A lone wolf terrorist

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A lone wolf terrorist

The author is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, who shot and killed former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on July 8, worked at a factory in Kyoto as a forklift operator until May. He worked there for a year and half through an outsourcing agency. Earlier, he moved from one company to another through the agency.

He also served in the Maritime Self-Defense Forces on a three-year contract basis. There, he learned the structure of firearms and how to assemble a gun. Upon being discharged, he obtained certifications to be a financial planner and real estate agent, but he couldn’t find a job to stay long.

After his father, who ran a construction company, passed away, his mother took over the company. But the company went bankrupt in 2002. After dropping out from a college after graduating from a prefectural high school, Yamagami must have suffered from economic instability and psychological deprivation. He decided to find an object at which he could vent his anger. His coworkers testified that he always ate alone in the car and barely talked to them. The Japanese media defined him as a “lone wolf terrorist” with no accomplices or mastermind.

Aside from the fact that the victim is a socially well-known figure, a former prime minister, criminals like Yamagami are nothing new. A man who brandished a knife and set fire to the Tokyo subway Keio Line on Halloween night last October explained his motive: “I recently lost my job, and I have no friends.” The arsonist who set fire to a hospital in Osaka last December that killed 25 lost his job in 2010 and did not interact with anyone. A 22-year-old arsonist who set fire to Utoro Village in Kyoto, a community of ethnic Koreans in Japan, found relief from the misery of losing his job and failing to adapt to the society of another ethnic group.

A lone wolf criminal can be found anywhere, but the pattern of similar killings in Japan seems to be related to its “self-help” culture. Japanese people feel they must resolve problems by themselves, because consulting others or asking for help is shameful and “causes trouble to others.” As they can’t find proper ways to vent, their anger turns into murderous intent toward others.

After the assassination of Abe, the myth of “Safe Japan” seems to have been broken. There are concerns over celebrity security and trading of dangerous goods that can lead to the making of firearms. But the real problem seems to be far deeper and more challenging. How could the structure of raising — and neglecting — the “poor and lonely wolf” be changed? It’s not a problem unique to Japan.
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