On Tuesday afternoon, police were alerted to sounds of gunfire at the Toda Chuo General Hospital in Saitama prefecture, west of Tokyo. Just over an hour later, the suspect entered a nearby post office where he has since remained with two other women, who have been described as hostages, according to media reports.
In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Mayor Fumihito Sugawara said a man believed to be carrying a handgun opened fire at the hospital and then fled on a motorcycle.
Police were also investigating potential connections between the shooting and a fire at an apartment in Toda that was believed to be the suspect’s residence.
The police have not publicly issued a statement about the incidents but local media have cited anonymous security sources.
Gun violence is extremely rare in Japan, which enforces strict and regular criminal background and mental health checks on gun owners, with written and shooting tests.
In 2022, nine shootings, causing four deaths and two injuries between them, were recorded in the country, which has a population of about 125 million. Six of the shootings involved the yakuza criminal network, according to the National Police Agency.
Although violent crime is rare in Japan, Tuesday’s reports came after other high-profile shootings earlier this year.
In May, police arrested the 31-year-old son of a local lawmaker in connection with an assault that left four people dead, police said. The suspect was identified as Masanori Aoki, the son of Nakano City assembly speaker Masamichi Aoki.
In June, an 18-year-old soldier-in-training shot three members of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces at a firing range in Gifu, in central Japan, police said. The three men — one in his 50s and the other two in their 20s — were taken to a hospital, where two of them died.
It was the fatal shooting of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe at a campaign event last year with a homemade weapon that truly shocked the country, however. Police have since acknowledged security lapses.
Anyone trying to get a gun in Japan needs to apply for a permit, attend a class on gun safety and laws, and pass a written test. There is a full-day training course on safe shooting techniques.
This is a developing story and will be updated. Lee reported from Seoul.