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Japanese man sentenced to life in prison for fatal stabbing on bullet train

Ichiro Kojima, 22, a suspect in a stabbing incident inside a Japanese Shinkansen bullet train, leaves Odawara police station after being arrested in Odawawa, west of Tokyo, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 10, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese man was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday after a stabbing attack on a speeding bullet train in 2018 that left one dead and two others inured, sparking a national debate about safety as Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 Olympics.

Prosecutors had demanded the life sentence for Ichiro Kojima, 23, who said he had committed the crime on a ‘Shinkansen’ train between Tokyo and Osaka out of frustration. During Kojima’s trial Japanese media reported he had said spending life in prison “was a dream” he welcomed.

The knife attack set off widespread discussion in Japan on how to improve security on the country’s network of bullet trains, known for both their speed and safety, as the country braces for a flood of visitors ahead of the Tokyo Summer Olympics next year.

Japan still has capital punishment but prosecutors had stopped short of asking for the death penalty for Kojima, who was 21 when the attack took place. Two women received knife wounds in the incident, while Kojima fatally stabbed Kotaro Umeda, 38, who tried to stop him.

Japan’s Shinkansen trains have long been known for their passenger safety. But in 2015, a man set himself on fire on one of the trains, killing himself and another passenger - an incident that prompted the installation of surveillance cameras on train carriages.

Kojima’s attack prompted debate in Japan about how to improve security while still keeping trains running smoothly on very tight schedules and without inconveniencing passengers at crowded stations.

One rail firm, Central Japan Railway Co, placed security guards on all its Shinkansen trains.

Baggage inspections have so far been rejected due to concerns about inconveniencing passengers and slowing down train departures, but Japanese media has reported that research is ongoing into luggage that could scan baggage in seconds.

Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell