Police officers investigate near a damaged wooden bench, right, following an explosion at a park in Utsunomiya, north of Tokyo, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. One person is dead and at several people have been injured after two apparent explosions back-to-back in the city. Japanese media say the reported blasts occurred before noon Sunday at the park and a nearby pay-parking lot. It wasn’t clear if they were related, and police are investigating the cause.(Photo: Yukie Nishizawa, Kyodo News via AP)
TOKYO — A former member of Japan’s Self Defense Forces apparently committed suicide Sunday by detonating an explosive device in a park north of Tokyo. Three other people were injured.
The incident took place about the same time that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was making a speech about Japan’s controversial new defense laws at a military review in Tokyo.
It is not known if the two events were directly connected.
Japan’s Kyodo News service reported that police had identified the dead man as Toshikatsu Kurihara, 72, a former member of Japan’s military, known euphemistically in Japan as self-defense forces.
Police said Kurihara’s body was found in a park after witnesses reported hearing an explosion and seeing a man engulfed in flames.
Shortly before that, several cars, including Kurihara's, were found burning in a nearby parking lot, according to Kyodo. Two men, ages 64 and 58, and a 14-year-old boy, were injured by flying debris from the explosion, national broadcaster NHK reported.
The incident took place in Utsunomiya, about 60 miles north of Tokyo. The city is home to the Central Readiness Regiment, an elite unit of Japan’s Ground Self Defense Force that is likely to serve an expanded role under the new defense laws.
Police said a suicide note was found on Kurihara’s body. The note was not released, but police said it expressed anxieties related to family matters.
"I pay with my life," the note said, according to Kyodo.
Firearms and explosives are tightly controlled in Japan, and suicides by explosive device are extremely rare.
Sunday's incident occurred at 11:30 a.m., local time, at about the same time that Abe was speaking in Tokyo at the Ground Self Defense Force Troop Review, held every three years.
In his speech, Abe praised Japan’s new defense legislation, which will allow the self-defense forces to conduct some types of combat-related missions that were previously forbidden under Japan’s pacifist constitution.
The new laws were the subject of massive public protests last year.
The Central Readiness Regiment is an elite light infantry unit. Among its responsibilities is to provide advance teams for peacekeeping units deploying overseas, a mission the Abe administration has said it plans to expand.