Hanged killer still raising funds for poor kids a decade later

Kyodo

Around 180 people gathered at a Tokyo church on Saturday for a charity concert to raise money for poor children around the world — the last wish of a hanged killer.

The concert was organized by a group of supporters for Norio Nagayama, who was 19 when he went on a shooting spree that killed four people in 1968. He was executed on Aug. 1, 1997, after writing several literary works behind bars based mainly on his underprivileged background.

The Nagayama Children Fund has held the event every year since 2004 around the anniversary of Nagayama’s execution, and marked the 10th round this year. It was Nagayama’s wish that royalties from his publications help disadvantaged children lead independent lives instead of following his path to criminality.

Performing in the concert, Lee Jong Mi, a second-generation South Korean living in Japan, told the audience, “I’ve thought about Norio Nagayama since I was asked to sing in this concert late last year.”

She visited a gallery, which displays mementos of Nagayama, while speaking with a former family court judge who has dealt with a number of juvenile offenders.

“I’m now aware that people can certainly change, and I’ll be able to become confident when I sing in front of young people at the reformatory next time,” said Lee, who performs regularly at a juvenile reformatory.

More than ¥20 million in royalties and proceeds from the annual concert have been donated mainly to a group of working children in Peru. The money has been used to provide scholarships for them.

Kyoko Otani, Nagayama’s defense lawyer and the current head of the fund, said his efforts are still helping society even in death.

“His execution was quite a painful memory, but he has given us the opportunity for getting together once a year to support the poor children,” she said. “I hope we’ll be able to continue this effort for years to come.”

Nagayama was sentenced to death in the initial trial, but got it commuted to life imprisonment by the Tokyo High Court, which apparently took his upbringing into account and ruled that insufficient welfare policies played a role.

The Supreme Court, however, ordered a retrial, and his death sentence was finalized in 1990.

His publications include the 1971 best-seller “Muchi no Namida” (“Tears of Ignorance”).