Kozo Iizuka (飯塚 幸三, Iizuka Kōzō, IPA: [iizuka koː(d)zoː]; born 1931) is a Japanese engineer who served as Director of the AIST and President of the International Measurement Confederation  and Human Frontier Science Program among other positions. On April 19, 2019, while driving his car, he killed a woman and her child, who were on a bicycle, and injured nine pedestrians in what is called the Higashi-Ikebukuro runaway car accident. Following the accident, perceived special treatment of him by the police, legal system and media, ostensibly due to his privileged position in society, drew much attention and criticism.
Life and careerEdit
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He was president of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and vice-president of Kubota corporation. While vice-president of Kubota, he also served as chairperson of a committee of the Science Council of Japan.
Higashi-Ikebukuro runaway car accidentEdit
On April 19, 2019, while driving his Toyota Prius in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, Iizuka ran a red light and struck and killed a mother and daughter who were on a bicycle (Mana Matsunaga, 31, and her daughter Riko, 3), injured eight others at a pedestrian crossing, and his wife, who was riding with him. The reported cause of the accident was Iizuka stepping on the accelerator when he meant to apply the brake. About a year before the incident, Iizuka had received treatment on his right knee and was advised by his doctor to drive as little as possible.
In spite of Iizuka having caused a fatal accident, he was not arrested. Police stated that this was because Iizuka was injured at the scene and was elderly, and hence was not expected to run away or attempt to destroy evidence. However, in similar accidents caused by elderly drivers that have occurred in Japan following Iizuka's, each and every suspect has been arrested almost immediately, regardless of their age and state of health. This has led to widespread scrutiny and criticism of the police in Japan in regard to just how impartially they enforce the law.
One of the victim's parents started a campaign demanding that police prosecute Iizuka in line with normal practice and 390,000 signatures were collected. The petition was submitted to the National Police Agency of Japan. Finally, on November 12, 2019, the Traffic Investigation Division of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department referred Iizuka to prosecutors on suspicion of causing fatal injury by negligent driving. Iizuka claimed that there was a mechanical problem with the brake and/or accelerator, but vehicle function tests revealed no mechanical defects. The Metropolitan Police Department concluded that negligent driving by Iizuka was the cause of the accident. In February 2020, he was prosecuted.
Following the accident, Iizuka is reported to have explained that he was hurrying in his car to a French restaurant where he had made a lunch reservation, concerned that he and his wife would be late.
Hearings began on 8 October 2020, in which Iizuka continued to deny the charges, claiming that the car had malfunctioned, and saying that he had no memory of accelerating the car. On 4 March 2021, a 25 year veteran engineer from the car's manufacturer testified that they found no problems with the car's parts, but the defendant continued to profess that it was a malfunction.
In interviews with the media, the husband and father of the woman and girl killed by Iizuka criticized Iizuka for not looking him in the eye when apologizing to him, and also questioned the sincerity of the apology, given how Iizuka continued to claim that he was not at fault. The case drew an unusual amount of attention due to the apparent leniency Iizuka was treated with, and criticism that he was being treated as a notional "upper-class citizen" (Japanese: 上級国民, Hepburn: jōkyū kokumin), to whom regular rules do not apply. Many people pointed out that the Japanese police immediately arrest regular people, who are without such status or influence, but did not arrest Kozo Iizuka because of his social standing.
In analyzing the reactions to the incident, Toyo Keizai commentator Atsushi Manabe writes that Iizuka's words and actions after the accident "added fuel to the fire", and as a result the case represents to people how unapologetic liars and coldblooded psychopaths succeed more than regular honest people, which goes against the zeitgeist of the common people. This "victory of brazen shamelessness" represents a loss of morals, and is why people feel disgust and anger. Manabe also writes that, to many people, the case represents how Japanese law no longer functions as it should, with criminals being able to get away with their crimes by using their privileged position in society.
The case renewed attention regarding the problem of accidents caused by elderly drivers which was a pre-existing topic for several years before. It was reported that in the aftermath of the accident, more elderly people voluntarily surrendered their driver licenses.
Japanese Wikipedia article controversyEdit
Attention was also brought to Iizuka's article on the Japanese Wikipedia, which goes in-depth into his accomplishments, but has no mention of the incident. A small group of users constantly removed edits regarding the incident, before finally protecting the article so that nobody else could edit it. When brought up on the article's talk page, they cited this as being "the result of discussion by the community". Though the topic has been brought up multiple times since, with many topics on the talk page questioning the decision, all such attempts at discussion were answered with the same users saying that the topic was already discussed and decided upon by "the community". The problems with the Wikipedia article were widely discussed on social media, and subsequently reported on by multiple outlets in the Japanese news media, including major outlets such as Asahi Shimbun, which questioned the decision of the Wikipedia users.
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- 飯塚被告はこれまでも「アクセルが戻らなかった」などと自身の過失を否定する発言を繰り返しており、およそ半年後の11月にテレビの取材に対し、「安全な車を開発するようにメーカーの方に心がけていただき、高齢者が安心して運転できるような、外出できるような世の中になってほしい」と語るなど、火に油を注ぐ事態をあえて作り出しているようなところがあった。'The suspect, Iizuka, has so far repeatedly denied that he was at fault, claiming, for example, that "the accelerator wouldn't come back up." Also, about half a year after the incident, in November, he said in a television interview that he "wanted car manufacturers to apply to themselves to developing safe cars and thus create the kind of environment where the elderly can drive with a sense of assurance, and where they can go outside of their homes." This and other such statements have served only to add fuel to the fire.' Manabe, Atsushi (14 October 2020). "池袋暴走｢上級国民批判｣異常なほど沸騰する訳" [Ikebukuro runaway: Why criticism of upper-class citizens is so strong]. Toyo Keizai. Retrieved 2020-10-16.
- 正直に生きている者がかえって損をする、貧乏くじを引くような昨今の風潮であり、自らの利益のみを追求するがゆえに「嘘をつき通し、悪びれない」者が真っ先に出世し、経済的な成功を収める――いわば冷血漢のごときサイコパス的な人格で世渡りしたほうが生きやすい世界になっている現状への強烈な違和感である。'In today's world, the tendency is for those who live their lives honestly to actually lose out because of it and get the short end of the stick. There is something intensely unsettling about the current state of the world where inveterate liars and the brazenly shameless who seek nothing but their own gain are the ones who make it to the top, that is, where life becomes easier if you live it like a cold-blooded psychopath.' Manabe, Atsushi (14 October 2020). "池袋暴走｢上級国民批判｣異常なほど沸騰する訳" [Ikebukuro runaway: Why criticism of upper-class citizens is so strong]. Toyo Keizai. Retrieved 2020-10-16.
- わたしたちはマスメディアが流す情報の断片から、「厚顔無恥の勝利」といったモラルハザード（倫理の欠如）の腐臭を嗅ぎとっていることは間違いないだろう。だからこそこの事件が特別なものに思えるのであり、不快感や怒りの感情が沸き起こりやすいのである。'I don't believe we are wrong to detect in the snippets of information we get via the mass media a whiff of moral deficiency in the form of a victory for brazen shamelessness. For this very reason, this incident can be considered one of special significance—one that readily stirs up the feeling of being sickened and angered.' Manabe, Atsushi (14 October 2020). "池袋暴走｢上級国民批判｣異常なほど沸騰する訳" [Ikebukuro runaway: Why criticism of upper-class citizens is so strong]. Toyo Keizai. Retrieved 2020-10-16.
- 池袋暴走事件で上級国民と表現される疑心暗鬼の背景にあったのは、現在の社会が嘘や不正が公然とまかり通る「法の機能不全」に陥っている可能性と、それがむしろ新しい規範として定着しつつあることへの危機意識だと思われる。要は、犯罪者が特権的な地位を利用し、弁を弄して罪を逃れられる「法の機能していない社会」が出現したようなイメージである。これが実質的に「法体系をもたない社会」のようなカオス（混沌）として映り始めているとしたらどうだろうか。'The phrase "upper-class citizens" used in the Ikebukuro runaway car incident expresses suspicions of there being machinations behind all and everything. Behind these suspicions is a sense of crisis in regard to today's society not only possibly descending into a state of legal dysfunction where falsehood and injustice are openly tolerated, but where that is becoming increasingly embedded as the new normal. That is to say, an image has been formed of a society where the law isn't working properly, where criminals make use of their privileged position, and where they employ sophistry to clear themselves of wrongdoing. What is to become of things if, in real terms, this begins to come across as chaos, as the disarray of a society that lacks a legal structure?' Manabe, Atsushi (14 October 2020). "池袋暴走｢上級国民批判｣異常なほど沸騰する訳" [Ikebukuro runaway: Why criticism of upper-class citizens is so strong]. Toyo Keizai. Retrieved 2020-10-16.
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