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Shinkansen bullet train stabbing unleashed panic on board: passengers

Police officers are seen next to the Nozomi 256 Shinkansen in the wake of a stabbing attack onboard, in the predawn hours of June 10, 2018, at JR Odawara Station in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture. (Mainichi)
Ichiro Kojima, who allegedly fatally stabbed one passenger and injured two others on a Shinkansen bullet train on June 9, 2018, is transferred to prosecutors at Odawara Police Station in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, on June 11. (Mainichi)

Panic. That is how passengers describe the moments after a knife-wielding man stood up from his seat on an Osaka-bound shinkansen bullet train and began stabbing people on the night of June 9.

Ichiro Kojima, a 22-year-old unemployed man, has been arrested on suspicion of killing one man and injuring two women on the Nozomi 256 headed for JR Shin-Osaka on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line. Police quoted him as saying he committed the attacks because he was "feeling frustrated," and that the victims "could have been anyone."

According to Kanagawa Prefectural Police, Kojima was sitting in seat 18D, an aisle seat, in the No. 12 carriage of the 16-carriage train. Shortly after the train left JR Shin-Yokohama Station at just past 9:40 p.m., the suspect allegedly stood up holding a machete and attacked the woman sitting next to him. She crouched down and managed to slip by her assailant, but was wounded in the shoulder as she escaped. Another woman across the aisle from Kojima, in seat 18C, noticed the commotion and fled, but was injured in the back.

It was around this time that Kotaro Umeda, a 38-year-old man from Hyogo Prefecture sitting in seat 20D, tried to intervene. According to Hikari Hishinuma, a 29-year-old also in the No. 12 carriage, she turned around when she heard screaming behind her to see a man lying on his back in the aisle with another man, face expressionless, on top of him, stabbing him repeatedly in the chest. The man on the ground was Umeda, his clothes soaked in blood, and Hishinuma said he looked like he had lost the strength to resist.

Panic seized the train. Hishinuma told the Mainichi Shimbun that she tried to flee to the No. 11 carriage, but the aisle was already slick with blood and she was blocked by other passengers, so she got nowhere.

"I was trying so hard to get away," said Hishinuma. "I don't think he (Umeda) had an escape route, either."

Another woman in car 12 said she heard a commotion behind her, saw a wave of people running toward the No. 11 carriage, and joined the exodus without even seeing what was going on. "If I had been sitting just a little further back in the car, I could have been attacked, too," the woman in her 60s from Suita, Osaka Prefecture, said with tears in her eyes.

A male passenger who had been in one of the cars closer to the front of the train told the Mainichi, "Suddenly, a whole bunch of people came running from the rear carriages. It was just panic in there."

A 44-year-old from Hyogo Prefecture who was in the No. 9 carriage said that just after the attack, he thought the sudden commotion had perhaps been caused by a celebrity event. "But everyone was on edge, and some people were crying, so I thought something terrible had happened."

Another man told the Mainichi, "A lot of people came into the No. 2 carriage, I guess from carriage No. 12, and when I asked what was going on they said, 'Someone's been stabbed.'"

Somebody on the Nozomi hit the onboard alarm at about 9:47 p.m., and the train made an emergency stop at JR Odawara Station. The suspect was apprehended by police, apparently without resistance, and an announcement let the passengers know the assailant had been caught.

"I saw two people who I think were victims being carried off the train, hidden by blue plastic sheets," said the 44-year-old Hyogo Prefecture man. "Still, it took quite a long time for the passengers to calm down."

Meanwhile, a witness at Odawara Station told the Mainichi that he saw a man he thinks was the suspect coming off the train shortly after 10 p.m. He was "handcuffed and surrounded by police officers, and looked like he wasn't resisting at all as the police took him away." The man added, "The suspect was wearing glasses, and brown trousers that were covered in blood." The man said he subsequently saw three people being carried away on stretchers.

Another violent incident struck the Tokaido Shinkansen Line in June 2015, when a man killed himself and a stranger when he set himself on fire onboard a train. In the wake of that incident, railway companies across Japan have been beefing up security and safety measures, including installing more security cameras. However, considering the sheer number of people who use Japan's rail system every day, instituting methods to make sure passengers can never bring dangerous items onto a train, such as bag searches, is a practical impossibility.

The June 2015 case has been recognized as the first-ever fire incident on a shinkansen. Rail companies have banned flammable liquids on trains since April 2016, and under the Railway Business Act staff members have the right to inspect a suspicious individual's belongings and force the person to get off the train if any such substances are found.

Furthermore, Tokaido Shinkansen trains are now equipped with more security cameras in both the passenger carriages and the vestibules between them, as well as smoke masks and other safety items in case of fire. However, Shinkansen trains make frequent stops and have many doors, so preventing people from bringing dangerous items onboard is no easy task. In May 2016, a conductor was slightly injured subduing a man who had carried a concealed edged weapon onto a Nozomi train.

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