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Editorial: Japan needs to know the how and why of the Univ. of Tokyo stabbing spree

Why did the senseless knife attack near the University of Tokyo happen? A careful examination of the events and background factors leading up to the stabbing spree is called for.

    On the morning of Jan. 15, an assailant sprang on test-takers headed to the campus in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward to sit for the first day of the nationwide standardized university entrance exam. The attacker stabbed two high school students in the back, and seriously injured a 72-year-old man who was passing by. None of the victims died, but the incident is without precedent in Japan.

    A private high school student from Nagoya was arrested at the scene on suspicion of attempted murder. The suspect had never met any of the victims.

    Just before the attack, police believe the high schooler also attempted to set a fire in a nearby subway station, and splashed flammable liquid around the inside of a train. The suspect was quoted as telling Metropolitan Police Department investigators, "I was studying to go to the University of Tokyo to become a doctor, but my grades didn't get any better, so I thought I'd kill some people and then die myself."

    The teenager's high school released a statement, saying, "We believe the student committed this act in a state of tormented isolation where he could see nothing but himself." Regular activities including ceremonies had been disrupted at the school due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    At the same time, the vice principal has commented that it was "a fact that the student was worried about their future because his grades were falling, and he couldn't reach the place he was aiming for."

    But there was still a year before the suspect was set to take the university entrance exams himself. His statements to police and explanations of the school do not give us clear answers on what led to the attack. The core causes must be elucidated through the investigations of the police and family court, and a juvenile trial.

    There can be no doubt that the attack has inflicted terrible emotional as well as physical wounds on the two test-takers who were stabbed. They should be given every chance to sit for the entrance exams should they wish. And there must have been other exam-takers at the scene when the attack unfolded, too. Those whose test performance suffered because they were in shock will be allowed to sit for a supplementary exam.

    The examinees did all their test preparations in the teeth of coronavirus restrictions. And anxiety has been rising since the New Year as another infection wave breaks over the country. The entrance exams for individual universities will soon be starting, following the national standardized test. Schools and families must provide the exam-takers with the care needed to make sure they are not weighed down psychologically by the impact of the University of Tokyo attack, on top of the stress of pandemic measures.

    The latest attack is beyond the imagination of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology or of the National Center for University Entrance Examinations. Arranging security for test venues must be considered, to make sure examinees can be the best that they can be when they take the potentially career-determining test.

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