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Japan reels after school attack
Image: Schoolchildren weep on the grounds of Ikeda elementary school in Osaka, Japan
Schoolchildren weep on the grounds of Ikeda elementary school in Osaka prefecture, Japan, on Friday after fleeing from their classrooms.

In the wake of the tragedy, NBC's Ned Colt discusses the shift of Japanese culture to a more tense country.
    OSAKA, Japan, June 9 —   Japan was reeling Saturday after a schoolhouse attack in which eight children were slashed and killed by a man wielding a kitchen knife. Nearly two dozen people, including other children and their teachers, were wounded in the Friday attack, which struck deep at a nation traditionally known for its low crime and safe streets.  

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Police said the attacker, identified as Mamoru Takuma, carried a 6-inch kitchen knife.

       A 37-YEAR-OLD male was subdued by a vice principal and a teacher, who was slightly injured. He was then arrested. Police said he once worked as a janitor at an elementary school in a nearby city, and has an arrest record.
       Two of the children died at the scene and the other six died at the hospital, said fire department spokesman Tetsuo Higashimoto. Fifteen others — 13 children and two teachers — were injured. Eight remained in serious condition late Friday, said Masatsugu Yoneda, another Fire Department official.
       Children described the attack as 15 minutes of sheer terror.
       One girl, talking to Japanese reporters, said that during the attack, one of the students managed to somehow get onto the school’s public address system.
       “There was a shriek,” the girl said. “Then I heard a cry for help.”
       Other students said they saw teachers and hallways spattered with blood.
       As Japan struggled to come to grips with the gruesome attack, Osaka Gov. Fusae Ota said authorities were sending psychiatrists to offer counseling to traumatized children.
       “We’re doing what we can for them,” she said. “This is unforgivable.”
       The slashing was the deadliest mass assault in Japan since a doomsday cult attacked the Tokyo subways in 1995, killing 12 people and sickening thousands.

       After Friday’s attack, other schools in the area sent children home. The dead children — six girls and two boys — were first- or second-grade students, ranging in age from 6 to 8.
       “We are filled with anger over this unfortunate situation,” said Kaoru Nakatani, head of Osaka Education University, which operates the elementary school.
       Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called the attack “heartbreaking.” He vowed to do whatever he could to restore Japan’s reputation as one of the world’s safest countries.
       “The safe society is crumbling. We must think of ways to deal with this problem,” Koizumi told reporters.
       Police said the attacker, identified as Mamoru Takuma, carried a 6-inch kitchen knife. After his arrest at the scene, he was taken to a hospital with what were reportedly self-inflicted wounds, then turned over to police, a blue hood hiding his head, blood splattered across his legs.
       It was not immediately clear what motivated the attack, although police in Ikeda said the man told them he had taken 10 times his daily dose of an unspecified anti-depressant and was babbling. Police said had previously undergone treatment for schizophrenia.
       Takuma told police he was “sick of everything” and wanted to be caught and executed, a police official in Osaka said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He told police he had tried to kill himself repeatedly but always failed, the official said.
       Authorities said Takuma told police he’d been having trouble sleeping and considered trying to kill himself Friday morning, but then got in his car, put a bag holding the knife on the seat next to him and drove into Ikeda from his home in nearby Mino.
       Takuma was arrested in March 1999 and accused of spiking the tea of four teachers with tranquilizers at the school where he worked, but he was never prosecuted because he suffered from psychological problems, said Nobuharu Sugita, a police official in Itami, near Osaka.
Japan country profile

       Media reports in the confused hours after the school attack depicted a terrifying scene, with ambulances and police cars lining the campus and hundreds of children in their school uniforms sitting in rows on the playground as other students were treated on stretchers nearby. Nearly 700 children attend the school.
       Police said the attacker climbed into a first-grade classroom from a verandah and began slashing children in the back of the room, and then moved into a hallway.
       Several children were slashed in their sides and arms as he moved into other classrooms, police said. As the attacker tussled with two teachers, school officials called police and rushed the children out to the playground. Ambulances sped onto the campus and rescue workers and police rushed to care for the injured.
       Japan’s traditional reputation as a society free of random violence has been changing in recent years, and the number of senseless crimes has risen rapidly.
       The country’s strict gun laws mean most of the attacks — like Friday’s — are committed with knives.
       “These are not ordinary times,” said Katsuhiro Kinoshita, the father of a sixth-grader at the school. “I felt the blood drain from my face when I heard.”
       Masanori Yoshida, 56, who lives nearby, said the attack was a shock in such a quiet, residential neighborhood.
       “This just isn’t that kind of place,” he said.
       In the minutes after the attack, a cashier at a nearby grocery said a group of terrified, bloodied children ran into the store.
       “I saw one of them, a boy, with blood all over his body,” said Ikiyo Iriye, 23. “He had been stabbed in the back.”
       School and juvenile violence have been rising in recent years, punctuated by a series of sensational crimes — a shock for a country that has long enjoyed lower crime rates than other developed nations.
       “This kind of thing should never happen,” said Education Minister Atsuko Toyama. “Schools should be places where children can feel safe and secure.”
       The mother of a 10-year-old fifth grader said her son told her he and his classmates were taking a break after a lesson when they were rushed out onto the playground.
       “He can’t believe something like that could have happened,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. “It’s almost like he was having a dream.”
       NBC’s Arata Yamamoto, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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