Singer was covered in blood
J-pop stars attacked by man with saw at fan event. Witness says:
Bags are seldom checked in Japan when pop stars meet their fans.
And this may have led to a shocking attack that has stunned the country known for its low rate of violent crimes.
On Sunday, a man wielding a saw slashed two members of the hugely popular Japanese girl group AKB48 during a meet-and-greet event in Takizawa, Iwate prefecture in Japan's north-east.
The two girls were in a booth shaking hands with their fans when the man, who was waiting in line, suddenly attacked them with what was reported as a 50cm-long saw.
The right thumb of Rina Kawaei, 19, was cut and broken while Anna Iriyama, 18, was cut on her right little finger, which was also broken during the scuffle. They also had small cuts on their heads.
An event staff member had lacerations on his left hand.
The girls underwent emergency surgery and their condition is stable, their manager told Japanese media. Reports last night said they had been discharged from hospital.
The Japan Times reported that the attacker was Satoru Umeta, 24, an unemployed man who is in police custody for attempted murder.
The suspect told police, "I attempted to kill people" and "I didn't care whom", Jiji Press reported, citing unnamed police sources.
AKB48 holds the Guinness record for being the world's largest pop group with 140 members who are divided into four main teams and other smaller ones. The "48" in their name refers to the number of original members.
About 50 members were said to be at this event. Fans were given around seven seconds to pose with their idols before they were moved along, the Yomiuri daily reported.
Kawaei and Iriyama were together in a booth when the man suddenly produced a saw, it added.
Fans told Japanese media they heard a scream, likely from one of the victims, saying, "Stop it!"
Some of the 100-plus staff and security guards pounced on the assailant and held him until the police arrived, reports said.
One fan said Kawaei was covered in blood when she was taken to a waiting ambulance.
A Tokyo concert scheduled for last night and other fan events were cancelled.
Fans expressed anger and anguish after the attack, with some questioning why their idols were not better protected, AFP reported.
"What were the organisers doing?" demanded a 21-year-old student.
"I pray that the three people will be in good health again soon... and the two group members will show us soon they are in good shape," wrote another fan, "Yamasan", on an Internet forum.
"I also hope for a strengthening of security checks such as by introducing a metal detector," he said.
A 17-year-old who visited the group's theatre in Tokyo's busy Akihabara district - from which are derived the letters AKB - told the Yomiuri: "I'm very worried about my favourite member who was hurt. I don't understand why anyone would do such a thing."
Fans at the event told Japanese media that there were no bag checks and most of the group's events have only cursory checks at best.
This has prompted the nation to call for tighter security measures at such events.
Security checks tend to be light in Japan as violent crime involving weapons is rare.
Local fan Johnson Quek, a 22-year-old photographer, told The New Paper: "This is shocking news because you can't imagine this happening there, just like you can't imagine it happening here.
"This is a wake-up call to people who take safety at crowded fan events for granted. Psychos are everywhere.
"The girls must be horrified and as a fan I can only hope that this won't scar them emotionally and change their love for their fans."
Why this would never happen in S'pore
Screwdrivers and penknives found in fans' bags won't be allowed into the venue at events here, much less a 50cm-long saw.
A spokesman for the security company in charge of protecting Japanese girl group AKB48 during their visits here in recent years said that the slashing would never have happened in Singapore.
Mr Michael Ho, the operations manager at Events Security Specialists, has seen it all - his company is known for providing security here for US singer Lady Gaga, Australian actor Hugh Jackman, Hong Kong stars Andy Lau and Jackie Chan, Taiwanese singer Jay Chou and South Korean groups Girls' Generation and Super Junior.
Mr Ho told The New Paper yesterday: "We will ask fans who are going on stage to meet stars to empty their hands.
"Even on stage, we will stand behind the fans so that we can react the moment they whip out something they are not supposed to.
"During bag checks, we will ask fans to discard potentially dangerous objects like penknives and letter openers if we find them."
Mr Ho remembered a man who had a screwdriver in his bag.
"He said he was a mechanic. I told him he had to throw it away regardless. If not, he would be barred from the event."
He said: "Sometimes, if we feel that someone who is carrying dangerous objects is suspicious, we advise the organiser to call the police."
Mr Ho said that a body search has never been done at fan events since his company started handling them in 2008.
Should that be required, he would tell the organiser to bring in the auxiliary police officers.
A spokesman for Fast Track Events, which has organised many Korean star fan meetings, told TNP: "The security (personnel) always alert us when they find sharp objects which can be used as weapons.
"But this is very rare. On the whole, fans in Singapore are obedient and nice."
A fan meeting or concert here can see up to 100 security specialists being deployed to protect the artist and fans.
In Mr Ho's experience, anyone can be potentially dangerous. So both men and women are on the security specialists' radar.
The most shocking "attack" he had witnessed was on a local female celebrity at an event where a teenage girl tried to slap her after failing to kiss her.
"I stepped in and grabbed the fan before she could slap the artist," Mr Ho said.
"The fan started yelling vulgarities at her and we pulled her away quickly before any harm was done."
AKB48's past controversies
AKB48 introduced new member Aimi Eguchi, a beauty who appeared in a TV commercial and on the cover of Japanese magazine Weekly Playboy.
But fans were disappointed that she was a computer-generated image made up of the facial features of the group's six prettiest members.
Veteran members Hirajima Natsumi and Yonezawa Rumi apologised to fans for breaking the group's no-dating rule and left AKB48 after photos of them with guys were leaked to the Internet.
A commercial showing the members exchanging sweets from mouth to mouth came under fire in Japan for encouraging homosexuality.
A man claiming to be Rino Sashihara's ex-boyfriend gave a topless photo of her to a Japanese magazine. She was demoted to regional sub-group HKT48.
After a tabloid reported that Minami Minegishi had spent a night at a man's house, she was demoted from official member to trainee.
She was shown shaving off her hair and sobbing in apology to her fans in a video.