HIGASHI HIROSHIMA, Japan (AP) _ A teen-ager armed with a knife hijacked a bus carrying about 20 people in southwestern Japan today, stabbing three women passengers, one of them fatally, while other captives leaped out the moving vehicle's windows during a five-hour police chase.

With about six hostages still aboard and the standoff 12 hours old, police were negotiating with the youth early Thursday at a rest stop where the bus stopped for gas. Earlier, the teen had broken off previous negotiations and been allowed to get back on the highway after he held his knife to the throat of a 6-year-old girl who was traveling by herself.

Half a dozen police and news helicopters circled overhead, and television stations canceled regular programming to broadcast live updates on the drama, which came in the middle of a week when most Japanese take their annual vacations.

With the bus's curtains drawn and reporters kept well back, people aboard could not be seen. A newspaper ran a fuzzy photo in its Thursday edition showing a young man standing behind the driver wearing glasses and jeans. He was identified as the hijacker. Passengers who were freed said he carried a knife about 16 inches long.

Police said the hijacker was 17, but did not provide further details. They were joined in negotiations by members of the boy's family from Saga city on Japan's southernmost main island of Kyushu, where the bus trip had departed around noon on its way to Fukuoka city.

The hijacking began about 1 p.m. local time on Sanyo Expressway. A male passenger, Masayuki Kisikawa, told police the kidnapper suddenly stood up, drew his knife and began yelling.

Police said they first found out about the hijacking from a female passenger who escaped after she was let off the bus at a toll booth near the city of Moji to go to the bathroom and called authorities.

Afterward, another woman jumped out a window of the bus as it was moving, said Yamaguchi Prefecture police spokesman Junichi Takezaki. She was injured and taken to a nearby hospital, where she told police she saw the hijacker stab and seriously wound at least two passengers before she jumped.

Kisikawa then became the third passenger to escape, jumping from the moving bus and suffering light injuries. ``When I saw police around the bus, I got up my courage and jumped when it slowed down,'' police quoted him as saying.

For hours, television stations in Japan showed the white bus driving down the Sanyo Expressway in Yamaguchi Prefecture followed by police cars, and TV and police helicopters in a scene reminiscent of the televised 1994 police chase of former football player O.J. Simpson.

About five hours after the ordeal began, the bus stopped near a tunnel on the highway and the hijacker released four male passengers, one of them injured, police said.

Police vehicles then blocked the highway in Hiroshima city with a large bus and forced the bus to drive down a ramp into a nearby parking area, where authorities began negotiating with the hijacker through an open window. During the negotiations, they persuaded him to free three women, all of whom had been stabbed in the neck, and another passenger escaped. Police said one of the injured women, 68-year-old Tatsuko Tsukamoto, died later at Hiroshima University Hospital.

The bus then suddenly left the parking lot and headed east on the highway toward Tokyo with police cars driving in front of and behind it. Police said the bus was allowed to move after the kidnapper held a knife to the throat of the 6-year-old girl and demanded to be given a gun and driven to Tokyo. Strict gun-control laws prevent most people from owning firearms in Japan.

About 10 minutes later, the bus stopped for gas. There, police delivered food and tea to the vehicle and resumed talking with the captor. The talks led to the release of two other women hostages, reducing the number of captives to about six, police said. But the standoff continued.

Authorities said they had no idea what might have motivated the hijacker.

The hijacking was certain to horrify Japan, where crime rates, especially among the young, have been rising sharply, and several high-profile cases _ including the nine-year-long kidnapping of a child and a gruesome murder by a teen-ager _ have occurred recently.

Kenichiro Noda, a spokesman for Nishi-Nippon Railroad Co., which owns the bus, said the company was unable to contact the driver on its wireless radio after the hijacking occurred.