The Akihabara district, also known as Electric Town, within the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo is everything Western cultures associate with modern-day Japan. It’s a central hub for anime shops, video game stores and even home to cosplay restaurants known as “maid cafes.” Sundays are reserved as a special day for shoppers in the area. Major roadways are blocked off and the entire district turns into a pedestrian haven. Nearly a decade ago it wasn’t unheard of to witness people dancing and laughing in the streets as cosplayers paraded around in their outrageous costumes and shoppers were free to roam around without the worry of the hectic traffic conditions Tokyo is known for.
This showcase of the most outrageous aspects of Neo-Japanese culture would become famous worldwide, but not for the reasons anyone expected. In a country like Japan, known for their practically nonexistent violent crime rate, it would seem unlikely that a spree killer would be in their midst. June 8, 2008 would mark Akihabara on the map worldwide as the site of one of the most horrific tragedies committed by a civilian on Japanese soil, and the atmosphere of the once free-spirited shopping district would be changed forever.
It was lunchtime and Akihabara was packed with shoppers and diners when without warning, a two-ton truck drove directly into a crowd of people crossing near the intersection of Kanda Myōjin-dōri and Chūō-dōri streets. A man dressed in a black shirt and a khaki suit emerged from the vehicle with a dagger. As witnesses rushed to offer medical aid to the five wounded, the driver proceeded to attack 12 other people with the dagger, killing four and leaving the others with serious injuries.
The police were able to corner the man in an alley and his weapon was wrestled away. Ambulances arrived on the scene and determined that seven people had perished as a result of either the initial crash or stab wounds. The man told police, “I was tired of life. I was tired of everything.”
Officials learned that the attacker was 25-year-old Tomohiro Kato.
According to Kato’s parents, the one time overachiever began displaying violent tendencies once he entered into his teens. Failing his entrance exams for a prestigious university, Kato instead attended an automotive college before landing a job as a temporary employee for an automotive parts manufacturer. It was at his job, three days prior to the attack, that Kato may have been triggered.
Kato accused co-workers of hiding his clothes after he discovered they were missing from his work locker. Kato lashed out at fellow employees and believed that he would be fired because of the incident. He left the factory before management was able to discuss the issue with him.
Hours prior to the attacks, Kato began posting his plans to a blog he maintained. He described how he wanted to drive a truck into Akihabara shoppers, then use a knife if the truck became useless. These posts continued up until the final moments before the attacks, ending with, “It’s time; I’m going.”
In March of 2011 Kato plead guilty and was sentenced to death for the attack.
As for Electric Town, Akihabara was no longer the “pedestrian heaven” it was known to become on Sundays. The road closing stopped and shoppers were discouraged from loitering as much as possible. Just prior Kato’s sentencing, Akihabara began closing the roads again, but implemented some new policies to discourage a similar attack. Standing or dancing in the streets is now prohibited, While the traditional cosplayers who roam the area are still present, even they must keep moving through the streets.