About 11:30 this morning a Shinkansen "bullet train" on route between Tokyo Station and Shinosaka Station was halted about 8 km East of Odawara Station. Information on the internet has been very slow to develop, and from what I can tell from the television coverage, the details of the story have also been slow to develop there as well.
The stoppage was apparently caused when a man in his 70's, traveling in the first car, poured a flammable liquid on himself and lit it with a lighter. He died as a result. A woman passenger also died. It is not clear how she died, nor has any motive yet been established. Other passengers were injured, although most not seriously.
The train arrived at Odawara Station about 5 pm. Service was halted in both directions for about 2 hours. This is a fairly big deal. Each train has seating for about a thousand passengers, and they are usually spaced about 10 minutes apart, so a closure for that long is a serious disruption.
THIS STORY on NHK World has the best video I have seen. Several videos have been posted on You Tube, but so far there is nothing there that appears to be accurate and informative. If and when something is uploaded, I'll edit the post.
Edit: Apparently, the link to NHK World fails as the story is updated. The update posted 20:34 UTC+9 makes it clear that the woman who die was not associated with the man who caused the crisis. The detail of him offering money to another woman he did not know before he committed suicide is also new. Perhaps one may read / hear updated stories by going to the site's top page and finding the story. This is the URL: www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/news/ .
This was a horrible event, which I'd read about earlier. It is confusing what exactly happened, especially to the deceased woman.
I wasn't sure whether this story would go international when it was first reported, but I thought some (like me) might be interested is seeing the location, which was a little difficult to find from the tight shots in the early reports. The last time I checked, the story was continuing to be updated on the NHK site, but this is what I have understood from the evening news:
The perpetrator was a lonely old man (71), not much given to social contacts, but known to be bitter about the inadequacy of his pension. (I was relieved to learn that he was not a terrorist, resolved to die for some cause other than his own concerns.) After moving about the car, exhibiting strange behavior, he stood in the isle between the first and second rows and poured the oil over himself.
The woman, who died of smoke inhalation between the first and second cars, was found to have no relationship to the man. She was in her 50's, and on her way to Ise (according to a post on her Facebook page the night before) to thank the gods for a good year so far. The irony of that is not lost on anyone.
The flammable liquid was heating oil, which was apparently carried on board in 5 liter plastic jerry can inside his backpack. (This pieced together from people who saw him with it several days earlier, but not from anything seen in security cameras.)
Japan (where one can walk down most streets anytime of the day or night in safety, but with the knowledge that one could be wiped out by an earthquake, tsunami, volcano, typhoon, or land slide) seems like a very risk-averse place, and anytime something like this happens, there are calls to eliminate the risk. Some, as you might imagine, have called for baggage inspection. Fortunately, the operators of the various shinkansen lines have dismissed this as impractical, suggesting instead perhaps random checks as a possible deterrent. (It seems to me that even if you stopped every hazard from being taken on board every shinkansen train (there were 11,050,000,000 passengers in 2014), anyone bent on self-immolation on a train could simply carry his bottle on board a regular train, of which there are many, many times more.)
Another suggestion was to install an intercom in the emergency button. (There was a 10-minute delay in reporting the emergency to the driver, so the train could be stopped.)
This video is more recent, and agrees in most details, with what I have seen in other sources.
That poor woman and her family! Freak events like that are the hardest to comprehend.
Japan...a very risk-averse place, and anytime something like this happens, there are calls to eliminate the risk.
Hence, no trash receptacles anywhere due to the subway attack years ago - Sarin in a trash can. The trash can ban would only work in Japan, where people are tidy and cooperative. Searching baggage on any Japanese transit system would seem terribly unworkable.
What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare. - W.H. Davies, from "Leisure"
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