Sagamihara: an indication of how Japan views people with disabilities

On 26th July at 2:30 am police were called in a town in Japan called Sagamihara, Satoshi Uematsu a former worker in the Tsukui Yamayuri En (Tsukui Lily Garden) care home for people with disabilities entered and murdered 19 residents with a knife and injured numerous others. He claimed it was a mercy killing, that the residents all with disabilities were better off dead. The home contained 149 disabled residents and had at the time 8 staff.

This event is appalling, particularly as Uematsu had previously been hospitalised for saying he would do exactly what he did except with the intention of killing many more. If you look at the images of the home itself, it looks more like a prison, at best a hospital. The fact this building was full of vulnerable residents, aged 19 to 70 with the majority being elderly and someone could walk in and do this is bad enough, the fact he was a former employee is also terrifying, had he developed this attitude while working there? Or had his job been a calculated way of panning his crime. We will hopefully learn these details in time, he was clearly suffering from severe mental health problems.

Typically in the UK, and I do this with my own team, you wouldn’t allocate a staff member to any more than 3 or 4 individuals. In a residential service where overnight you would reduce staff numbers purely because people are sleeping, but not even close to the levels in this place. At the numbers described that would be one staff to more than 18 people, what did they expect to do in an emergency, a fire? And earthquake? A murderer walking in? There’s no way that many staff could’ve helped those individuals. Not only that, there’s no way that many staff could give good support to that many people. This leads to several questions, is this typical in Japanese care homes? Were all those people sedated? Did they not care about the residents? The UK and all countries with advanced ideas of social care have had abuse scandals, deaths in their supposed care services, but I’ve never heard of anything on this scale, and it looks and sounds as though the service itself is more akin to the long stay hospitals that have been closed for decades in most civilised countries.

After a cursory Google search it was actually quite hard to find much information on how disabled people are viewed socially in Japan, I shall certainly do more research on this but do feel the need to publish this as soon as I can. Having dedicated the last 15 years of my working life and some of my personal life to working with people with disabilities I do believe that whatever your role, part of your duty of care is to spread good practice. Sometimes in our own bubble we can forget that other places, no matter how advanced in other ways can show total disregard to human rights in other ways. We do need to show other places and societies how we should treat others. How this happens I don’t honestly have an answer to, but what is clear is something does need to be done. Most of the information around disabilities in Japan was about the cost of care for elderly and disabled people, this would indicate the terribly low levels of staff. Imagine that even a third of those people have mobility difficulties, how can 8 staff support 50 people who can’t walk without support? This certainly indicates the conditions generally are going to be less than a good standard.

I can’t say that all of Japan treats people in this way, but any government has a responsibility to ensure all it’s citizens are cared for, human rights abuse happen every day around the world, let’s not get used to it.

This one crime, a horrific massacre of vulnerable people, is only one of many crimes committed here.

Wake up Japan.

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