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Teen attacks on homeless signal dark days for Japan
The Daily Yomiuri ^ | 17-Dec-2002 | Akihiko Misawa

Posted on 12/16/2002 8:09:33 PM PST by altair

Teen attacks on homeless signal dark days for Japan

Akihiko Misawa

A 45-year-old homeless man died from injuries in a hospital in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, on Nov. 26 after being attacked by three youths in a residential quarter of the city the previous day.

The incident was just one in a series of assaults on the defenseless by juveniles that have taken place this year. Why are such abominable attacks occurring?

The man killed in Kumagaya moved to the residential area, which still has a large number of vacant lots, in autumn and begged for food at local houses. The man visited the houses of the three boys for food, but was turned away.

The three boys, all second-year middle school students, must have considered him to be an invader and decided to expel him.

Having decided on going "homeless hunting," the boys assaulted the man after school, telling him not to loiter around the neighborhood.

When he refused to leave, the boys assaulted him. Initially, they only bullied him, one of the boys said, but as the man began resisting their attacks with his umbrella they attacked him in earnest.

The man was found lying unconscious on a street early the next morning and taken to a nearby hospital, where he was found to have broken ribs. He died later that morning.

After the man's death was reported by the media, the boys confessed their acts to their parents, saying they never meant to kill him. Their parents had them turn themselves in at a local police station, tearfully telling the police.

They thought they had taught them the value of life.

The three teenagers had no record of delinquent behavior, and had caused no problems whatsoever at school.

There has been an increasing number of cases nationwide in which seemingly ordinary teenagers have attacked society's weakest members, including homeless people.

Late one night in January, a group of five middle school boys and two high school boys attacked a 55-year-old homeless man in the Tokyo suburb of Higashi Murayama.

They hit the man with pieces of wood, set fire to his hair with a cigarette lighter and placed a 60-kilogram locker on him. They then stood on the locker, crushing the man with a force of 380 kilograms.

The man was later found by a passerby and taken to a hospital. However, he died early the following morning.

Some of the boys had shoplifted and had skipped classes. They were often seen hanging out at a local convenience store in the evening on their way home from a private cram school. However, they were not hopeless delinquents, but ordinary teenagers. Their parents said the boys would return home if called late at night on their cell phones.

"It is worrisome that seemingly ordinary boys have committed such gruesome acts," said a senior investigating officer at the Metropolitan Police Department. "This shows that such incidents could happen anywhere at any time."

Assaults on homeless people by juveniles have been carried out for some time. Perhaps the first such unpleasant incident readily recallable was a series of attacks on homeless people by teenagers in Yokohama in 1983, at a time when the word "homeless" was not yet widely used.

Three of the victims died and 13 others were injured, and the Kanagawa Prefectural Police Headquarters arrested 10 teenagers--five middle school students, one high school student and four employed youths in their late teens--on suspicion of inflicting injuries resulting in death. The boys confessed to dropping heavy concrete blocks on the stomachs of homeless men sleeping in parks or underground shopping malls and setting fire to their hair with cigarette lighters.

The boys attacked the street people as if playing a game, saying they were "hunting" the homeless. One boy told police that he had fun and felt better about himself when bullying the homeless, who barely resisted. Another said he wished to eliminate the homeless, who he said made underground shopping malls smell bad. Others said they carried out the attacks to learn how to fight, and that they did not think the homeless would report the cases to police.

Further investigations brought to light a more horrible fact: The boys had learned to attack the homeless from older boys, who had committed a string of similar offenses, and that as many as 208 assaults on the homeless had taken place in the seven years since 1976.

These detestable incidents have continued without pause.

A group of high school boys who assaulted a 46-year-old homeless man in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo, in March 1996 said the homeless were "mere insects" and likened their actions to "insect hunting." The two boys and two girls who assaulted a homeless man in Kakogawa, Hyogo Prefecture, in November 1998, claimed they wished to exterminate him because he was "useless--like a cat or dog."

Most of the boys said they attacked homeless people to vent their frustration or "clean the streets." There were even cases in which groups of teenagers invited other groups to go "homeless hunting."

The cases in Kumagaya and Higashi Murayama were not the only ones, scores of assaults on homeless people take place each year.

On Dec. 4, four young men fatally attacked a homeless man sleeping on a street in Nagoya. In August, two middle school students poured hot water on a homeless man in Tokyo's Koto Ward. Two successive murders of homeless people also took place in Chiba Prefecture.

Gangs of teenagers assault weak people to vent their frustration or other pent-up emotions. Their violence escalates because of their vanity and mutual suspicion of one another.

These incidents suggest that Japanese society has entered a wild and unpleasant period.

These teenagers are ignorant of the value of human life. They cannot even imagine that homeless people once had their own families and led productive lives. We must teach our children how precious the lost lives were.

Misawa is a deputy editor of the Yomiuri Shimbun's city news department.

Copyright 2002 The Yomiuri Shimbun

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Japan
KEYWORDS: life; morality; worthless
Homeless hunting?
1 posted on 12/16/2002 8:09:33 PM PST by altair
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To: altair
Well, this is what happens in a country where children are exposed to a steady diet of untra-violent, pornographic cartoons. The value of life cheapens.
2 posted on 12/16/2002 8:12:18 PM PST by Commander8
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To: Commander8
There's more to it than that. Porn manga has been around for a long time. Why now? And where did the "homeless hunting" meme come from?
3 posted on 12/16/2002 8:24:57 PM PST by altair
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To: altair
In my experience (from 1999), the homeless people in Tokyo are some of the most harmless and polite homeless people I've ever seen. They may be somewhat filthy and pathetic but they largely stay out of the way and I've never seen the harass anyone. Compared with what I've seen in New York City or San Francisco, they were angels, to a large degree because they are ashamed of how far they've fallen.
4 posted on 12/16/2002 8:43:43 PM PST by Question_Assumptions
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To: Question_Assumptions
After living in DC, I was amazed at the difference between homeless people in the US and Japan.

In Nagoya most of the homeless I saw had jobs, but didn't make enough to really afford rent. They were always really nice, and seemed to try to go the extra mile to stay out of the way and not make a mess.

I'd bet that less of the homeless in Japan are on the streets due to mental problems, as compared to the US. It seems to be much more based on economics than mental health.

5 posted on 12/16/2002 9:11:04 PM PST by Kaiwen
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To: Kaiwen
I'd bet that less of the homeless in Japan are on the streets due to mental problems, as compared to the US.

It's easier here to keep someone locked in a hospital. I don't think anyone has ever done a homeless census, so there's no way of knowing for sure. The only other comment I'll make is that it sure is weird to see someone grimy from head to foot, but be sleeping with his shoes stacked neatly to one side. Some customs run very deep.

6 posted on 12/16/2002 9:30:11 PM PST by altair
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To: altair
Strictly speaking, I think there's as much bullying in the USA as in Japan. Still, as with so much else in Japan, bullying finds its expression most strongly --and elaborately so--as a group.

Probably the people of Nanking could talk your ear off about how a group of such otherwise civilized folks could, given a group atmosphere and the right inertia, turn into animals.

It almost seems like bullies have "bully meetings", here...

7 posted on 12/18/2002 9:30:47 AM PST by gaijin
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