An outbreak of violent crime this week has triggered soul-searching and outrage in Japan, a country that has long prided itself on its safe streets and tight communal bonds.
The "appalling destruction" of traditional values — as one lawmaker put it — climaxed Friday, when a former gangster killed a policeman and wounded his son and daughter during a shooting rampage at his home, where he had held his ex-wife hostage for 24 hours. It was the first time an on-duty policeman was shot to death since 2001.
"It is extremely sad that one officer was killed in the line of duty and another was seriously injured," police official Hiroyuki Fujimura said at a news conference Friday evening after the gunman gave himself up.
The violence in the suburb of Nagoya erupted after an unidentified emergency caller to police cried, "My father has gone berserk with a gun!" Kyodo News agency reported.
The suspect shot his adult son and daughter and killed a policeman trying to rescue a wounded comrade. News reports said Obayashi was a former mobster affiliated with Japan's largest crime syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi.
The standoff ended Friday when the gunman, Hisato Obayashi, 50, surrendered to police 24 hours after taking his ex-wife captive. The woman, identified as Michiko Mori, escaped from a bathroom window during the siege.
The standoff capped a week of mayhem and mistreatment.
On Tuesday, a teenager strolled into a police station with his mother's severed head in a bag. On Thursday, a couple was arrested after their 1-year-old son's body was found wrapped in a plastic bag and dumped in a gutter. The baby died after his parents allegedly left him in the baggage hold of a motorbike while they gambled at a pachinko pinball parlor.
The same day, a 3-year-old child was abandoned by his father at an anonymous drop box meant for unwanted infants.
"We are witnessing the deterioration of Japanese society," ruling party politician Tsuneo Suzuki told parliament Thursday. "We must stem this appalling destruction of family and community morals."
While Japan is still a relatively safe country by international standards, crime is on the rise as the country grapples with a widening gap between rich and poor and other social ills.
A tide of corporate layoffs amid widespread restructuring, the fragmentation of extended families and a creeping sense of urban alienation all contribute to the erosion of mores, experts say.
Japan, a country of 127 million people, had just 1,391 homicides in 2005, compared with 16,692 in the United States. But overall crime jumped to 2.27 million cases that year, from 1.81 million in 1996, and violent offenses nearly doubled to 73,772 cases, according to the National Police Agency.
"Anxiety is mounting in Japan about the increase of high-profile crimes. Due to rapid globalization, the traditional rules and social order are changing dramatically," said Jun Ayukawa, an expert on criminal psychology at Japan's Kwansei Gakuin University. "While families used to act as brakes, there is an increase in crimes where people feel lost in despair and no longer care what happens to their families," he said.