The killings of 19 disabled patients at a specialist facility sparks debate about the need for change in Japanese society where disability is stigmatised. Paul Chapman reports
Japan ‘disability stigma’ in spotlight
When 19 patients at this facility for the disabled in Japan were stabbed to death in their beds the nation was shocked.
The alleged killer said he was inspired by the Nazi ideology of eugenics and considered his act one of mercy.
Takashi and Chikiko Ono’s son was severely wounded but survived.
They’re among the few families to speak publicly in the wake of the attack.
It’s the nation’s worst mass killing since World War Two yet the victims have remained largely anonymous and there’s been little public mourning.
It’s turned the spotlight on Japan’s discomfort with disability and its tendency to stigmatise those it affects.
(SOUNDBITE)(Japanese) TAKASHI ONO, FATHER OF SURVIVOR, SAYING:
“People with disabilities are living their lives as best they can and they don’t see themselves as disabled. ‘Healthy’ people just label them as disabled and look down on or discriminate against them. I hate that, I really don’t like it.”
This facility in Tokyo is similar to the one in Sagamihara where the attack took place.
Some staff here say the stigma of disability runs so wide and so deep that many in society sympathise with the knifeman’s motives.
Shinichiro Kumagaya is associate professor at the University of Tokyo.
He specialises in helping people with mental health and other issues to study their problems alongside their peers.
He says the lack of information about the mass killing victims is part of the problem.
(SOUNDBITE)(Japanese) SHINICHIRO KUMAGAYA, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ‘SELF’ STUDIES AT UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO, SAYING:
“The root of all values is derived from the principle that an individual’s life is of paramount importance. In order to convey this I would have liked to have had more attention on what sort of people the victims were. It’s unfortunate it wasn’t possible this time.”
The anonymity of the victims of the mass killing in July has unleashed debate on what needs to change in Japanese society in relation to disability.
Optimists say that debate is, at least, some cause for hope.