/

The New Year’s prank that was anything but

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

Aum Shinrikyo fugitive Makoto Hirata’s final day of freedom was nothing short of embarrassing for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.

Not that Hirata had expected it to turn out that way; as far as he was concerned, he was simply turning himself in after spending nearly 17 years on the run.

But first he had to get from Osaka, where he was hiding, to a police station in Tokyo. It wasn’t quite as easy as he anticipated.

First, he rode to Honmachi Station in Osaka’s Chuo Ward by bicycle with his partner, Akemi Saito, on Dec. 31, 2011. After saying their goodbyes, Hirata hopped on the Midosuji Line and headed to Shin-Osaka Station to catch the shinkansen to Tokyo. A security camera recorded footage of the fugitive wearing a face mask and a knitted hat at the bullet train station at around 5:30 p.m. that day.

Upon arriving in Tokyo, Hirata got off the bullet train at Shinagawa Station, transferred to the Yamanote Line and arrived at Osaki Station at about 9 p.m. He initially attempted to turn himself in to an officer on duty at Osaki Police Station where Aum’s investigation headquarters were set up, but could not locate the building’s entrance or find any police officers in the vicinity.

At a loss, Hirata called the emergency police number and asked where the division in charge of his case was headquartered. Upon being told that it was the Metropolitan Police Department in Kasumigaseki, he walked back to Osaki Station and took the Yamanote Line to Ebisu Station.

According to various reports, the fugitive spent about an hour walking around Ebisu, where one of the Aum branches was previously located. Then, riding on the Hibiya Line — the very same line targeted by the doomsday cult’s sarin gas attack in 1995 — he arrived at Kasumigaseki a little after 11 p.m.

However, when he approached an officer at the gates of the Metropolitan Police Department, identified himself and said he wished to turn himself in, the officer thought it was a New Year’s Eve prank and told him to take his business to the Marunouchi Police Station instead.

Hirata apparently walked around Hibiya Park and arrived at the Marunouchi Police Station just a few minutes before midnight. By the time he was finally arrested after his identity was confirmed via fingerprint, it was already New Year’s Day.

In an attempt to dispose of any evidence that might lead the police back to Saito, Hirata had thrown away most of his belongings — including even the tags on his shirts.