Last Tuesday, on the 28th July, I was bleary eyed, jet lagged from my journey back from Malaysia feeling very relieved that my power wheelchair came back in one piece with no visible damage when I read with misbelief that a man had got into a residential home, Tsukui Yamayuri En (Tsukui Lily Garden) facility in Sagamihara, south of Tokyo, Japan and murdered 19 disabled people. I was in shock imagining the fear and the chaos these people must have felt during the time he wrought the carnage. They were trapped in their beds, there was no escape for these disabled people. I know exactly how it feels when you’re bed bound. The horror of it all. If I feel outrage for the people who died, I feel even more for the survivors who have to deal with the aftermath. They must be completely traumatised as well as their family, friends and the people who care for them.
I know others in the disabled community have blogged about this but for those who do not know the story – a knife wielding attacker slit the throats of several residents, nine men and ten women, aged between 18 and 70 and injured 26 more under the belief of Nazi eugenics ideology. I will not name him and give him that glory while the victims remain nameless. I want to write this from an East Asian perspective if possible.
He had given warning previous to the attack, in letters he wrote in February that he could “obliterate 470 disabled people”, Kyodo news agency reported. He said he would kill 260 severely disabled people at two areas in the facility during a night shift, and would not hurt employees.
He also said, “I envision a world where a person with multiple disabilities can be euthanised, with an agreement from the guardians, when it is difficult for the person to carry out household and social activities. I believe there is still no answer about the way of life for individuals with multiple disabilities. The disabled can only create misery. I think now is the time to carry out a revolution and to make the inevitable but tough decision for the sake of all mankind. Let Japan take the first big step.”
These words sent a chill down my spine. Originally I had thought that he must have mental health issues, it must be some kind of internalised self-hate, that he was carrying out some kind of twisted hara kiri, a form of ritual suicide but he didn’t kill himself, he does not self-identify as disabled, he gave himself up to the police. I was doing my own stereotyping from my impressions gleaned from Japanese films. It isn’t that.
Then like many of the disabled community I wanted to know the faces, the stories of those people who died. I want to mourn them properly. It is said that the families did not want for them to be named because of the continuing stigma of being disabled. And I rebel against that – why are disabled people always invisible? I remember crying at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC when I read a sign saying something like there were not many photos of disabled people killed then because they were not photographed. The implication is that nobody thought they were worthy of having their photos taken at the time.
In these days of social networks and the instant media we saw and mourned the mass killings in Orlando and in Nice recently. So I asked the question: where are the outpourings here? Things have not changed. Disabled people are still not worthy – our stories are still not heard. Only in the disabled community there were the outrage and sorrow expressed. Is it because it happened in Japan? Yes, I had white people telling me that it’s not surprising that it happened there, it’s the ‘culture’, disability is not accepted, ‘ they hide their disabled’ and I nearly screamed but eugenics is not part of the Eastern culture. I am brought up in the East, in Malaysia, people did suggest to my parents that they should put in an orphanage but nobody said I should be dead. This man was influenced by Nazi eugenics idea – so it was imported from the west! And it is here in the UK that disabled people are hounded to death/suicides sometimes by the Department of Work and Pensions. It is not as gory as a bloodied kitchen knife in the middle of the night but the result is both ending in pain filled deaths as a result of their disabled status. And the reasoning behind both is that disabled people’s lives are not worth keeping. I struggle to understand when I campaigned against assisted dying in the UK. The concept does not exist in the East. Human rights is a thorny issue there but there is no ‘right to die’ only the right to live. Would there ever be that discussion? From all accounts, the care facility, Tsukui Yamayuri En (Tsukui Lily Garden), is a good one in Japanese standards. There was mention of integration. I fear for the future of the residents that they will now get locked away to ensure security and in the environment of fear. I am worried that there would be repercussions for disability organisations working for independent living that might impede their progress of integration, against segregation. I also fear that people with mental health issues might get worse incarceration if it was decided that this murderer did it because of his mental state.
Here, in the UK, we talk a fair bit about intersectionality and I am very conscious that my identity intersects with race, gender, disability and being a migrant. Many of my peers write about the importance of diversity but somehow disability often gets left behind in the discourse. We will not get the ‘je suis …’ status because not many want to be connected to disability not even those who are disabled but have hidden disabilities because of the stigma.
I am struggling to understand why these people should be nameless. This is happening at the same time when we are looking forward to watching the ‘super humans’ Paralympics in Rio. There seem to be a huge difference between the ‘Yes we can’ refrain to those nameless victims in the care facility.
How do we reconcile the differences? Dennis Queen and I have organised a vigil to remember the #Sagamihara19 outside the Japanese Embassy on Thursday 4th August starting at 4pm for disabled and non-disabled to mourn them. There is an online book of condolence to add your name if you so wish to do so at and an online international vigil on twitter hosted by @DisVisibility (UK time 23:00).
p/s this was totally unintentional but the number 4 for the Chinese is linked phonetically with death. Thursday is the 4th day of the week, at 4pm on the 4th.
After discussing it with someone who said the families do not want to be named and apparently journalists have asked. I am beginning to understand that fear of intrusive journalists – do we have a right to salve our curiousity? its a different society – do we have to view it through our our own prisms? I include myself that I demand to have that information but what purpose would it serve? I should be more concerned that the disabled people organisations are able to do their work towards independent living for their people. I just saw this – that Japanese Paralympians pay tribute to the massacred victims – they do not appear to be forgotten in Japan!
Japan’s Paralympic team members paid their respects to the 19 victims of the recent massacre at a care home for disabled people while vowing to win 10 gold medals in the Rio Games.
The 127 athletes and 98 officials in the Japanese delegation held a moment of silence for the victims of the July 26 attack during a departure ceremony in Tokyo on Aug. 2
The team members pledged to do their best to promote a society where people with disabilities can live side by side with able-bodied people.
“For more than half a century, we’ve been promoting self-reliance of disabled people and their social participation through sports activities,” said Mitsunori Torihara, chairman of the Japanese Paralympic Committee, in his speech. “We can never forgive the atrocious incident that occurred.”