When the box-cutter murder case was first reported all over the world in early June this year, one of my American friends asked me: "Is Japanese society crumbling?" My answer was, "You bet it is." I would have added: "To be more precise this society has already crumbled. But the tumble of the society is one thing, and the collapse of the system is quite another. Our problem lies with the fact that the system has now outlived the society."
What actually happened was as straightforward as that a 12-year-old schoolgirl
killed her classmate, Satomi Mitarai, 12, after an exchange of slurs on
a bulletin board. This touched off yet another wave of arguments here over
how effectively to deal with juvenile crimes and what sort of preventive
measures should be taken by teachers and parents. But it's no wonder they
haven't come up with any bright idea because our society has crumbled just
because the entire system isn't at work.
In this context the open letter released on June 7 by Kyoji Mitarai, 45, the father of the victim, is quite telling. I try below a word-for-word English translation of the letter: (Parentheses are mine).
Sa-chan (nickname for Satomi). Where are you now? Have you met your mother yet? Where are you playing? I must bring something back to memory, I must be crying. (When I try to), my adam's apple is about to protrude (out of my mouth). A heated ball keeps rolling in my belly. When I come to, I find myself clenching the teeth. I am unable to talk. I am unable to think. I can't take it anymore. When your mother died, I went out of my mind. But now am I becoming even more insane? On that day, I said to you, "Have a nice day", for the last time, right? When I was taking our clothes out of the washing machine, you passed me by, running like a blow of wind, to go out for school. So I didn't see your face. But I do remember you were holding in your left hand a white bag which must have been stuffed with the garment you used to wear when taking your turn at serving school lunch. (I said) "Don't you need your gym suit?" "No-o-o, I do-o-o-n't." "You sure you haven't left anything behind?" "Yeah, I a-a-a-m." These were yet another quick exchange of words between us, right? The five of us used to go on an excursion to various places, right? Our visit to the Tokyo Disney Land is unforgettable even now. When you and I got into the Cinderella Castle there, you soon started crying. So I had to take you out of the castle halfway through the expedition. I wish we had made our way through the castle. No, I'm just kidding. You could make friends very easily with anyone, right? That is something your father cannot emulate. This is a gift you inherited from your mother. So, ..... so, I always felt relieved to see (how you were good at making friends). Or rather, I wanted to feel relieved. Looking at the way you were after changing schools, I got depressed every so often and kept complaining because of the loneliness I was feeling after your mother's death. "You've got to be positive, pop", "It's useless to keep brooding like this", you used to be telling me. And you sometimes exploded at me for my laziness about household chores. What a father! Forgive me. Looking around our house, I see the Sa-chan's favorite mug, rice bowl, cup for miso soup, chopsticks, but there's no Sa-chan anymore. When I came to, I realized a long time had elapsed. I ponder for a while wondering what on earth I'm doing here. Usually I would be thinking about what to serve for today's dinner. But now I am doing nothing like that. There's no Sa-chan who would be all smiles when asking: "What are we going to have for dinner tonight?" Why is "that"? That's what I "can't figure out". I see my name and yours all over the news stories on TV and newspapers. And I can't see why. I wonder if this is what they call a slow-witted state of mind. Maybe this is the only way I can refuse to accept the fact there's no Sa-chan around anymore. Maybe not. I think I am in a calm state of mind when I am writing this note. But I'm afraid I will be out of my mind once again when I finish this writing. I'm sorry, Sa-chan. You don't have to help me with household chores anymore. You can go out and play. Have as many cakes and icecreams as you want. (Kyoji Mitarai, June 7, 2004)
Touching? Maybe. But that's until you learn the writer of this weepy stuff is a seasoned newspaper reporter heading the Sasebo Bureau of the Mainichi Shimbun, one of the Japan's Big 4 dailies boasting the world's third largest circulation of 3.9 million.
To me this open letter looks like a sequel to the exchange of childish slurs, blames and apologies between his slain daughter and the 12-year-old killer. There are hundreds of thousands of BBs, blogs and chatrooms based in Japan. Although most participants in these websites are adults, they are filled with posts to be likened to restroom grafitti. Under the circumstances I cannot but conclude that what is facing Japan now is not an issue with juvenile crimes, but the problem with the hearts and minds that are irreversibly eroded on the part of the adults. The harder the adults try to reform their kids, the further the situation will worsen in this respect. I suspect doing nothing is the only advisable countermeasure for now.