Japanese ex-soldier blows himself up in park

Firefighters investigating one of the burnt-out cars found after the explosions in Utsunomiya yesterday. A retired soldier killed himself in one of the explosions, which also injured two other men and a teenage boy.
Firefighters investigating one of the burnt-out cars found after the explosions in Utsunomiya yesterday. A retired soldier killed himself in one of the explosions, which also injured two other men and a teenage boy.PHOTO: KYODO/REUTERS

Police find suicide note written by man; 3 others injured in explosion

TOKYO • A 72-year-old retired soldier blew himself up in a park in the Japanese city of Utsunomiya yesterday, killing himself and injuring three people in an apparent suicide, state broadcaster NHK reported.

A second explosion, separate from the blast that killed the former Self Defence Force member, caused a fire in a nearby parking lot while the man's home 8km from the park burnt to the ground, the report said.

Police in the city, which is about 100km north of Tokyo, said they had discovered a suicide note written by the man and were investigating the three incidents, but did not give further details.

Images broadcast by NHK showed two burnt-out cars, one of which belonged to the dead man, about 200m from the park and a charred broken bench at the edge of the park, where a folk art festival was under way.

The explosion in the park injured two men aged 64 and 58, who were being treated for shrapnel wounds. The third victim was a 14-year-old school boy, NHK said.

Witnesses told NHK they heard a series of loud explosions, with one of them noting gunpowder smell.

"I felt a severe shockwave then heard a sound that seemed louder than a gas cylinder exploding," an unidentified local said.

Some others also reported seeing plumes of black smoke billowing into the sky from the parking lot.

The broadcaster also reported that a video camera at nearby Utsunomiya station recorded the sound of three explosions in quick succession - at 11.31, 11.32, and a third "bigger sound" 15 seconds later.

Utsunomiya is an important cultural, political and economic hub in Japan and home to around 440,000 people. Utsunomiya City Hall is located close to the parking lot.

Due to its proximity to Tokyo and easy access from the capital by Shinkansen bullet train, the city and broader region are a popular destination for day trips by Japanese and foreign visitors.

Suicide rates have declined in Japan in recent years but remain among the highest in the world, with around 30,000 people a year taking their own lives.

Experts have pointed to the financial stress of surviving on small pensions for pushing some retired people to end their lives.

In 2015, a 71-year-old man set himself on fire on a bullet train in an incident that also claimed the life of a 52-year-old woman travelling in the same carriage.

But explosions of the nature yesterday are rare in Japan, although small pipe-bomb blasts linked to extreme leftists occasionally hit near American military bases.

In November last year, a homemade pipe bomb exploded at a controversial Tokyo war shrine, damaging the toilets at the facility but causing no injuries.

A South Korean man was later arrested and sentenced to four years in prison after admitting to detonating the bomb at the Yasukuni shrine, which has been targeted by activists who see it as a symbol of Japan's militaristic past.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2016, with the headline 'Japanese ex-soldier blows himself up in park'. Print Edition | Subscribe