16 Years Have Passed Since Akihabara Stabbings in Japan; Attacker’s Friend Hopes to Prevent Crimes Through Volunteer Work

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shuitsu Otomo visits the location where the 2008 Akihabara stabbing spree occurred, on May 30 in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

A friend of the man responsible for killing seven people in Akihabara in 2008 became a volunteer probation officer last autumn to help offenders rehabilitate themselves and successfully reenter society.

Shuitsu Otomo, 47, said he decided to become a probation officer because he regrets not being able to prevent the incident, despite being a friend of the attacker, Tomohiro Kato. Kato was executed at age 39 in July 2022.

Saturday marked 16 years since the stabbing spree. Otomo talked about his determination to help people who feel isolated.

The incident took place in Tokyo’s crowded Akihabara district around noon on June 8, 2008. Kato rammed a truck into a pedestrian-only zone and hit five people. He then got out and randomly stabbed other pedestrians with a knife. Seven people died and 10 were injured.

The death penalty for Kato was finalized in 2015.

Kept in touch

“What? Kato-chan?” Otomo, then a security guard in Adachi Ward, Tokyo, said when he saw the news that day in 2008.

He could hardly believe what he was seeing as he watched TV at home that Sunday. He saw footage of his former colleague driving a truck into a pedestrian-only zone, getting out of the truck with a knife and ultimately being apprehended.

About five years prior to the Akihabara incident, Kato joined a security company in Sendai where Otomo worked. They were both from Aomori Prefecture and quickly became friends, as they both liked video games and anime. They went to work and ramen shops together.

About a year and a half later, Kato quit his job at the security company and started working at an automobile factory in Saitama Prefecture, but they still kept in touch. The last time Otomo spoke with Kato was around the end of 2006 or the beginning of 2007.

“I enjoy going to Akihabara on weekends,” Otomo remembers Kato saying.

At one point, Otomo’s mobile phone broke, and he lost all of his contacts. Kato never called him.

Then, the incident occurred. Otomo went to the Metropolitan Police Department’s Manseibashi police station the day after, but he was not able to meet with Kato.

Kato did not get along with his parents and spent all his free time reading and posting on online message boards. Otomo did not know how his friend was living until he saw the news.

Otomo said Kato had avoided talking about his family.

“If I’d built a deeper relationship with him, he could’ve relied on me when he was in trouble,” Otomo said, regretfully.


Otomo had these same thoughts every year as June neared. Thinking there might be something he could do, he created an X (then Twitter) account using his real name in June 2019.

He wrote: “I’m an ex-coworker and friend of Tomohiro Kato. Please feel free to write your opinions and questions.”

Soon after, he received a message from a man who said he was there when the incident occurred.

The man was a postgraduate student at the time and helped people on the scene by performing first aid and CPR. Later, he found out that a person he had treated had died, which traumatized him. The man was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

On July 26, 2022, the day Kato was executed, Otomo received a call from the man. “My life changed because of him,” the man said over the phone, sobbing.

Otomo again realized the impact the incident had.

“I want to prevent these kinds of incidents from happening again so that no one will have to feel the same way,” Otomo thought.

He learned that the recidivism rate for serious crimes, such as murder, was high. He became interested in becoming a volunteer probation officer, as they help adult and juvenile offenders released on parole reenter society.

Otomo contacted a local volunteer probation officers’ association and told the head of the organization that he wanted to help prevent crime. The group recognized his enthusiasm, and he was appointed as a volunteer probation officer by the justice minister in September 2023.


Nine months have passed since he began his volunteer work.

Otomo has met with several parolees in his free time and offers advice. When the family of a parolee refuses to take them in, Otomo helps the person find a job and a place to live. He realized for the first time how much time it takes to secure a basic living environment.

He believes that the support to prevent parolees from feeling isolated comes after that. To gain their trust, Otomo tries to meet with them in person as often as he can.

“If the people I’m helping ever feel like abandoning their lives, I hope they’ll think of me and not commit a crime,” Otomo said. “I want to become that person.”

He believes he is the last line of defense in preventing crimes