National / Media | BIG IN JAPAN

Figuring out Japan's unsolved mysteries

by Mark Schreiber

Special To The Japan Times

As a visit to any large public library or online search will reveal, Japan boasts a superb body of crime literature, both fiction and nonfiction. Among these, English readers may be most familiar with a half-dozen works by Seicho Matsumoto (1909-92). Many of his novels, such as “Kuroi Fukuin” (“The Black Gospel,” 1959) were loose reconstructions of actual events.

Matsumoto’s nonfiction work included “Nihon no Kuroi Kiri” (“The Black Mist of Japan”), which was serialized in the monthly Bungei Shunju magazine in 1960. It featured accounts of baffling incidents in the immediate postwar period such as the enigmatic Teikoku Bank murder-robbery of 1948, and the mysterious death of Japan National Railways President Sadanori Shimoyama in 1949.

Koji Kata (1918-98) was another author who produced a massive body of work, much of which concerned historical crimes spanning the Edo, Meiji, Taisho and early Showa eras (from 1600 to the 1940s). He published several histories about Japan’s most celebrated bandits, brigands and thieves of yore, and can be credited with having penned the insightful observation, “Nobody ever set out in life with the ambition of becoming a yakuza.”

More recently, one of Japan’s most prolific investigative reporters has been journalist Fumiya Ichihashi. Ichihashi is a nom de plume written with the same kanji characters as his alma mater, Hitotsubashi University; the characters for “Fumiya” can also be read bunya, a slang term for a newspaper reporter.

Last November, Shogakukan published a compendium of the notes and records from stories Ichihashi has covered, titled “Mo Jiko Dakara, Subete Hanaso Ka: Judai Jiken Koko dake no Hanashi,” which can loosely be rendered in English as “Since the Statute of Limitations Has Already Expired, Shall I Tell It All? Stories About Major Cases You Can Only Get Here.” The chapters include several famous unresolved cases such as the Glico-Morinaga corporate blackmail incidents of 1984-85; the ¥300 million Toshiba payroll robbery in 1968; and the 2013 slaying of Takayuki Ohigashi, president of the Gyoza no Osho restaurant chain.

Harnessing inductive reasoning, Ichihashi has shown an exceptional ability to deconstruct the details of a crime and suggest possibilities that the police may have overlooked. It’s fascinating, too, to read how he first examines a hypothesis from various perspectives and then rejects it. For example, in a series of articles appearing in Shincho 45 magazine in 1995 related to a gang that engaged in various crimes in the Kansai area in the mid-1980s, referred to collectively as the Glico-Morinaga incident, Ichihashi noted how the crimes commenced with the abduction of Ezaki Glico’s president, then-42-year-old Katsuhisa Ezaki, from his own home on the night of March 18, 1984. The day after the kidnapping, the value of the company’s shares fell from ¥745 to ¥620. By April 13, it had dropped below ¥600 and within two weeks it was down to ¥485.

Ezaki fortunately escaped unharmed from captivity and his company recovered; but the same criminals then targeted Morinaga products, and the firm’s shares promptly plummeted from ¥670 to ¥508. By the end of 1984, their value was down by almost half, to ¥380.

From the brazen nature of the crimes, investigators may have suspected the abduction and extortion was an attempt to profit from fluctuations in their share prices; but Ichihashi correctly pointed out that the country’s Finance Ministry required anyone selling short to post a retainer of at least 10 percent. And, of course, records of all the transactions were easily available to investigators.

No arrests were ever made in the case and the statute of limitations expired years ago.

Then came Jan. 1, 2001, the first day of the new millennium. Subscribers to The Japan Times — myself included — may recall arising to retrieve their newspapers while wondering what bright and hopeful message the front page might carry. However, a rather large headline on that day read: “Police suspect burglary after family found slain at home.”

At around 10:56 a.m. on Dec. 31, the bodies of Mikio Miyazawa, 44; his wife, Yasuko, 41; their daughter, Niina, 8; and son, Rei, 6; were found brutally murdered in their home in the quiet residential neighborhood of Kamisoshigaya in Setagaya Ward.

As details were gradually released to the public, it was clear that the circumstances of the crime bordered on the bizarre. According to a police reconstruction, upon entering the house shortly before midnight, the killer stabbed to death the two parents and daughter and strangled the son. He then lingered in the house, helping himself to the contents of the refrigerator (including ice cream), going online to surf the internet and using the toilet. He napped on the second floor sofa and departed the crime scene shortly after 10 a.m.

The investigators must have felt confident they would get their man, as the criminal left behind a veritable cornucopia of forensic evidence. Shoes and articles of clothing suggested a possible link to South Korea. Even more curious was the DNA extracted at the scene, which pointed to a male with East Asian ancestry — but not necessarily Japanese — on his father’s side, and what appeared to be south European ancestry on his mother’s side.

So far in addition to Ichihashi’s own work, the Miyazawa slayings have been the subject of six other books. Like the police, the writers have hit a brick wall, with no useful clues as to the killer’s identity or motive.

Posting on Kodansha’s Gendai Business Premium website (gendai.ismedia.jp) on Dec. 30 — 15 years to the day since the slayings — Ichihashi remarked bitterly, “I know who the ‘real criminal’ is — this case has gone unsolved due to fatal mistakes by the police and negligence by the mass media.”

Once again he raises some tantalizing points, but doesn’t offer any closure. Still, there’s no statute of limitations on the murders or, as far as Ichihashi is concerned, on investigative journalism.

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