A cloudless summer Sunday afternoon. You’re strolling around downtown, enjoying the crowds, basking in the sunshine, savoring the freedom of a day off, musing to yourself with a smile that though the world has problems enough it also its satisfactions – and all of a sudden there’s a knife in your gut and you’re dead. It sounds like a macabre fantasy. It’s macabre enough, but no fantasy, as the random slaying of two people June 10 in Osaka Minami reminds us.
The suspect, 36-year-old Kyozo Isohi, reportedly told police he wanted to commit suicide but couldn’t, and so killed purely at random, hoping for the death penalty. Is there any defense against such people?
Shukan Asahi (July 13) puts together a list of simple protective measures it says might keep you alive should someone sharing a street with you go berserk owing to some private anguish that, however pitiable, has nothing to do with you.
Rule number one would seem to go without saying but doesn’t: “Be aware of your surroundings.” An ex-police officer explains: “Usually your five senses in free play are enough to alert you to anything strange or anyone suspicious in the vicinity. Lately though, many people in the streets are listening to music or focusing on their cell phones. It’s outrageous.” You take your safety for granted at your own peril.
Avoid underground passages and the middle of the road – the former because there are no escape routes, the latter because an attacker can come at you from any direction.
Carry a sealed bag of powdered pepper to fling in an attacker’s face.
Carry a thick leather bag. It makes a good shield. A knife doesn’t penetrate leather easily. If there’s a book or computer in the bag, so much the better. Keep in mind that most knife thrusts are at the chest or stomach, and develop a protective instinct.
Don’t show your back. “When old-time mountaineers encountered a bear, they kept it in sight and retreated slowly,” says the ex-police officer. “Same with a random street killer. Don’t lose sight of him.”
An emergency consultant Shukan Asahi speaks to agrees, adding, “Random killers tend to go for people who are running away. Best step slowly backward until you can slip into a building.”
Making life more complicated is the fact that random killers no longer necessarily look the part. At one time the perpetrator was almost invariably a young man. No longer. He is increasingly likely to be an older man in his 50s, 60s or 70s. (And though the magazine does not mention women, they are not immune to violent despair either.) “Increasingly an inadvertent bump on the shoulder or some similarly trifling cause can unleash an emotional explosion,” observes Hosei University criminologist Keita Ochi. “If you see someone who is obviously in a bad mood, it’s best to keep your distance.”
All this advice is no doubt good and necessary – but it certainly mitigates the carefree pleasure of a sunny Sunday afternoon stroll.