Japan Mourns Students, Rethinks Security

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As incense burned and flowers piled up outside the school here where eight first- and second-graders were massacred the day before, government officials Saturday attempted to reassure hundreds of stricken parents gathered inside that they will beef up security and provide psychological counseling for students and families.

But some in Japan worried that new security measures--which are expected to be implemented at schools nationwide--might make the community-oriented schools seem more like prisons.

In the aftermath of the massacre, in which a man who reportedly suffered from suicidal depression and possibly schizophrenia burst into a school and stabbed 23 students and faculty members, government officials and the media called for stiffening laws that have allowed mentally ill patients to return to society.

Meanwhile, black-suited guests, weeping into handkerchiefs, poured into wakes that began Saturday night for five of the young victims. At the wake of Mayuko Isaka, 7, relatives and friends, such as the piano teacher and the nursery school teacher who'd taken care of her while her parents, both doctors, worked, came to pay their respects.

"She was smart and cheerful," said Taeko Kitahara, the nursery school teacher, dabbing at tears. "When I saw her body at the hospital, her face looked so scared, so I think she suffered a lot. But today, her face looked very peaceful."

A large color picture of the girl hung over a small casket, which was open above her face, amid about 100 flower arrangements. Some small children, clad in their blue and white school uniforms, clung to their parents' hands as they entered the small hall in Osaka, Japan's second-largest metropolis. Two old-fashioned wooden water buckets and stick brooms, symbols of purification, were positioned outside the entrance. At the funeral, planned for today, mourners will pull the flowers off their stems and place them in the casket before it is sealed.

More than 300 people attended the wake for the only boy killed, 6-year-old Takahiro Totsuka. The picture above his casket showed the smiling little boy in the cap of his favorite baseball team, the local Hanshin Tigers.

The plans for additional school security measures come at a time when many communities in Japan are trying to open their schools to the public and are encouraging community members to use playing fields, libraries and other facilities. Parents and others often walked right into the large and unusually leafy elite school where the stabbings occurred.

On Saturday, police were still interrogating suspect Mamoru Takuma, 37, a man with an apparent history of mental illness and a spotty employment record who allegedly drove right onto the campus and entered the elementary school, where he slashed 21 students and at least two teachers. Eight of the victims remained hospitalized in serious condition today.

Although Takuma had once been fired and arrested after spiking the tea of four teachers with tranquilizers at another school, where he worked as a janitor, he reportedly was released because of mental incapacity. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi suggested in a television interview that Japan's criminal system might be in need of an overhaul.

"We are beginning to see cases in which those [with mental illness] who are arrested return to society and commit crimes again," Koizumi told NHK public television. But he noted the "difficult human rights questions" involved in treatment of the mentally ill and said he feared exacerbating prejudice against them.

Still, how ill Takuma actually was isn't clear. Newspapers have suggested that he might have known psychological problems would get him off the hook. The Yomiuri newspaper reported that a few months ago, he told a friend, "Since I'm being treated for mental problems, I will be 'not guilty' whatever I do. There is a way out."

Reports have also suggested that he had taken 10 dosages of tranquilizers on the day of the killings and was in financial trouble, facing heavy car payments and behind in his rent. On Friday, the day of the massacre, he was due to have reported to a probation officer he was assigned after what was described as a minor altercation with a hotel parking guard late last year.

Police searching his house and car found another knife, two ice picks and a scythe in the vehicle, the Asahi newspaper reported.

On Saturday, Vice Minister of Education Fumio Kishida met with the approximately 800 parents of elementary school students who had gathered at the Ikeda school. He told reporters that parents had made many requests for additional security and that the government is asking all 36,000 schools in the country to submit security reviews within a week.

Beginning Monday, a security guard will be posted at each of the 11 gates of the elementary and secondary schools in the area that are affiliated with Osaka Educational University, which runs the Ikeda elementary school.

"I know it's not enough, but it's one step forward," an exhausted-looking Principal Yoshio Yamane told reporters. Classes at the Ikeda campus will not resume until teachers and psychologists meet with all the families of the students in the classes where the stabbings occurred.

It was clear that the students in those classes should not return to the same classrooms, Yamane said.

"Even though we are saying we are trying to resume classes," Yamane said, momentarily breaking down and then regaining his composure, "in reality, there may be students who will never be able to return to the school. The trauma runs very, very deep."

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Hisako Ueno of The Times' Tokyo Bureau contributed to this report.

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