Execution of a noted jailhouse writer commemorated

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo News

Hundreds of people gathered on the 12th anniversary of Norio Nagayama’s execution, a man hanged for killing four people when he was a teenager.

“It was highly likely that he would have led a life of atonement (if he had not been executed on Aug. 1, 1997), and would have appealed to society so as not to create children like him who turn into juvenile delinquents,” Kyoko Otani, one of Nagayama’s lawyers, said at the public meeting Saturday in Tokyo.

Nagayama was convicted of fatally shooting four people in 1968 at the age of 19. He came from an extremely poor family, but he had a burning desire to learn following his arrest in 1969. He wrote several influential books while behind bars, including a best-selling autobiography titled “Muchi no Namida” (“Tears of Ignorance”).

“What he learned in prison enabled him to realize that he had committed the murders due to the ignorance, poverty and discrimination surrounding him,” Otani said. “He thought about the death penalty deeply and concluded it is a cycle of violence.”

Nagayama was initially sentenced to death, but the Tokyo High Court commuted the ruling to life in prison in 1981, saying insufficient welfare programs should also be blamed.

“He wrote an award-winning novel, ‘Kibashi’ (“Wooden Bridge”), after he was allowed to live,” Otani said. “With his desire for life, he could have given something back to society. He also wanted to donate the royalties from his books to the families of his victims.

“I believe the high court entrusted his supporters and society as a whole to bear responsibility with him for what he did,” she added.

But the Supreme Court ordered a retrial, which eventually led the high court to reverse its earlier decision. “His desire to live was shattered as he had been allowed once to live by the high court,” Otani said. “He was tossed about by society to the end of his life.”

Otani heads the Nagayama Children Fund, which provides financial aid from Nagayama’s royalties to poor working children in Peru. The fund has held concerts and lectures around the anniversary of Nagayama’s death to raise donations, and on Saturday musicians performed Latin American music at the public meeting as part of this effort. The fund plans to donate around ¥500,000 to Peru this year.

“I wish he could have continued living so he could have related more about why he committed such crimes and how he atoned for them.” said Koji Yakushiji, a family court investigator who wrote a book about Nagayama.