A Shinkansen train pulls into Tokyo Station on Jan. 3, 2015, in Tokyo, Japan. (Shutterstock.com/Vincent St. Thomas)
The transport ministry called on train operators Monday to step up security measures after a man was killed and two women were injured in a random attack with a cleaver on a crowded shinkansen bullet train, reviving debate on how to balance passenger convenience with safety.
Station patrols and installation of security cameras on trains have increased since a 71-year-old man set himself on fire on a high-speed train in June 2015, killing himself and another passenger, prompting concerns over slack security on shinkansen trains.
The government is also eager to tighten security ahead of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.
The attack occurred about 10 p.m. on Saturday in the No. 12 car of the 16-car bullet train while traveling between Shin-Yokohama and Odawara stations, both in Kanagawa Prefecture.
The suspect, Ichiro Kojima, 22, is believed to have assaulted the two women before slashing 38-year-old Kotaro Umeda in the chest and shoulders when he tried to protect them. Umeda died later in a hospital in Odawara.
There were around 880 passengers at the time aboard the Nozomi 265, the day's last train bound for Shin-Osaka, according to Central Japan Railway Co., also known as JR Central.
While many people point to the lack of security measures on Japanese bullet train services, checking baggage in the same way as at airports is widely viewed as impractical due to the huge numbers of passengers.
JR Central, which operates the Tokaido shinkansen trains connecting Tokyo and Osaka, says an average of 446,000 passengers used the trains each day in fiscal 2015. The figure compares with around 170,000 domestic passengers each day at Tokyo's Haneda airport, the busiest in Japan.
A 40-year-old man heading to Kobe from Tokyo on Monday said, "We need baggage checks as similar incidents could possibly occur in the future."
A 32-year-old man, meanwhile, who always uses the bullet train for business trips, said, "Unlike airplanes, there are many users of shinkansen. I don't think it is possible to install even metal detectors."
"It is time for not only JR but also passengers to think about whether it is better to maintain bullet train convenience, like a commuter train, or to tighten security," Jun Umehara, a railway journalist, said, referring to railway operators.
Kojima, who was arrested after police stormed the train, was referred to prosecutors on Monday morning on a murder charge. He reportedly told investigators he slashed the three randomly with the cleaver because he was "feeling frustrated."
The two women, aged 26 and 27, were also taken to hospital with injuries to their head and shoulders, the police said.
Umeda's family issued a statement through a lawyer, saying, "We do not have words to express the sorrow of suddenly losing a loved one."
Umeda's employer Ishida Hiroki, president of BASF Japan Ltd., also issued a statement and expressed his deep disgust at the perpetrator. "We heard he tried to help the women. We are proud of his bravery," he said.