Mementos displayed of hanged killer with troubled youth

by Keiji Hirano


A woman has set up a small gallery in her Tokyo home to exhibit mementos of an executed killer and a replica of his prison cell in the hope that it will encourage visitors to consider how similar crimes might be prevented.

The items on display include the investigation and trial records of Norio Nagayama, who was hanged in 1997 for shooting four people in 1968 when he was 19, as well as some of his literary works, as he became known for his writing while on death row.

In addition, his library of more than 150 volumes, including dictionaries and books on law and philosophy, show how diligent Nagayama — a neglected child from an extremely poor family — became in his studies following his arrest and imprisonment.

“While he made big mistakes, I hope visitors to the gallery will learn through these documents why he was marginalized in society and think about how they can stop young people from turning to crime as he did,” said Michie Ichihara, 67. “We need to examine his failures and learn lessons from them.”

Ichihara, a longtime supporter of Nagayama, has kept most of the mementos since his execution.

She said the displayed documents also indicate the inadequacies of the investigation process.

“For example, he was questioned immediately after his arrest without the attendance of defense lawyers, even though he was a juvenile,” she said.

Ichihara replicated his prison cell, based on photographs and advice from lawyers, to show the environment in which he studied and wrote.

The display includes the style bedding and stationery actually used by Nagayama before his death.

Nagayama committed the crimes while struggling to establish a life for himself moving to Tokyo from Aomori Prefecture at the age of 15 in the middle of the postwar economic boom.

Although he was initially sentenced to death, the Tokyo High Court reduced the sentence to life imprisonment, arguing the government should also take the blame for its failure to rescue him from his poor environment, in which he was once abandoned by his mother and did not regularly attend school.

The death penalty was finalized in 1990 following a retrial ordered by the Supreme Court.

His literary works include the best-selling autobiography “Muchi no Namida” (“Tears of Ignorance”), and his last, unfinished novel, “Hana” (“Flower”).

The original manuscript for “Hana,” which also is displayed in the gallery, ends in midsentence with the word “morning.” It is believed Nagayama was taken to the execution chamber immediately after writing it, if the prison officials followed the usual practice and gave him no advance notice.

Ichihara has organized a series of lectures at the gallery by experts on juvenile offenses and literary works to explore Nagayama’s legacy.

Based on his will, the royalties from his books have been donated to poor children in South America so they can use the money to achieve a decent life and avoid the kind of regrets he had.

Reservations are required to visit the gallery by calling or sending a fax to (03) 6454-4397.

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