JAPAN: Assassin's Apologies

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In a bleak cell at a Tokyo juvenile detention home one night last week, a mop-haired teenager mixed a palmful of tooth powder with a few drops of water and scrawled a message on the wall: "Seven lives for my country. Ten thousand years for His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor!'' Then Otoya Yamaguchi, 17, tore his bed sheet into strips, knotted them into a rope, stood up on a toilet bowl and hanged himself from the light fixture in the ceiling. Yamaguchi, who last month stabbed Socialist Chairman Inejiro Asanuma to death at a political rally, had lived his bloody samurai tradition to the end. His suicide was an act of owabi—apology to those inconvenienced by his murder of Asanuma.

The Socialists have tried to make Yamaguchi one of the top issues in the current Japanese election campaign. They called him a "cat's paw of monopolistic capitalist forces" (by which they meant Premier Hayato Ikeda's ruling Liberal Democrats) and paraded Asanuma's widow about in hope of a sympathy vote. After Yamaguchi's hanged body was found, Saburo Eda, acting chairman of the Socialists, shifted his ground and growled: "The fact that an important criminal was able to commit suicide exposes the utter irresponsibility of the authorities in charge."

Dead or alive, Assassin Yamaguchi was not good for many votes. But, as a martyr, Yamaguchi might yet inspire fresh violence from the small but dangerous band of Japanese who share his fanatical right-wing views and uphold the prewar tradition of political assassination. Last week a group of them went to the jail, presented the boy's parents with a burial coat, kimono and belt, then escorted the body of their hero home.