Adding to the scrutiny of Japan's mental health care system, the father of the man accused of stabbing eight first- and second-graders to death last week said he had begged officials years ago to hospitalize his son but was told his problems "weren't serious enough."
"I knew he was abnormal," the father of suspect Mamoru Takuma said at his shabby home. "I was the person most shocked to hear their decision."
Takuma allegedly took a knife with a 6-inch blade into a school near Osaka on Friday and ran from room to room, stabbing children before being subdued by teachers. Thirteen other children and two teachers were injured.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has called for a review of how to protect the human rights of the mentally ill while keeping society safe.
Mental health treatment carries a huge stigma in Japan. Mild anti-depressants that are commonly prescribed in the United States aren't permitted here. For the most part, society still expects citizens to gamon, or persevere.
Because of the widespread reports of Takuma's mental health problems, some health-care professionals worry that the attack will compound the stigma, adding fear to the prejudice. A spokesman for the Osaka branch of the Japanese Assn. of Neuropsychiatry Clinics declined to comment because the organization is worried "about the impact of the media on other patients who are taking medication."
Takuma told police that he had overdosed on tranquilizers on the day of the attack. He was quoted as saying he had wanted to commit suicide but couldn't bring himself to do it and hoped to get the death penalty for killing the children.
When psychological problems are treated in Japan, it typically means powerful drugs and hospitalization rather than psychotherapy.
"Under the current system, if neither hospitals nor bureaucrats take responsibility for follow-up care of patients released from the hospital, these kinds of incidents will never stop," Nobuko Kobayashi, a spokeswoman for the Tokyo Psychiatric and Medical Human Rights Center, told the Daily Yomiuri newspaper.
The release of names of relatives of the mentally ill also is a sensitive issue in Japan. Although the 37-year-old suspect's name has come out, police would not give the father's name, and local media did not have it.
Stress and psychological problems--along with crime, schoolgirl prostitution, cults and a sense of unease--appear to be on the rise in Japan, which has long prided itself on its sense of safety.
It often is particularly difficult for those who don't make it into the most prestigious schools, or who drop out of high school, as Takuma did, to succeed in a society that prizes conformity.
There is speculation that Takuma targeted the elite school in Ikeda, which chooses students on the basis of test scores and interviews, because he may once have taken a test there and failed. His father says he can't remember if the test was at that school, but he says wherever his son took it, he was very depressed afterward.
The father said he had seen his son only a few times in the last decade. Once, when his son sought to borrow money, the father told him to go to the municipal authorities if he was having trouble scraping by.
Takuma's father spoke to a handful of reporters outside his home through the front door, which he had opened a crack. He sat on the floor as he spoke. The two-story house, in an area of small factories in Itami, just outside Osaka and a few miles from the school, is shabby and ill-kept, with old bicycles, a small refrigerator and other broken appliances, a desk and woodpiles outside.
Takuma had always been a "rough boy," his father said, but "wasn't so bad, just broke little rules."
But his mental health deteriorated after he was dismissed from Japan's Self-Defense Forces, which he joined not long after dropping out of high school, the father said. He was released after one year of the three-year commitment. It was unclear why.
Asked how Takuma had been disciplined at home, his father said the boy's mother would first ask him nicely to do things, but then would grow more insistent and angry. "Isn't that a normal thing to do?" the father asked the reporters.
Two years ago, while working as a janitor at a nearby school, Takuma spiked the tea of four teachers with tranquilizers. The victims suffered headaches and mouth numbness. He was arrested but reportedly released because of mental incapacity. When Takuma worked as a bus driver several years ago, he was disciplined for ordering a woman wearing strong perfume to move to the back of the bus.
Last fall, Takuma worked briefly as a taxi driver, but he was dismissed after he butted his head into the nose of a hotel parking lot attendant who had told him that he was driving the wrong way on a one-way street. He was due to have met with his probation officer Friday, the day of the school attack.
Takuma lived in a one-room apartment a few miles from the Ikeda school. Neighbors told the media that he sometimes spat and became hostile. He also was reported to have told a friend that his mental problems would get him off the hook, no matter what he did. Police said they found law books in his apartment and that he hoped to study law.
Financial and romantic problems reportedly also were taking their toll. When a car dealer to whom he owed about $2,500 called the day before the attack to demand payment, Takuma told him he would be able to give him about $800 by mid-July. He had also fallen behind in the $500 monthly rent on his apartment and had split from his wife.
Police say they found another knife, a scythe and two ice picks in his car on the day of the attack.
Takuma's father said he had asked a psychiatric hospital to evaluate his son about 18 years ago, when he had "caused various troubles." He didn't specify what the problems were. "If they had accepted him, this tragedy would never have happened," the father said.
Asked if he felt responsible, he replied: "How could I be responsible? This is the most difficult question. I don't know what to say. Should I say 'I'm sorry'? If I say that, some would blame me again and ask if sumimasen [saying you're sorry] is enough."
In a previous interview, the father, who had since barricaded himself inside the house as the media lingered outside, reportedly said he wished his son would die. This time he said, "I want to commit suicide."