A man has killed himself by self-immolating on a JR Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train carriage travelling between Shin-Yokohama and Odawara.
The incident occurred at between 11:30-11:45 in the morning on the 16-carriage Nozomi 225. The high-speed train came to an emergency stop when the fire broke out on the Shin-Osaka-bound service. The 71-year-old man was apparently sitting in the first carriage when he suddenly poured oil on himself and then set his own body alight. Some reports say this happened in the carriage toilet and that there was a blast.
This is the third self-immolation in twelve months in Japan: the first was an unsuccessful but harrowing incident in the heart of Shinjuku on June 29th; the second was in Hibiya Park on November 11th, the anniversary of the self-immolation of Chūnoshin Yui, an anti-war protestor who killed himself in 1967.
Media reports currently say at least another passenger, a woman in her fifties, has died from heart failure due to smoke inhalation. Between 10-20 others are reported to be injured. The train was carrying around 1,000 passengers at the time.
The JR Shinkansen train is a symbol of Japan’s post-war recovery and its record since it started service has been largely free of accidents. Until today there had never been any deaths.
Currently there are no reports confirming if the self-immolation was genuinely political and, if so, what it was protesting. The unnamed man, apparently a resident of Suginami ward in Tokyo, is alleged to have carried out his act without warning or statement, in contrast to the Shinjuku incident, where the victim gave a speech for some time prior to setting himself on fire. However, the timing of this self-immolation so close to the anniversary of the Shinjuku incident and as an increasing wave of demonstrations sweeps the country in protest at the government’s proposed security bills mean that this latest development is likely to be interpreted as more than just an arbitrary act of suicide.
Self-immolation has a notable history in Japan, along with other forms of suicide-protest.
This post will be updated as more information becomes public.