ETAJIMA, Hiroshima Prefecture--A 30-year-old trainee at an oyster farm here is under arrest, on suspicion of killing two co-workers and injuring six others.
Police say Chen Shuangxi, a Chinese national, has admitted assault with intent to kill, motivated by a grievance against his boss. Locals who knew the suspect and his employer say the resentment may have been building up for some time.
Nobuyuki Kawaguchi, 55, the president of the Kawaguchi Suisan oyster farm, and female co-worker Masako Hashishita, 68, died in the attack. One man and five women were injured.
All but one of the victims worked for the company, and all were in their 50s or older.
Police sources say Chen attacked his co-workers at around 4:30 p.m. on March 14 after receiving a disciplinary dressing-down from Kawaguchi.
Chen had called in sick that morning and remained inside his room in the company dormitory on the building's second floor, above the workshop, until the afternoon.
When he emerged, Kawaguchi delivered a rebuke. Chen turned on him, attacking his employer with a shovel and a knife, killing him. He then turned on other employees present and chased those who ran.
Hashishita died after receiving a blow to the head.
Chen remained at the scene. He holed up in a hut when police arrived, but they later took him into custody.
When the suspect emerged, he was described as having blood all over his face and looking gaunt.
He had sustained chest injuries and police took him to the hospital to be treated. They will question him further when he recovers sufficiently. On March 15, officers examined the crime scene.
Chen, who is from Dalian in northeastern China, joined the staff of the oyster farm about six months ago as a live-in apprentice. His contract was to run through May, according to a representative with an organization in Etajima that promotes friendship and business ties between Japan and China. Chen has a wife and child in China.
The representative said Chen had been eager to take a job in Etajima. "I will earn more if I work in Japan," Chen had said at that time. "I will work hard for my family."
He is the only Chinese trainee employed at the farm, although it has employed other apprentices from China in the past.
On a typical day, Chen would go out to sea with Kawaguchi around 5:30 a.m. to pull up cultured oysters. Upon return to land, Chen would clean the shells and hand them to other workers to open. He sometimes joined in the shelling work himself.
Chen worked until around 4:30 p.m. and had Sundays off.
Kawaguchi ran the company with his wife. When he decided to hire a Chinese employee, he traveled to China to interview prospective employees, according to people close to the family.
They said they had known Kawaguchi to complain about Chen's performance, accusing him of not working as hard as a Japanese.
Neighbors and other local oyster farmers said Chen, for his part, had complained of getting told off daily by Kawaguchi. He told them that Kawaguchi would routinely belittle him.
Workers at the farm described Chen as quiet and steady.
One woman in her 70s who was among the injured said, "I got the impression that he was slower than other Chinese apprentices who had worked here before, but he did what he was supposed to do properly."
However, some co-workers believed Chen felt isolated, apparently because of his limited Japanese. For example, he would not eat the snacks that colleagues brought in to share.
Etajima is known for its oyster industry. The city hall says the town has 67 oyster farms and the industry constitutes its key employer.
Although there is a steady need for laborers to open the oysters, the town has seen its population halve to about 26,000 over the past five decades.
The work force has suffered from depopulation, aging demographics and the arduous physical labor required.
The city has now turned to foreigners to fill the shortfall, including those who travel to Japan as apprentices on a government program that offers outsiders a chance to improve their skill level during a temporary stay in the country.
There are now three times as many foreigners living in Etajima as a decade ago: one figure in February put the number at 383.
Most of those who work in shelling oysters are Chinese, Filipinos and South Koreans.
Oyster farmers say the language barrier often causes trouble.
"Since they don't speak Japanese very well, misunderstandings do arise," one said.
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