, MD, MPH, PhD

On Tuesday, Japan experienced a terrible incident of workplace violence when a terminated employee broke into his former workplace and killed 19 people and wounded 45 others.  He had provided the clearest warning imaginable, had been hospitalized briefly, and had been discharged from the hospital last March. 

The issue of workplace violence and its prevention receives much less attention in Japan than in the U.S., in part because the underlying problems—such as substance abuse and other mental disorders, bullying, and intimate partner violence—are only belatedly receiving appropriate recognition in Japanese culture.

If your company operates in Japan, call 949-723-2220 to order TAG’s recent white paper, “Responding to Emerging Behavioral Issues in the Japanese Workplace,” available at no charge to TAG360 clients.

Tuesday’s was not Japan’s first mass attack:

·       In 1994, members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult killed seven and sickened some two hundred more in a sarin gas attack.

·       In 1995, members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult killed 13 people and injured more than 5,000 on the Tokyo subway system in a sarin gas attack.

·       In 2001 a former janitorial employee killed eight children and injured 13 others in a knife attack at an elementary school in Osaka.

·       In 2008, a man drove his truck into a crowd of shoppers in central Tokyo’s Akihabara gaming district and then stabbed 18 bystanders, killing seven.

·       In 2010, an unemployed man stabbed and assaulted 14 bus passengers outside a railway station northeast of Tokyo.

·       In July 2016, a man stabbed four people at a library in northeastern Japan, supposedly because he didn’t the customer service.

Six months after being fired from his employment at the Tsukui Yamayuri-en residential center for the disabled, where he had worked since 2012,  26-year-old Satoshi Uematsu killed 16 people and wounded approximately 25 others in a 40-minute knife attack.  The facility is located in Sagamihara, 31 miles west of Tokyo.

Knowing only a handful of staff would be present, Uematsu drove up in a black car, carried several knives, shattering a first-floor window with a hammer at 2:10 a.m., climbed in, tied up at least some of the eight caregivers on duty, stole keys, and began attacking his victims, slashing some of their throats.  Although an emergency call was made at 2:37 a.m., Uematsu returned to his care before first responders arrived.  At 2:50 a.m., he tweeted, “Wishing for world peace. beautiful Japan!!!!!!”  Within two hours, he drove to the local police station and walked in carrying a bag containing three knives and other tools, some of which were bloody, and surrendered himself, telling police he had done it, that “It’s better that disabled people disappear,” and that he attacked those who could not respond to his questions.

The warning Uematsu gave could not have been more transparent.   Days before his last day at work, he tried to hand-deliver a hand-written letter to the official residence of the speaker of Japan’s House of Representatives outlining planned attacks on two facilities.  He wrote, “I can kill 470 disabled people.  My goal is a world where people with multiple disabilities can be euthanized with their guardians’ consent if it’s difficult for them to live at home or take part in social activities.”  He wrote, “I will carry it out at night time, when there are fewer staff on duty” and that he would tie up the staff during his “massacre.”  He also asked he be found not guilty by reason of insanity and be given $5 million and plastic surgery so he could lead a normal life after the attacks.  He wrote, “My reasoning is that I may be able to revitalize the world economy and I thought it may be possible to prevent World War III.”  Like 95% of those sending inappropriate and threatening letters to politicians, Uematsu gave his true name, address, and telephone number in the letter.  (The full text of the letter is provided below.)

A few days later, Uematsu told his colleagues that seriously disabled people should be euthanized because there was no point in their living.  The local police were alerted, and Uematsu was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital, where he tested positive for marijuana use and was diagnosed as suffering a drug-induced psychosis.  In Japan, marijuana is highly illegal, and Japanese doctors have little experience with its effects.  Marijuana smoking hastens the onset of schizophrenia, a more likely cause of psychosis.  He was cleared for release 12 days later, in March, when doctors declared that he no longer presented a threat.

As is usual in the aftermath of such incidents, some who knew the killer said they were surprised and that he was a polite, ordinary man.

As reported by the Daily Mail, the full text of Uematsu’s letter reads:

Dear Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima,

Thank you very much for reading this letter. I can wipe out a total of 470 disabled individuals.

I am fully aware that my remark is eccentric. However, thinking about the tired faces of guardians, the dull eyes of caregivers working at the facility, I am not able to contain myself, and so I decided to take action today for the sake of Japan and the world.

My reasoning is that I may be able to revitalize the world economy and I thought it may be possible to prevent World War III.

I envision a world where a person with multiple disabilities can be euthanized, with an agreement from the guardians, when it is difficult for the person to carry out household and social activities.

I believe there is still no answer about the way of life for individuals with multiple disabilities. The disabled can only create misery. I think now is the time to carry out a revolution and to make the inevitable but tough decision for the sake of all mankind. Let Japan take the first big step.

Would Mr. Tadamori Oshima, who bears the world, use his power to make the world proceed in a better direction? I sincerely hope you would deliver this message to Mr. Shinzo Abe. This is the answer I reached after serious thinking about what I can do for humankind.

Dear Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima, would you lend your power for the sake of dear Japan and all humankind?

Please give this full consideration. Satoshi Uematsu

The Plot: It will be carried out during the night shift, when staffing is low. The target will be two facilities where many multiply disabled people reside.

Staff on guard will be strapped with cable so they can't move and can't make contact with anyone outside. The act will be carried out speedily, and definitely without harming the staff. After wiping out the 260 people in two facilities, I will turn myself in.

In carrying out the act, I have several requests. After my arrest, my incarceration should be up to two years, and please let me lead a free life afterward. Innocence on grounds of insanity. A new name (Takashi Iguro), government registration and documents such as a driver's license needed for everyday life.

A disguise for regular society through plastic surgery. Financial aid of 500 million yen ($5 million). I would like these conditions to be promised.

If you can make your decision, I will carry it out at any time. Please consider this fully for the sake of Japan and world peace.

I hope with all my heart that this can be discussed with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, although I am sorry to trouble him in an unimaginably busy schedule.



Simon Levshin