Dentsu and Sagamihara: A Tale of the Japanese Media’s Reporting of Two Crimes

On December 18th of last year, the Kanagawa Prefecture police sent evidence to prosecutors for 24 counts of attempted murder against Satoshi Uematsu. Uematsu, a former employee at the Tsukui Yamayuri En, a care facility for the intellectually disabled in Sagamihara city, Kanagawa Prefecture, is alleged to have killed 19 residents and injured 27 others in the early morning of July 26th 2016. On December 26th, NHK reported that the Tsukui Yamayuri En care facility decided to remove the flower bed memorial to the victims of the killings; only five months after the killings took place. As the memorial was dismantled, the facility’s Director General said:

“All of the staff from the bottom of our hearts thank you for the flowers and gifts. I am hoping to encourage business with my warmest feelings for everyone in mind. We are preparing for temporary relocation to Yokohama; we are working on preparations now. We will continue to work hard from now on, so that all employees can return to their normal life as soon as possible” he said. I sincerely pray for the repose of the lost 19 people, I pray from the bottom of my heart.”

It seems December was a bad time for companies in Japan. Along with the Tsukui Yamayuri En care facility and its troubles, there was also Dentsu, an advertising company who’s President, Tadashi Ishii, resigned in December, a year after an employee, Matsuri Takahashi committed suicide. According to The Japan Times, Ishii at a press conference as he announced his resignation said the following:

“We deeply regret failing to prevent the overwork of our new recruit. I offer my sincere apology…Although we took various countermeasures, the issue of overwork has not been improved. I will take full responsibility.”

The killings at the Sagamihara care facility and the suicide of one overworked employee may not at first appear similar. In the Dentsu case, the Ministry of Labor, Health and Welfare, suspected Dentsu, and specifically of Takahashi’s supervisor of breaking the Labor Standards Law by making her work long hours. The Sagamihara incident seems to be an attack by a mentally unstable man against the residents and some of the staff.

However, when looked at more closely, there are similarities to be found in both incidents. In respect to the Sagamihara killings, according to a widely distributed Kyodo News report, an investigation by the Kanagawa Prefectural Government into the incident concluded that the facility:

”..acted “extremely inappropriately” in failing to share knowledge that may have affected the lives of its residents. The report went on to assert that:

“If the information had been shared with the prefecture, the damage could have been avoided…If the facility had reported to the prefecture, security equipment or security personnel could have been bolstered. There was a problem in its crisis management”

Regarding the Sagamihara killings and the Dentsu suicide, it seems at the very least, that in both cases, the deaths may have been prevented by respective company’s management making different decisions. Dentsu literally worked Matsuri Takahashi to death, and even if it was an unintended failure to implement proper working practices, what happened to Takahashi at Dentsu appears to be a proximate cause of her death. In the case of the Sagamihara killings, the decision of the management at the Tsukui Yamayuri En care facility not to increase security after Uematsu made his threats seems, at the very least, to have made the attack easier to carry out.

Much of media coverage about the Sagamihara killings from the Japanese media is troubling. So much of the media has focused on the suspect Uematsu’s alleged mental illness, and uses the Sagamihara incident to highlight the plight of the mentally ill. Highlighting the issue of mental illness in Japan is a laudable goal of course, but focusing on it in this case, draws attention away from the victims of the attack, victims the Kanagawa police refuse to name reportedly at the request of the victims family. As Kazuhiro Nozawa, an editor for The Mainichi stated:

”The suspect in the Sagamihara case saw the exhausted guardians of handicapped residents at Yamayuri En, came to think that disabled people “can only lead to unhappiness” and came to the conclusion that such people should be euthanized. Although his idea is absurdly twisted, there is no denying that his sympathy with the guardians of handicapped people forms part of the basis for his idea. News reports on the incident are also based largely on sympathy with the guardians of the victims.”

The media’s preoccupation with the suspect’s possible mental illness and sympathy for the victim’s family moves attention away from the team management team and their share of responsibility for the killings, only The Mainchi seems to want to talk about the actual victims of the attack. In the Dentsu scandal, due to public and legal pressure, the President of the company resigned, taking full responsibility for the actions of the company that led to Takahashi’s suicide. No similar kind of pressure from the media seems to have be applied in the Sagamihara killings, the same principal management team at the Tsukui Yamayuri En care facility in Sagamihara seems to remain place, despite an investigation by Kanagawa Prefecture Government that found the facility’s actions over the incident to be “”extremely inappropriate”. The only real notable difference between the two cases seems to be that in one incident the victims were disabled and in the other she was not.



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