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Sight impaired man killed by train in Tokyo platform fall was respected massage therapist

Police officers are seen at the scene of an incident where a visually impaired man was fatally hit by an oncoming train after falling off a platform at JR Asagaya Station in Tokyo's Suginami Ward on July 26, 2020. (Mainichi/Koichi Yamashita)

TOKYO -- A visually impaired man who was fatally hit by a train after falling from a platform in the capital is known to have been active as a massage therapist for professional athletes and celebrities, and for devoting his time to volunteer massage work.

    Mitsunobu Yoshimoto, 51, a resident of the suburban Tokyo city of Kodaira, was hit by a train on the JR Sobu Line at Asagaya Station in the capital's Suginami Ward at around 2:45 p.m. on July 26. He was using the station while traveling to give massages to elderly people. His wife voiced her feelings of regret, saying that the incident may have been prevented had there been platform doors at the station.

    Surveillance camera footage at the station showed Yoshimoto falling onto the tracks after losing his footing while walking by himself on the platform, according to the Metropolitan Police Department's Suginami Police Station. Yoshimoto tried to climb up to the platform on his own, but was apparently hit by a train. His white cane was left at the scene.

    According to his Facebook account and related sources, Yoshimoto is originally from the city of Wakayama in western Japan. He had poor vision from birth, and went to a prefectural school for the blind in Wakayama Prefecture before graduating from a special needs education school for the visually impaired in Tokyo.

    In 2010, he opened a massage business with some colleagues in the capital's Roppongi district. His customers and colleagues were fond of him, and called him by the nickname "Yosshi." A 58-year-old former male colleague commented, "His senses, such as how he judged (conditions) when touching muscles, were excellent, and it was like they made up for his impaired vision. He had unique skills that cannot be taught to others."

    Yoshimoto quit the shop in the summer of 2017, and moved to a different store. He switched to running a personal business from the spring of 2019 and provided massage treatment to celebrities including Yudai Baba, a basketball player on Japan's national team aiming to be drafted by the NBA. Yoshimoto's work is said to have been going smoothly.

    As a massage therapist, Yoshimoto was also passionate about volunteer work for people who could not usually receive such treatment. He had worked with an incorporated nonprofit group since the spring of 2017 to hold free massage sessions in Asagaya for single mothers every month. The initiative came about from Yoshimoto's thoughts about how he could be of help for such women, who face difficulties while working and raising their children. Yoshimoto once wrote in his blog, "I was told by a participant, 'Not only does my body become relaxed but I'm also healed by seeing your and others' faces every month,' and I felt glad that I've been doing this work."

    Yoshimoto's wife responded in an interview on July 27, "I think that he wanted to live more. He was loved by so many people. I wish that platform doors would be installed so that everyone can board and get off trains safely." East Japan Railway Co. plans to establish platform doors at all stations on major lines in the greater Tokyo area, including Asagaya Station, but the target date for completion is not until the end of fiscal 2032.

    For visually impaired individuals to use stations safely, it is crucial for surrounding people to help and call out to them. However, according to Hirokazu Ichihara, 53, an executive director of Tokyo's association for the welfare of the blind, many people are apparently keeping away from others due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, and there have been fewer instances of people reaching out to help visually impaired people. "If you see a scene that looks dangerous, I would like you to say something to raise the alarm without hesitating," said Ichihara.

    (Japanese original by Takuya Suzuki, Hironori Tsuchie and Kazuki Mogami, City News Department)

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