2009/05/10

Akihabara Incident and its aftermath

I wrote on this post that many people are trying to cheer up the town of Akihabara.

I think most of you know what happened, but writing a post just to recap on what happened and what happened as an aftermath of the Akihabara massacre incident. 


*** What happened in Akihabara last year***


The Akihabara massacre was an incident of mass murder that took place on Sunday, June 8, 2008 in Akihabara , Tokyo.

At 12:33 p.m. JST, a man hit a crowd with a truck, eventually killing three people and injuring two; he then stabbed at least 12 people using a dagger killing four people and injuring eight. The Tokyo Police arrested Tomohiro Katō , 25, on suspicion of attempted murder. He later told: "I was tired of life. I came to Akihabara to kill people, it didn't matter who they were."


***Ustream, photos, amateur journalism and morality***


People who were in Akihabara watching the incident took various reactions including shooting photos with their cell phone cameras and distributing them, some of them went on and started a live streaming using ustream. This attracted attention and drew lots of debate about the morality of journalism.

This blogger who happened to be in Akihabara reported on his blog[ja] about what he saw with handwritten maps. 

A man who ran to help the injured people wrote a detailed diary on mixi about what he experienced (copied on Hatena anonymous diary[ja]):

This is a set of photos posted on Flickr from the venue of the incident.

This is a blogpost[ja] of a blogger who was ustreaming the incident. He thought only people who knows him will watch but the stream was found out by 2channelers and the viewers increased to 2000, and as the viewers increased, he says he felt an excitement just like journalists. "Police asked me if I was happy shooting the misfortunate people." - he writes in his blog. Many questioned the morality of his action whereas others accepted this as journalism. What he was streaming was majorly policemen, etc and not the injured people / dead people btw. 

This is a blogpost[ja] of another blogger who was ustreaming the incident. "Crowd of people, police cars, red things spilling on the road... what's all this after an hour that I passed by before going into the cafe??" He kept shooting and had 2000+ viewers as well. "I was ustreaming... just like I was streaming inside the cafe I was in before the incident. I never thought I was doing anything immoral..." 

Why are they accused of being immoral whereas the mass media (especially the TV crews) were shooting the injured people, the suspect etc that the amateur ustreamers avoided to shoot? 

In this article[ja] Chiki Ogiue says "Akihabara is the largest media city in Japan, and people walking around here are becoming 'physically media'. Then mass media comes and creates media scrum. Bloggers then shoots those media scrums. There weren't any clear difference between media and curious onlookers. There was just a mixture of 'people who are viewed' and 'people are viewing'." 

This video from G8 summit demonstrator's arrest shows that mixture of dozens of cameras both mass media and individuals trying to capture the scene... 



In a radio program called "LIFE"[ja],  IT journalist Daisuke Tsuda says that live streaming by individuals should not be considered as the same as mass media. Quote, "I believe in the positive power of the internet. However when I heard about the ustreaming of the incident, I instantly felt disgust." "Mass media has social roles to report to the public as it is expected by the people who wants to see it. Individuals (such as the people who did the ustreaming) don't have that social responsibility. Being considerate about and understanding the fact that the people might be hurt by their action... I can't imagine that the people who streamed had understood that responsibility before they did it." " Personal internet streaming is a part of lifelog which is in a different layer from journalistic reporting."

Hiroyuki Fujishiro, an ex-newspaper reporter and a blogger writes[ja] "A photo of a starving Sudanese toddler stalked by a vulture which won the Pulitzer Prize raised lots of accusation of the cameraman for not helping the girl and instead shooting a photograph. When you're in the actual venue, it's not easy to make a clear line of justice and social meanings." "Some people may say mass media has the social responsibility to report to the public (but individuals don't.) However popular blogs by individuals has millions of readership. Isn't this 'reporting to the public'? " He concludes " Expressions always have possibilities to hurt others. In this era when anyone can have media, there is no meaning to ask which information is "just" or not. We should realize the reality that anyone already HAS media and think about how to make it better." 

Michiko Nagai, a reporter of CNet Japan writes on her personal blog[ja] "Camera is a gun. Nonetheless I will shoot it towards people." She writes that above mentioned photo of a starving Sudanese toddler stalked by a vulture by Kevin Carter gave her such a big impact that changed her life. "Cameras are often mistaken with rifles at battlefields and lots of cameramen gets shot in the battlefields. I think it is the same with the people who gets the photos taken too. If I am hurting the people each time I take a photo of someone, the only thing I can do is to shoot photos as much as possible that makes people happy or moved." She concludes, "I'd like to say just 2 things. 1) If you are shooting a camera towards others, be prepared to take responsibility about it. 2) Even if you are not mass media- if you are going to criticize others as a media, be prepared to take responsibility about it."

Then there was this incident[ja] that Haruko Momoi, a famous anime voice actor experienced when she went to Akihabara after the incident- to pray for the victims and to give flowers to them. She asked the press surrounding the flower table not to shoot her photos. But as soon as she placed the flower, cameras started shooting her photo. Lots of flashes surrounded her. She repeatedly asked not to take photos of her in a loud voice, but the mass media just kept shooting photos.

A blogger ululun writes on his blog[ja] " [people talks about morality of ustreaming and shooting photos of the Akihabara incident, but] wasn't journalism inherently an act that invades into the lives of the people they don't even know, shoot with their cameras and show it on TVs, newspapers and radios?" He takes an example of an incident that the bus was put on fire and a cameraman who happened to be near the bus started shooting, but he learned later that one of the victims was his sister and he was so shocked that he left his job. There's only one difference here- whether you're in the cluster of victims (like being a relative)  or just an outsider. A journalist Toshinao Sasaki takes up this post in his blog[ja] and continues: "If  the people who were shooting photos in Akihabara felt that they could've been one of the victims and felt the same pain - then they're one of 'them'." However, "most reporters in the mass media tries to avoid being 'one of them' as they are facing incidents everyday and reporting becomes a routine work for them."  That is probably why mass media kept shooting Haruko Momoi's photos as an outsider without understanding her pain.


***Murder Announcement on BBS***


Before committing the murder, Kato wrote around 3,000 posts on a BBS[ja] how he feels hostile about the society, how he feels lonely, his plan to mass-murder, etc. He was told that he was going to be fired- and that hurt his mentality too. This wiki[ja] has a copy of all of the posts.

On the day of the incident, he starts writing his posts at 5:21 AM saying "I will kill people in Akihabara. I will tackle with a car and if I can't use car any more, I will use my knife. Goodbye everyone."
11:45 "Arrived at Akihabara." "Today the roads are free of vehicle right?
0:10  "Time to do it" 
... and the incident happened at 0:30.


***Yokoku-in, Yokoku-out, Yokoku-off***


After this incident, the government announced that they will make a system to detect murder announcement on websites using several million USD. 

On 6/12, an engineer called Satoru Yano[ja] stood up and made a website in just 2 hours called "Yokoku-in[ja]" to detect murder announcements on websites, with several hundred USD instead of million. The service searches on BBS (2 channel) with specific keywords such as "murder announcement" "kill" "bombard" etc,  and lists those threads on the top page, it also searches on social bookmarks and blogs using various APIs to capture those information.

Then an engineer called Hamachiya created a joke site called "Yokoku-out (returning error as of 5/11)[ja]" which is a BBS that enables you to announce murders. The letters posted on Yokoku-out will be changed to pictures so that search engines, Yokoku-in nor the system that is going to be developed by the government using several million USD will not be able to capture the words.

Then another engineer called shohoji created another joke site called "Yokoku-off[ja]" which is a BBS that makes all of the murder announcements into jokes. 


***Police in action for murder announcements***


Enough with the jokes- but the police was serious. They started arresting people using  Yokoku.in. This article[ja] on IT Media (IT news site) in July last year reports that Yano-san had been reporting 3 incidents per day to the police. 

The problems are- that even if you write jokes, you might get arrested. For example an 18 year old boy who wrote on 2Channel that he will "reailze what happened in Akihabara" and that he will go to Nagoya station to till people." It's actually not "kill(殺す)" but a similar letter (投)which means throw instead of kill. 76 policemen (really???) were sent to Nagoya staion during the weekend to secure the safety of the station and the boy was arrested on charges for police activity intervention.

Similarly, a 32 year old man wrote that he will go and kill people at Ueno station of Saikyo-line (which does not exist and was a joke) but got arrested.
 
Another incident was that a 23 year old man was arrested for writing that he will "burn and kill 小女子". The word can be read as "elementary school girl" but at the same time as "kounago- a small fish". Prosecutors demanded the penalty of 1.5 years in prison for this.

Such vicious cycle of people announcing murder as a joke and people telling the police, police arresting them -and snowballing those cycles- apparently was not healthy. It is said that as of November 2008, there were 20 cases of arrest that was triggered by Yokoku.in, and people started bashing the service for accelerating murder announcements.

One blogger (who already deleted her entire blog) wrote on her blog that she will commit suicide which she wasn't really serious about. However, because of that post, police came to her house to investigate. "Are they saying if you're going to die, shut up, don't blog about it and die quietly?" she expressed her anger. She continues that "they should send good doctors or counselers when they see those murder announcements or suicide announcements... not the police".


***The reason the incident happened/labor issue***


In addition to being completely lonely and not having girlfriends, Kato was told that he is going to be fired from the company he worked for which impacted him mentally. 

This blogger[ja] says his father works for the same company as Kato which was a subsidiary of Toyota, and that the company was operated in kanban-style and even the workers were treated in kanban-style. "Oil price surge was hitting the automobile industry heavily and 3/4 or all of the part-timers were going to be laid off in that company."  Quote: "People who are not treated as human will not treat others as human." 

Right after the Akihabara incident, labor minister Youichi Masuzoe proposed to abolish 'daily based dispatched labor[ja]'" saying "jobs being unstable is not a desirable state." Hm okay... but abolishing those daily dispatched labors should not mean they will be kicked out of the labor market, there should be an alternative plan thought out. 

Work-sharing (to have the laborers share their work- each working less with lower salary to decrease the number of people getting fired) has started in various companies, "Toyota, Mazda, Toshiba and Fujitsu have all taken up some kind of work-sharing" according to JapanTimes.

During the yearend of 2008, the Japanese mass media was reporting heavily about the problem of dispatched workers. Dispatched workers are workers who are hired by employment agencies and are sent to companies. It is said that many of them are sent to factories and are engaged in heavy labor with cheap salaries. As they are not hired directly by the companies, they have a higher risk of being fired. Because of the bad economy, companies started firing the dispatched workers, and some of those workers did not have houses to live in (they lived in cheap dormitories of the factories) they were out in the cold, had no job and no where to live. A temporary shelter called "haken mura (dispatched workers' village)" was created in Hibiya park during the yearend to provide temporary housing and meal service for those homeless/jobless people.


***Aftermath of Akihabara incident***


No knives over 5.5cm please: 
After the Akihabara incident, a bill was passed to ban the posession of knives with blades on both sides (like dagger knife)  longer than 5.5cm. If you have them, you will need to export them outside Japan or dispose it by 7/5, 2009. There were people questioned by police for carrying knives in Akihabara. Better not carry anything suspicious with you.


Otaku hunting:
Looks like some media tried to blame animes as the cause of Kato's murder as you can see on this blog post by Japan Probe: "Fuji TV focuses on Akihabara killer’s love of anime". However in Japan lots of people loves animes and you can't imagine all of them becoming a potential murderer. Takuro Morimoto writes in his column[ja] "I think the reason why Kato commited murder was not because he was Akiba-kei, but because he could NOT become Akiba-kei." "If Kato could've [become sociable enough to] join the Akiba-kei community, he probably wouldn't have done such a crime." He continues. "Kato is guilty not only because he killed and hurt many people, but also because he broke the reputation of the Akiba-kei people who were living seriously and cheerfully with their love for 2D world (like manga and anime etc), and deprived them of their oasis- the town of Akihabara."


Lack of pedestrians/performers paradise:
Akihabara was famous for their weekends being vehicle free (meaning no cars can enter the main streets) and was a paradise for performers, singers, cosplayers, etc, but the "vehicle free Akihabara" had been abolished ever since the Akihabara incident for nearly a year now. 

This Sunday, vehicle free Akihabara revived just for one day- due to Kanda Matsuri festival. Members of Hacker's Cafe sat down in the middle of the road with a smile and started hacking. The letters at the top of the photo means "Viva internet!" 




I hope some day in the near future, the happy vehicle-free pedestrian/performer paradise of Akihabara comes back to life.
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