TOKYO -- Once again the United States topped the news in Japan, and once again the reason was the shooting of youths who loved America, only to be killed.
Two teen-agers -- one Japanese, the other a Japanese-American -- studying in California died Sunday night, two days after they were critically wounded by a carjacker.
There were morbid lessons for the Japanese to learn about U.S. perspectives on mortality. Although the two were alive by Japanese standards because of the tick of their hearts, they were pronounced dead -- brain dead -- under U.S. standards. With the approval of his family, life support systems were unplugged for Takuma Ito, 19. Several hours later, the same was done for his friend, Go Matsuura, also 19.
The shooting, the issue of life support and the desires of the victims to be film directors and make movies like "Schindler's List" all were front-page news in Japan.
Mr. Matsuura was born in the United States and moved to Japan in junior high school before returning to the United States last year. He and Mr. Ito, a Japanese citizen, were freshmen at Marymount College, a private liberal arts school near Los Angeles.
The crime took on international significance.
At a hastily called noon news conference, U.S. Ambassador Walter F. Mondale apologized to the Japanese people for what occurred and was asked by the Japanese press to explain the unexplainable -- the reason for murder in the United States.
"This is the saddest day in my time here as ambassador," Mr. Mondale said.
"The American people deplore this senseless act of criminal violence, and we share in the sorrow of the Japanese people," said Mr. Mondale in a statement issued on behalf of President Clinton. "I deeply apologize."
Underscoring the scene of deja vu, Mr. Mondale was followed to the podium by students from Baton Rouge, La., who were touring Japan on a good-will tour in memory of their former classmate, exchange student Yoshihiro Hattori, who was fatally shot in 1992 when he went to the wrong house looking for a Halloween party. The homeowner said that he mistook the youth for an intruder and was acquitted in the killing.
The aftershocks of Mr. Hattori's death continue to rock Japan. More than a million signatures have been collected protesting U.S. permissiveness toward guns.
A compact disc, "A Boy Who Loved America," has been issued by a foundation in his honor, and new language books have begun to appear in Japanese stores including such phrases as "Back off," "Hands up" and "Freeze," the critical word Mr. Hattori misunderstood before being shot.
These events, Mr. Mondale added, "are just tragic from every standpoint and including the fact that they give an entirely distorted picture of life in the United States."
Last night, television clips of the fathers of the two students were repeated endlessly, each emphasizing the boys' affection for the United States. Takuma Ito, his father said, wanted to make the United States his home.
As is often the case in Japan, where reactions often take time to build, the most common expression heard was merely a statement of sorrow. More concrete reactions come later. Hideko Takaoka of Jayec International Council, which arranges school tours, said California is already off the list because of potential danger. The number of students going to the United States through her service also has declined sharply.
Students are now routinely warned about dangers before they depart. At the very least, the admonitions will get stricter.
"We have to consider how students should behave," said Kazuko Kubota of the Ikebukuro Institute of Multi-Cultural Understanding, which helps foreigners in Japan. "They went to supermarket, as they would go to a convenience store at night in Japan. I think no American would go out at night."
Mr. Ito and Mr. Matsuura were gunned down as they got out of Mr. Ito's car in a supermarket parking lot in San Pedro. The car was found parked on a San Pedro street Sunday afternoon.