César Castellvi is a sociologist and specialist in Japan. He is a lecturer in Japanese studies at the University of Paris-Cité.
LE FIGARO. - A madman killed four people this Thursday in central Japan. Are these types of events as rare as one might hear?
Caesar Castellvi. - It depends on what exactly we are talking about. Killings of several people at the same time by a single individual happen from time to time. But overall, Japan remains a safe country.
It is the use of a firearm - in this case a shotgun - which is rarer because there are very few in circulation (according to the independent institute Small Arms Survey, Japan has 0, 3 firearms in circulation per 100 inhabitants. It's 20 in France and 120 in the United States, editor's note). It should nevertheless be noted that here the first two victims were killed with a bladed weapon. It was in a second time that two police officers were targeted by a firearm.
Moreover, the madman had the necessary authorization to possess a hunting rifle and lived in a mountainous area, where hunting is frequent. There is a greater chance of finding owners of firearms, especially hunting ones, in this type of place than in town.
The carrying of weapons is also very regulated in Japan...
Yes, getting a firearm is very difficult there. This legislation comes from a legacy of very safe laws from the post-war period, in the 1960s and 1970s when armed robberies and firearm homicide cases were less exceptional. The fact that Japan is an island also protects the country against the import of weapons bought illegally abroad.
The events in Nagano are shocking because people have been killed, but that is a coincidence. It is neither a problem related to the illegal circulation of weapons in the territory nor a news item that tells us something about a more general transformation of Japanese society. Especially since the two police officers who were shot and killed arrived on the scene thinking they were dealing with a man who only possessed a bladed weapon. They were therefore not sufficiently equipped and did not wear bulletproof vests, for example.
When Japan does face sordid cases like this, it most often happens in town and with bladed weapons. One of the best known took place in Tokyo in 2008, when someone stabbed people to death on a zebra crossing.
So can we say that Japan has an anti-gun culture?
It is true that there is no recreational culture of gun ownership. You must apply to the prefecture or the police station and provide several documents, including a medical certificate.
On the other hand, to say that this does not interest the population would be wrong. There are, for example, in all major cities, stores that sell toy guns that shoot plastic balls. There is a real trade for this type of hobby, but it is only imitations. Many Japanese have an interest in military or paramilitary matters. There are many imitations, but no real weapons.
More generally, Japan is often presented as a peaceful society. Is it correct ?
There is indeed less chance of having your purse stolen or being violently attacked in Japan than with us. This violence is not very visible in the public space.
The major organized crime that continues to exist there is rarely involved in this type of action or in major shootings. It was different until the early 1990s, but the situation has since evolved at that level.
While there have been no recent shootings in the country, there have been murder cases in the 1960s. Including a story where a young man shot and killed two or three people in Toyko. We can also talk about events related to the Japanese mafia at that time, which however remain disconnected from the rest of society.
This event comes a year after the shooting assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a month after an improvised explosive device was launched in the direction of current incumbent Fumio Kishida. Is Japanese society turning to new forms of violence?
Political violence has always existed in Japan. There were other assassinations and attempted assassinations targeting politicians in the 1960s and 1970s. Focusing on this type of business where the head of state is targeted absolutely does not allow us to say that Japanese society is increasingly violent. It's not what happened in the last four or five years that changes the game. I don't feel like we're in a cycle of violence.