Two die on Japanese bullet train after man sets himself on fire

Several injured in the incident on the high speed service between Tokyo and Osaka


A carriage on Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train erupted in pandemonium on Tuesday after a man doused himself in fuel and set himself alight, killing himself and another passenger.

About a dozen other people were reportedly taken to hospital after the train’s first car filled with smoke, forcing an emergency stop in Odawara, about 70km west of Tokyo.

Unconfirmed media reports said the dead man was 71 and that the second victim, a woman, was at the back of the first carriage when she died, probably from smoke inhalation.

Television footage showed passengers evacuating the train, some in visible signs of distress. Japan Rail, the operator of the high-speed train said about 1000 people were on board at the time.

The incident stopped trains along the key route between Tokyo and Osaka, where the Shinkansen runs dozens of times a day at a top speed of around 300km per hour.

The apparent suicide is the latest in a string of public self-immolations. Last summer, on almost the same date, a middle-aged man protesting what he called the pro-military policies of prime minister Shinzo Abe set himself alight on a bridge overlooking Tokyo’s busiest train station.

In November, another man set himself on fire in the city’s Hibiya Park, near government buildings. His suicide note, sent to Japan’s media, criticised the government’s attempt to change Japan’s war-renouncing constitution.

There have been no indications of a motive for the man’s actions today.

JR said the train came to an emergency stop at 11:40am after the emergency buzzer was sounded inside. Panicked passengers moved through the train to escape the smoke and were eventually evacuated through the fourth car.

The train began moving again about two hours later after the fire was put out and injured passengers taken off. Reports said prime minister Abe has ordered a special task force to look into what happened.

Since first pulling out of Tokyo for Osaka in 1964, the Shinkansen has whisked 5.6 billion passengers across the country without a single serious accident and an unmatched record of punctuality. About 400,000 use the service every day.

The train, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, slashed the trip from Japan’s two biggest cities by three hours and brought fast reliable transport to millions a decade before high-speed trains did the same in Europe.