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Taking a walk down felony lane

by Mark Schreiber

Special To The Japan Times

As part of the commemoration of the 140th anniversary of the Metropolitan Police Department, monthly magazine Bungei Shunju polled some 50,000 active-duty policemen on the 100 most significant crimes, incidents and disasters since 1874. The magazine received approximately 45,000 responses, and published the results in its April issue.

Of the top 10 incidents picked by the respondents, seven occurred in the current Heisei Era (1989~), with two of the remaining three occurring in the mid-Showa Era (1926-1989) and one in the Meiji Era (1868-1912). In descending order, here are brief introductions to those incidents:

1) The Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) nerve gas attack on the Tokyo Subway (20,999 votes).

On March 20, 1995, members of a doomsday religious cult released sarin, a toxic nerve agent, on three Eidan subway lines, resulting in 12 deaths and more than 6,000 injuries. Previously, on June 27, 1994, in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, the cultists used sarin to attack a dormitory where the judge presiding over a lawsuit against Aum was residing, resulting in seven dead and several hundred sickened. Failure by the Nagano prefectural police to identify the perpetrators gave Aum a second chance to do even worse damage nine months later.

2) The Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami (14,419 votes).

On March 11, 2011, an undersea megathrust off Miyagi Prefecture released nearly double the energy of the magnitude-9.1 Indian Ocean temblor and tsunami in December 2004, which killed some 230,000 people. The number of dead, injured and missing exceeded 24,000, and decades may pass before the towns near the damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are inhabitable.

3) The takeover of the Asama-sano villa in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, by five armed members of the “Red Army Faction” (12,187 votes).

After a 10-day siege, police stormed the villa on Feb. 28, 1972, safely rescuing hostage Yasuko Muta, but taking heavy casualties: two dead and 15 injured.

4) The Dec. 10, 1968, robbery of a bank car transporting ¥300 million by a man impersonating a motorcycle policeman (7,886 votes).

The robbery of the cash bonuses for workers at Toshiba’s Fuchu factory resulted in the largest police dragnet in Japan’s modern history. Subsequent investigation showed that the criminal (or criminals) had meticulously planned the caper months beforehand. The thief was never caught: The statute of limitations expired on Dec. 9, 1975, with no arrest.

5) The funeral and memorial ceremonies for the late Emperor Showa and the coronation of his successor (5,998 votes).

Japan’s 124th and longest-reigning Emperor, Hirohito (1901-89) led his country through tumultuous times, a disastrous war and recovery into the world’s second-largest economy. His birthday, April 29, was observed as a national holiday, Greenery Day from 1989 to 2006 and renamed Showa Day in 2007.

6) The apprehension of three Aum fugitives (5,540 votes).

Despite their faces being emblazoned on the walls of post offices and rail stations nationwide, fugitive cult members Makoto Hirata, Katsuya Takahashi and Naoko Kikuchi managed to elude arrest for nearly 17 years before finally being brought to justice. Hirata turned himself in to police on Dec. 31, 2011, while Kikuchi and Takahashi were nabbed on June 3 and 15, 2012, respectively.

7) The brutal slaying of a family of four in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward on the final day of the 20th century (4,974 votes).

In killings that evoked memories of California’s Manson Family in the 1960s, the ghoulish perpetrator lingered in the house for 11 hours after stabbing to death businessman Mikio Miyazawa, his wife Yasuko, the couple’s 8-year-old daughter and strangling their 6-year-old son. The investigation is ongoing.

8) Killer runs amok in Akihabara (4,368 votes).

In June 8, 2008, Tomohiro Kato, laid-off factory worker, used a rented truck to run down pedestrians in Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics shopping district, disembarked and slashed people at random until he was disarmed by a policeman. Seven died and 10 were injured. Kato is in Kosuge Prison awaiting execution.

9) The Seinan War, also known as the Satsuma Rebellion, February-September 1877 (4,291 votes).

This short-lived war pitted disaffected samurai fighting government troops under a 60-to-1 numerical disadvantage. Chapter 9 (“The Apotheosis of Saigo the Great”) in historian Ivan Morris’ superb 1975 work, “The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan,” contains a full account of the story.

10) The murders of three female employees during a botched robbery of the Nampei supermarket in Hachioji, Tokyo, on July 30, 1995 (3,715 votes).

This shocking triple slaying — in which two of the victims were 17-year-old high school students — was enough to drive off coverage of the Aum Supreme Truth, which had dominated the news headlines since March 20. A police source was quoted in Sunday Mainichi magazine as saying, “No Japanese would commit a crime like this.” Nearly two decades later, he might be proved right: Last November, police extradited a person of interest, Liang He, a 41-year-old Chinese national, from Canada. The investigation is ongoing.

Referring to uncleared cases such as the murders in Setagaya and Hachioji, MPD Superintendent General Katsuhiko Ikeda told interviewer Kunio Yanagida, “In incidents in which innocent children or high school students are murdered, the MPD has to put its prestige on the line and resolve them.

“For a police officer, an unsolved case is like bearing a heavy cross,” he added gravely.