Before boarding a Shinkansen bound from Tokyo to Osaka on Tuesday morning, dousing himself in gasoline and setting himself ablaze, 71-year-old Haruo Hayashizaki had repeatedly complained to his neighbor about his struggles to live off a meager pension.
The arsonist’s name and details about his circumstances were reported by The Japan Times on Wednesday. One of Hayashizaki’s neighbors told the newspaper that he had only received a pension of ¥240,000 ($1,960) every two months, and had very little left after utility costs and taxes.
Hayashizaki did not survive his self-immolation, and the blaze also claimed the life a 52-year-old woman named Yoshiko Kuwahara. Twenty six other passengers suffered minor burns and injuries related to smoke inhalation. A Reuters report via BBC, quoted a witness who said the arsonist “…sprayed liquid across the seats and then all over himself and then set himself on fire. The fire spread all over the place immediately.” The Japan Times reported other chilling, but far more bizarre, details including an account of Hayashizaki handing some ¥1,000 bills to a female passenger, and then warning her to flee, before sparking the fire.
BBC reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes said the incident will be “profoundly shocking” to Japanese citizens, who have grown accustomed to their country’s high safety standards, including a bullet train system that had not recorded a fatality in its 50 years of operation, a record that is now tarnished by Hayshizaki’s suicide.
Japanese culture is not unfamiliar with self-immolation, though. Tuesday’s incident falls, seemingly coincidently, on the one year anniversary of another immolation case involving a man who set fire to himself near a bridge in Shinjuku as part of a protest of Japan’s growing military assertiveness. The Diplomat noted that Japanese state media declined to report on that incident at the time, despite it being a viral topic on social media and a top story in international news outlets. Another pro-pacifist protestor burned himself to death in November of 2014, according to RT.
However, Tuesday’s incident seems to have no political motivation, stemming instead from psychological issues. The Japan Times quoted another neighbor of Hayashizaki’s who said she heard rumors about him breaking one of his apartment windows when he was drunk, adding that “He seemed to stay in his apartment during the daytime. I could hear the sound of a television there. He barely interacted with his neighbors. . . . I have never seen him with someone else.” On another occasion the neighbor heard Hayashizaki shouting for a long time in his apartment, and that “It seemed like he was speaking with a relative over the phone.”
The railway has yet to decide if Hayashizaki’s relatives will be charged for the delay that his suicide imposed on the train’s running, or the damage that the fire did to the bullet train’s car. There is a precedent for such legal action: the Japan Times noted a 2008 incident in which the Central Japan Railway Co. sued the family of a 91-year-old dementia patient for ¥7.2 million after the patient mistakenly walked onto a railway crossing in Aichi Prefecture and was hit by a train.
Kuwahara, the unfortunate third-party victim of Hayashizaki’s self-immolation, was married and had one son. She was bound for Mie Prefecture, and wrote on her Facebook wall before her death, “Today I am going to pay a visit to Ise Shrine to give thanks for having been able to live in peace and quiet.”