Murder of two students stuns Japan
Richard Price; Jonathan T. Lovitt
LOS ANGELES - Seven people were murdered here last weekend - a number
ordinary enough that none warranted front page stories in major city newspapers.
But in Japan, where murder is virtually unknown, two have rocked the country.
"This is a big, big, big story," says Eliichi Sonobe, Los Angeles bureau chief for
Kyodo News Service. "People in Japan are completely shocked. . . . They don't
understand crimes like this (because) we don't have them."
The crime Sonobe is frantically covering: the fatal shooting of two students from
Japan Friday night in a supermarket parking lot not far from where they attended
Marymount College, south of downtown Los Angeles.
The murders of Takuma Ito and Go Matsuura, who died after being shot in the
head as they got out of Ito's new Honda Civic, mark the third fatal attack on
Japanese men visiting the USA in as many years.
The incidents have spread fear across a nation that sends 50,000 students, and 3
million other visitors, to the United States each year.
Japanese tourists last year in Los Angeles alone spent about $480 million,
Because the car was stolen, and later recovered near the scene, authorities call it
That crime is unheard of in Japan - Tokyo news analysts had to explain what it
meant - which again underscores the disparity between levels of crime and
violence in the USA and Japan.
Tokyo, a city of 13 million residents with a daytime population of 20
million-plus, had just 100 homicides last year. They are so rare that each nets its
own police task force and twice-a-day briefings.
In all of Japan, it's estimated there are no more than 100,000 guns - each issued
only with a special permit. That compares to about 200 million weapons in the
No surprise that Japan finds the U.S. violence so shocking, particularly after the
two previous incidents involving Japanese students.
One was the 1992 killing of a 16-year-old boy by a Baton Rouge, La.,
homeowner after the boy mistook the home for the site of a Halloween party he
was going to.
And last year, a 25-year-old was shot and killed in a Concord, Calif., train
station during a robbery.
In the Louisiana case, the homeowner was acquitted on grounds he acted in
self-defense. The California case has not been solved.
This time, the Japanese government issued warnings to U.S.-bound citizens
about exercising caution in their choices of spots to visit.
U.S. tourist authorities are predicting a dip in the number of visitors from Japan.
But most experts say a decline would be temporary. The USA offers too many
attractions for tourists to be discouraged by random shootings.
Japanese Counsel General Seiichiro Noboru says the murders would not "change
the love of the Japanese people for sunny southern California. . . . Crimes
happen everywhere in the world."
President Clinton expressed his condolences to Prime Minister Morihiro
Hosokawa Monday, and U.S. officials are encouraging forgiveness.
"It was just a random act," says LAPD Sgt. Steve Foster. "A thousand new
officers couldn't have prevented something that brutal and senseless."
The attack came the same week as the union representing Los Angeles police
officers - now in a wage and staffing dispute with the city - put up 22 billboards
depicting a woman being carjacked by a large, dark, armed figure.
The caption: "This can be you without the police department."
Police Monday were distancing themselves from the signs, but union spokesman
Geoffrey Garfield does acknowledge that the point was to "shock people into
Jimmy Tokeshi of the Japanese American Citizen League in Los Angeles says
the point is well taken.
"U.S. authorities are apologizing and urging the Japanese not to be afraid, but the
fact is that they should be. The real problem here is the violence in this country.
We all know there are places we would never go at night and maybe not even in
the daytime. It's time the U.S. - all of us - addressed that."
He'll find plenty of support in Japan. After the Louisiana case, many Japanese
criticized the USA for its liberal gun laws - the victims' parents even circulated a
petition calling for a ban on gun ownership here.
This new incident is likely to generate even more of an outcry in that direction.
The case involves two youthful victims, and the details have been particularly
Both 19-year-olds were well-liked around the 750-student campus.
"A wonderful guy and a good student" is how John Escandan describes Ito, his
And neither teen died immediately. They were placed on life support machines;
all of Japan watched until their parents arrived and authorized doctors at
Harbor-UCLA Hospital to shut them off Sunday night.
The grieving parents appeared before television cameras and expressed the hope
that such tragedy might never be repeated.
"My heart goes out to the families of those boys," says Los Angeles Mayor
He suggests the city provide Japan with "booklets that describe the safest time to
be out . . . and certainly where they shouldn't be."
But the site of these murders probably would not appear on such a list. The
community around Marymount is a pleasant, low-crime area. Safety concerns
generally run low - or did.
Marymount authorities say students are devastated by the tragedy. Campus flags
fly at half-staff.
At the site where the boys were gunned down, students and friends dropped by to
leave roses and burning candles.
"I always thought of this as a relatively nice neighborhood," says Erica Stenta, a
friend of Ito. "The truth is, there are no nice neighborhoods anymore."
One sign at the parking lot shrine reads, "We must have gun control. Who next?
And there is considerable nervousness among Asian Americans.
Chon Lee, a Korean exchange student at Marymount, says she may leave. "I
might stay somewhere in the U.S., but not in California," says Lee, 20. "It's just
USA vs. Japan
How the crime rates (per 100,000 population) compares for the USA and Japan:
All ages USA 9.3 Japan 1.1
Males age 15-24 USA 37.2 Japan 0.5
VIOLENT CRIME USA 757.5 Japan 2.1
MOTOR VEHICLE THEFTS USA 631.5 Japan 29.1
INCARCERATION RATE USA 455 Japan 42
Source: FBI Uniform Crime Report 1992; The Sentencing Project; Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention; National Center for Injury Prevention Control,
Asahi Shimbun, Japan Almanac 1993