In Japan, where guns really are outlawed, pop stars Anna Iriyama and Rina Kawaei are recovering — fortunately — from wounds inflicted by a nut job with a saw on Sunday. The two young singers are members of a Japanese singing/dancing pop group that contains dozens of members, and stages regular events where the girls meet and shake hands with their fans, as part of a fan-participation model that also lets fans vote on new members annually. (Originally the group came from Akihabara (a district in Tokyo) and had 48 members; it currently has 140, and spinoff groups are located in other Japanese cities).
Japan’s hugely popular pop group AKB48 cancelled fan events Monday after a saw-wielding man attacked two members and a staffer, shocking the country and raising questions over their security.
The two women and the male staffer who tried to stop the attack Sunday at a fan event in northern Japan suffered hand and head injuries, but are recovering, police and the group’s blog say.
The attack on a group whose members are dubbed “idols that you can meet” because of their approachable fan services has rattled people in a nation known for its safety levels. The news topped TV entertainment shows and even the two nationwide newspapers Yomiuri and Mainichi.
On Sunday, the group gave a mini-concert for hundreds of fans and then followed with a handshaking event — in which fans who buy special CDs can shake hands and chat briefly with their favourite member. As soon as the handshaking event in Takizawa city started, a man suddenly took out a saw from his jacket and went toward the two women standing at the entrance.
Police arrested Satoru Umeda, 24 and unemployed, immediately.
Dozens of AKB48 handshaking events are held in Japan a year. Bouncers — called “peelers” here — are assigned to these events to remove fans who linger, but no major attacks had been previously reported.
The weapons law begins by stating ‘No-one shall possess a fire-arm or fire-arms or a sword or swords’, and very few exceptions are allowed.
The only type of firearm which a Japanese citizen may even contemplate acquiring is a shotgun. Sportsmen are permitted to possess shotguns for hunting and for skeet and trap shooting, but only after submitting to a lengthy licensing procedure. Without a license, a person may not even hold a gun in his or her hands.
Civilians can never own handguns. Small calibre rifles were once legal, but in 1971, the Government forbade all transfers of rifles. Current rifle license holders may continue to own them, but their heirs must turn them into the police when the license-holder dies. Total remaining rifle licenses are 27,000.
Kopel attributes Japan’s low weapons-possession rates to the fact that weapons were always, in Japan, restricted to the use of the government and the ruling classes. This policy began with Hideyoshi, the unifier of modern Japan in the 16th Century:
Having conquered the Japanese, Hidéyoshi meant to keep them under control. On 29 August 1588, Hidéyoshi announced ‘the Sword Hunt’ (taiko no katanagari) and banned possession of swords and firearms by the non-noble classes. He decreed:
The people in the various provinces are strictly forbidden to have in their possession any swords, short swords, bows, spears, firearms or other arms. The possession of unnecessary implements makes difficult the collection of taxes and tends to foment uprisings… Therefore the heads of provinces, official agents and deputies are ordered to collect all the weapons mentioned above and turn them over to the Government.
Although the intent of Hidéyoshi’s decree was plain, the Sword Hunt was presented to the masses under the pretext that all the swords would be melted down to supply nails and bolts for a temple containing a huge statue of the Buddha. The statue would have been twice the size of the Statue of Liberty…. Once the swords and guns were collected, Hidéyoshi had them melted into a statue of himself.
Don’t give our politicians any ideas….
The historian Stephen Turnbull writes:
Hidéyoshi’s resources were such that the edict was carried out to the letter. The growing social mobility of peasants was thus flung suddenly into reverse. The ikki, the warrior-monks, became figures of the past…Hidéyoshi had deprived the peasants of their weapons. Iéyasu [the next ruler] now began to deprive them of their self respect. If a peasant offended a samurai he might be cut down on the spot by the samurai’s sword.
The inferior status of the peasantry having been affirmed by civil disarmament, the Samurai enjoyed kiri-sute gomen, permission to kill and depart. Any disrespectful member of the lower class could be executed by a Samurai’s sword.
In time the samurai, too, lost the right to arms. But Japan is, overall, much more law-abiding than any European or American state. Kopel notes that:
America’s non-gun robbery rate is over 70 times Japan’s, an indication that something more significant than gun policy is involved in the differing crime rates between the two nations. Neither Japanese nor American prisoners have guns, but homicide by prisoners and attacks on guards occur frequently in American prisons, and almost never in Japanese prisons. Another indication that social standards matter more than gun laws is that Japanese-Americans, who have access to firearms, have a lower violent crime rate than do Japanese in Japan.
Japan is an ethnical and racial uniculture that places tremendous emphasis on group identity, conformity and obedience to lawful authority, and these values are internalized by Japanese from childhood, just as Americans are acculturated to independence, individuality and even rebellion from childhood. But “social scientists” say the guns are the difference. Who are we to deny (social) science?
Few details on Umeda’s “saw” were available, but police characterized it as “50 cm long” — about 20 inches. It is fortunate, perhaps, that he chose a saw in place of a kitchen knife. He might have killed those poor girls. As it is, they’ll recover.
But violent mental insanity is a uniquely American problem, caused by the ready availability of assault weapons. All the best papers say so.