A Look Back: The Tokyo Classroom Stabbing Spree That Claimed 8 Lives

Mamoru Takuma [Wikimedia Commons]

TOKYO, JAPAN — On September 14, 2004, a former janitor named Mamoru Takuma was executed in Japan for the mass murder of eight people at an elementary school in Tokyo.

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On June 8, 2001, Takuma shocked the nation when he climbed through a window into the Ikeda Elementary School and began viciously stabbing students and teachers with an 11-inch kitchen knife, killing eight and wounding 15.

Takuma ran through four classrooms before his stabbing spree was finally ended after two teachers wrestled him to the floor, and another tossed a chair at Takuma. Witnesses say that he was speaking incoherently during his rampage.

It was Japan’s first massacre at a school, and the worst mass killing since the Aum doomsday cult released sarin gas in a Tokyo subway in 1995, killing 12 people and sickening thousands.

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It was later revealed that Takuma had no connection to any of his victims — he just wanted to die, and take others with him. He believed that killing children would ensure that he was given the death penalty. The murders shocked the peaceful nation of Japan, and would bring national attention to the lack of support for mental-health services.

Takuma, who had served time in prison for rape, had a violent past. He found work as a garbage truck and bus driver, but was arrested in 1998 after allegedly assaulting a passenger because he did not like the smell of her perfume.

Two years before the elementary school murders, he had tried to poison teachers at another primary school in central Osaka where he worked as a caretaker by spicing their tea with a tranquilizer that doctors had prescribed to him. Following the incident, four teachers got sick, and police arrested Takuma. However they did not press charges due to the fact that “he suffered from psychological problems,” according to police.

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Instead, he was fired from his job as a janitor and given treatment at a hospital for schizophrenia. After a month, he was allowed to go home and given tranquilizers to control his rage.

In November 1999, he was arrested on suspicion of entering into a private home, but charges were dropped.

He was fired from his job as a taxi driver in 2000 after he assaulted a hotel bellhop in Osaka, breaking his nose. He was also kicked out of several apartments for strange behavior, including throwing garbage from his balcony.

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On May 23, 2001, he was again committed to the hospital — but he left after only 24 hours.

After the mass stabbing, Takuma filed no appeals and made no apologies, which paved the way for his execution to take place with record speed. In fact, his execution was so secret that even his wife — who he married while behind bars in Osaka Prison in 2001 — was unaware that her husband was due to die. Takuma’s wife had heard that executions happened only when Parliament was in recess, so was shocked when a prison official told her that her husband “died well.”

Japan and the United States are the only advanced industrialized countries that retain the death penalty, but the two nations have very different methods of carrying out sentences.

Japan has much less violent crime to begin with — with fewer than one murder per 100,000 people — so death is a rarer sentence. Due to strict gun-ownership laws, gun crime is rare — the U.S. saw more than 12,000 firearm-related homicides in 2008, while Japan had only 11 — so knives are often the weapon of choice.

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In addition, death row inmates are isolated from the general prison population, and executions are shrouded in much more secrecy than in the U.S. The date of execution is kept secret from even the prisoner until about an hour beforehand. There are no last-minute appeals, and even basic facts are often kept from the press. Death penalty opponents in Japan, including Amnesty International, protested and claimed that Takuma’s execution was too hasty and violated his human rights.

In the end, few details were given about Takuma’s late moments on earth. ”All they said was that he was given a last cigarette and some juice to drink,” Takuma’s widow said. ”And that he didn’t cause a fuss.”

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Main photo: Mamoru Takuma [Wikimedia Commons]