Is it just that it happened in Japan?

It is now six days since Satoshi Uematsu killed 19 people, and injured 26 others at the Tsukui Yamayuri-en care home for the intellectually disabled in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture. The last few days has been emotional time for me since I live in Japan, have cerebral palsy and am married to a Japanese woman who also has cerebral palsy. We are both academics who write about disability.

It is difficult to know how to respond Uematsu’s killing of disabled people, and I feel that any response is inadequate. What can you say when so many disabled people have been killed or injured. I am not capable of writing anything meaningful that can somehow explain what Uematsu did.

However, a day or so after July 26th – the day of the attack – several friends of mine, friends who are part of the disability community both in the UK and the USA began making posts about how the Sagamihara killings were not be being discussed as a disability hate crime. They are alleging that the issue is simply not being discussed.  It is true to say that are some in Japan who ask why the names of the victims are not being printed. The Sankei Shimbun highlighted the fact that Tsukui police decided not to release the names of the victims. I do wonder why the Tsukui police made the decision not to release the names of the victims, if this was a case of ‘simple’ murder, I’m sure the names of attacker and victim would be printed.

However, the Sagamihara attack by Satoshi Uematsu, as a disability hate crime, is being discussed in Japan. Many do wonder why the names of the victims are not being released, as the Sankei Shimbun article makes clear.  The NHK disability TV programme, NHK Baribara TV show hosted by people with disabilities – I have in fact been on the show – will discuss the Sagamihara attacks on a show on August 7th on channel NHK E.

Japan and the world at large could of course, talk about disability more, but I remain unconvinced that the reason the attacks in Sagamihara are not discussed outside of Japan, are, as some allege because of some anti-disability bias in the press, although I do wonder why the names of the victims are withheld by the police. The truth may be much simpler: Unless it is about a typhoon, an earthquake, or can be put under the ‘weird Japan’ category of news (which usually involves robots, sex, or a combination of the two), Japan is rarely talked about in the press outside of Japan. It could be that there is no ‘silence’ on the issue of disability hate crime in the Japanese media, there may however, be a general silence about news from Japan in media published outside of Japan that does not fit neatly under the category of a ‘very Japanese story’. That Japan is a ‘bad place for disabled people, rightly or wrongly, simply does not fit the image some of the western press has of Japan.