It has been two years now since 19 people were murdered at the Tsukui Yamayuri En care home for people with disabilities in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture. On July 26, the anniversary of the mass killing, I was at a conference in Kyoto organized by a disabled persons group to consider the incident and remember the victims. I gave a speech, and family members of people with disabilities, care facility staff members and others followed with their own. Many of those who spoke were people with disabilities.
What made a major impression on me were the comments made by people with disabilities and their families to the question, "What spurred the young man accused of this crime to do such a thing?" Participants' answers included, "The young man used to work at the facility. Perhaps he lost hope after seeing various aspects of the reality there, fell into despair and turned to violence." Another said, "I want to think about what could have driven the culprit so far." There were quite a few comments like these.
To be entirely honest, I was surprised by all this. I had assumed that people with disabilities and those close to them would feel nothing but anger over the killings, and fear and hatred for the killer. One woman who has a daughter living at a care facility told me, "It may sound like we are saying the murderer is a pitiable figure, but at first wasn't he driven by his ideals to work at the care facility? I don't think he always thought of people with disabilities as a nuisance. If he did, he wouldn't have been able to work there for long."
Of course, some participants also said things like, "It's painful to think about the victims and their families," and "I've been scared to go out since the killings." Even so, there was no move to place all the blame on the murderer, and there were many people who said they wanted to keep considering the massacre and its causes.
People with disabilities and their loved ones have every right to demand a harsh sentence for the person behind the killings. However, solely seeking the heaviest of punishments would result in naught but the condemnation and ostracism of the killer, and nothing about the overall conditions would improve. The participants at the gathering in Kyoto appeared to understand this well. Instead, they tried to put themselves in the shoes of the person who did so much harm to people like themselves, and think about what could have been going on in the killer's heart and mind. That perseverance and open-mindedness made a very big impression on me. And, looking at their attitude, I thought that this is exactly what we need right now.
I hope nothing like the Sagamihara care home massacre ever happens again. I hope the culprit admits his mistake, thinks deeply on his deeds and apologizes. But that is separate from looking to continue consideration of the killer's inner thoughts and the social context of the crime. That's what I learned at the conference of people with disabilities in Kyoto as they commemorated that deadly day two years ago. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)