On July 22, The Japan Times ran an article with the headline, “Crime set to hit postwar low this year, first-half data shows.” In it, the National Police Agency reported that the number of criminal offenses is on track to fall below 1 million for the first time since World War II ended, down from the all-time high of 2,853,739 cases in 2002. Crimes in the January-June period are down by 9.3 percent compared with the same period last year, with only “intellectual” crimes such as fraud and card forgery increasing, by 5.1 percent.
The public had less than a week to absorb this felicitous news, and then came the first reports of the shocking slayings of 19 residents by a former worker at a care facility for people with disabilities in Sagamihara, near Tokyo. It is one of Japan’s worst mass murders in modern times. (The 1938 murder of 30 people by a 21-year-old man in Okayama Prefecture remains the worst.)
While no single Japanese magazine dominates crime coverage, one that’s long stood out for its incisive reporting is Shincho 45, a monthly published by Shincho-sha. Shincho 45’s August issue contains an article by award-winning journalist Kiyoshi Shimizu titled, “Listen, you criminal” — words aimed at the man who abducted Yukari Yokohama, then age 4, from a pachinko parlor in Ota, Gunma Prefecture, in July 1996.
Yukari had been briefly left unattended on a sofa when her father went to cash in his winnings for a packet of fireworks. At approximately 10:30 a.m., a security camera recorded a man wearing sunglasses, a baseball cap and loose-fitting slacks talking with the girl. He was estimated to stand about 158 centimeters in height and walked with a pronounced bowlegged gait. The man can be seen leaving the shop and, shortly afterward, Yukari followed him out the door. It has been 20 years since she disappeared, and no trace of her has been found.
With the images from the security camera, many assumed — wrongly as it turned out — that the police would get their man quickly. Shimizu suspects the abductor spotted Yukari earlier, went to his nearby home and returned wearing different clothes designed to mask his identity.
Was there a serial killer at work? Between 1979 and ’96, within a 10-kilometer radius straddling the border of Tochigi and Gunma prefectures, five young girls were abducted and four found dead. Only the fate of Yukari remains unknown.
In Ashikaga, a short drive from Ota, the body of a 4-year-old girl who had gone missing from a pachinko parlor in May 1990 was found in a nearby river. The following year, Toshikazu Sugaya was arrested for the crime and sentenced to life in prison. But the evidence against Sugaya was flawed, and in a celebrated case of miscarriage of justice, Sugaya, mainly through Shimizu’s efforts, was exonerated after serving 17 years.
What rankles Shimizu is that the real criminal was free to abduct Yukari while police investigators complacently thought they had put their man behind bars. Without naming names, Shimizu claims there exists strong evidence, including DNA evidence, that points to the actual criminal, who hasn’t been charged due to an expiration of the statute of limitations.
While murder will never be condoned, laws do change, and it’s instructive to compare crimes today with those of the past. Gyokusen Hashimoto has been entertaining readers of Shukan Asahi Geino magazine with a column titled, “Meiji-Showa Ero-guro Nansensu!” (“Erotic-grotesque nonsense from Meiji-to-Showa eras”). In the July 21 issue he summarizes a story from the Asahi Shimbun’s Osaka edition of July 20, 1931.
Noting that cases of adultery had been leading to more divorces, the Asahi’s writer saw the breakdown of sexual mores as a sign of the decadent times.
In this particular case, a railway worker named Kamezo in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, was suffering economic hardships. A neighbor named Keikichi, taking pity on Kamezo’s family, lent 50 sen — equivalent to about ¥5,000 today — to Kamezo’s wife, Sato. Wishing to repay Keikichi’s generosity but possessing nothing of substance except her 29-year-old body, Sato reciprocated with her “chastity.” A relative spotted the couple’s dalliance and reported it to the husband, who exclaimed, “My anger can’t be bought off, even for ¥1,000!” Kamezo filed for divorce and also brought charges of kantsū-zai (adultery) against the couple, who were found guilty and sentenced to four months in jail.
A holdover from older times, adultery was written into the revised criminal code of 1880 and remained on the books until 1947, when Article 14 of the new Constitution banned discrimination because of “race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.” And while that law has been defunct for 69 years, Hashimoto notes that adulterers careless enough to get caught — particularly entertainers and celebrities — face other types of punishment: sensational pillorying by the media and being ostracized.
The question is, in these times when many showbiz figures revel in audaciously flaunting their outrageous behavior, does anyone care any more? Apparently, some do.
In the Asahi Shimbun’s weekly “Be Between” survey of July 23, just less than one respondent in four said they feel that celebrities caught cheating on their spouses should indeed be obliged to appear before the media and apologize. The most common rationale for this, cited by 323 respondents, was that “they have a great influence on society.” Out of 1,920 valid responses, 54 percent said they habitually watch or read coverage of such apologies. And 61 percent agreed that society has recently become less tolerant of marital infidelity.
“When the media makes a big uproar over some celebrity gossip, there’s usually some bad news involving politics or the economy,” a 44-year-old female respondent in Kanagawa Prefecture remarked in the survey. “Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t being done intentionally, to divert the public’s mind from other matters.”
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