The suspected assassin, Shiroo Tetsuya, a local Yakuza boss, seems to have had no other motive than to avenge a trivial wrong.
The coverage within Japan seems to hinge on the supposed threat to democracy posed by the assassination, occurring as it did just before Sunday’s second round of local elections. The coverage outside of Japan seems to emphasize Japan’s being a gun-free society, with the assassination “shocking” the docile Japanese.
I think the hysteria emanating from Japan’s politicians and media outlets about the threat to democracy is way overblown. Japan is not about to enter the “dark valley” again.
What this incident does call attention to is that not far beneath the surface of Japan’s seemingly ordered and stable society seethes a murky world of Yakuza, shady corrupt corporate dealings, and far-right nationalist groups and their politician allies, a theme that runs through many of Murakami Haruki’s novels (and is stated very clearly in his non-fiction book on the Aum Shinrikyo subway attack, appropriately entitled Underground, which obviously refers to the subway but also to the idea of Japan’s social pathologies lying just beneath the surface).
This thread can be found in Bruce Wallace’s story on the assassination in the LA Times. (Hat tip: Shisaku)