Saw-wielding man attacks Japanese pop group AKB48

Pedestrians pass before the AKB48 theatre in Tokyo on May 26, 2014. Two teenage members of Japanese girl group AKB48 were in hospital after being attacked on May 25 by a man wielding a saw. Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP/Getty Images

TOKYO – Japan’s hugely popular pop group AKB48 cancelled fan events Monday after a saw-wielding man attacked two members and a staffer, shocking the country and raising questions over their security.

The two women and the male staffer who tried to stop the attack Sunday at a fan event in northern Japan suffered hand and head injuries, but are recovering, police and the group’s blog say.

The attack on a group whose members are dubbed “idols that you can meet” because of their approachable fan services has rattled people in a nation known for its safety levels. The news topped TV entertainment shows and even the two nationwide newspapers Yomiuri and Mainichi.

On Sunday, the group gave a mini-concert for hundreds of fans and then followed with a handshaking event — in which fans who buy special CDs can shake hands and chat briefly with their favourite member. As soon as the handshaking event in Takizawa city started, a man suddenly took out a saw from his jacket and went toward the two women standing at the entrance.

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Police arrested Satoru Umeda, 24 and unemployed, immediately.

Dozens of AKB48 handshaking events are held in Japan a year. Bouncers — called “peelers” here — are assigned to these events to remove fans who linger, but no major attacks had been previously reported.

“It’s nice they are close to the fans, but we have to remember there is a possibility that people like (the attacker) may sneak in,” Seiji Miyane, a popular talk show host said during his program on NTV. He said handshaking is AKB’s one of main appeals but also a weak spot whose risk needs to be mitigated.

Anna Iriyama, 18, and Rina Kawaei, 19, suffered hand and head injuries, and the man suffered a broken hand. All three were still at the hospital Monday, but their injuries are not life-threatening, the group’s organizer said on its official blog.

Twitter and other social networking sites were flooded with comments about the AKB, many of them raising concerns about security checks.

The AKB operator announced Monday it was cancelling a concert at its main theatre in Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics and sub-culture district, as well as several other events around Japan. Affiliates SKE48 in central Japan and MNB48 in Osaka also cancelled or postponed their events.

Established in 2005, the group has a rotating cast of more than 90 young women and affiliates across the country and in Indonesia, China and Taiwan.

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AKB48 and their affiliates have regularly held charity concerts in northern Japan since March 2011 to cheer up their fans in the disaster-hit region.

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