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U.S. Rushes to Reassure Japan After Carjacking

March 29, 1994|SUSAN MOFFAT and ANNA CEKOLA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

As the weekend slayings of two Marymount College students sent shock waves through Japan and Japanese American communities, U.S. dignitaries rushed Monday to reassure frantic parents and to counter charges in the Japanese media that Southern California is a gun-infested danger zone.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mike McCurry said the U.S. government is very concerned that the carjacking killings of Takuma Ito and Go Matsuura, both 19, will create "a very distorted and one-sided view of the United States abroad."

President Clinton expressed condolences to Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa during a telephone conversation about Japan's new economic plan.

In Orange County, Gov. Pete Wilson called on the state Legislature to impose the death penalty on those who commit murder during a carjacking.

As headlines in the Japanese press decried America's fascination with guns, Japanese exchange students throughout the Southland were suddenly more cautious and fearful about this foreign land.

Yoshimoto Hirakawa, 20, a business student at Chapman University in Orange, said he was lucky to have friends who told him about the dangers of crime when he arrived here from Japan.

"When I first came to the United States, my friends told me what to worry about," he said. "Now I share these things with newcomers, like never walk alone after midnight. Never drive alone into a bad neighborhood, especially at night. And, listen to the local guys about where you should and where you shouldn't go.

"In Japan, it's so safe you don't have to worry about anything," he continued. "That's why we take it easy when we come here. We just don't think it can happen to us."

Ito, a Japanese citizen, and Matsuura, who was born in the United States but grew up in Japan, were shot in the head late Friday night in a carjacking in the parking lot of a San Pedro supermarket. Police--who remained close-mouthed on Monday about the case--recovered their white 1994 Honda Civic on Sunday not far from the scene of the crime, but not before the two young men died after being taken off life-support at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

Seiko Kagami, an English student at Cal State Fullerton, said she, for one, will not be going to her local supermarket after dark anymore.

"We are very scared," Kagami, 22, said. "This problem never happens in Japan."

Ako Kasahara, 34, who is studying English at UC Irvine, said she hopes the tragedy will not make people in Japan think America is a "terrible country."

"I like this country, I like California, the weather and the people," she said. "But you need to know you're not in Japan anymore."

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan called a news conference in Los Angeles with the Japanese consul general, Seiichiro Noboru, hoping to assuage the alarm of tourism officials in Japan.

"Los Angeles is not a place where this or any other type of violence should be tolerated," Riordan said, vowing not to rest as mayor "until Los Angeles is safe."

And Noboru refrained from making generalizations about violence in the United States, promising instead that the incident "should not and will not have any effect upon the friendly relationship between this country and Japan (or) . . . change the love of the Japanese people toward sunny and warm Southern California."

But those promises faced an uphill battle against a growing impression in Japan that the United States is a dangerous and violent society that, unlike Japan, has done little to control the use and ownership of guns.

"Gun Society . . . Another Tragedy in Los Angeles," trumpeted one headline in the newspaper Sankei Sports. "For a Car?" Added an editorial in the Japan Times: "A beginning must be made to combat the American gun culture, which is getting out of control."

Meanwhile, Japanese students in Southern California reported that parents have been calling frantically from abroad, hoping to persuade their children to return home.

Morikazu Sano, a communications student at Cal State Fullerton, said he also had a call from his worried family, who more than ever want him to come home to Japan once he graduates this summer.

Sano, 23, said he has been more aware of crime problems since his own car was burglarized two years ago in downtown Los Angeles.

"That shocked me so much," he said. "After that, I couldn't trust anyone. That woke me up. I don't go out alone at night. I don't even go to Ralph's or other supermarkets at night."

Takayuki Nishio, a 23-year-old exchange student studying English at Cal State Fullerton, said he believes colleges could do more to inform foreign students of crime problems.

"Cal State Fullerton is pretty safe," he said. "But we cannot be too careful."

More than 3 million Japanese tourists and students visit the United States each year, about one in six of them bound for Los Angeles County.

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