Sunday, Feb. 2 1919

Tokyo gripped by dread disease


Spanish influenza again holds Tokyo in its deadly grip, favored by the changeable weather. Pneumonia frequently sets in and fatalities are numerous and constantly increasing; doctors, nurses, undertakers and crematories have more than they can do. Five crematories in Tokyo, all in the suburbs, are not equal to the fast increasing death rate and, at the Mikawashima Crematory alone, over 400 corpses, mostly victims of Spanish influenza are awaiting cremation. Corpses are lying in heaps at other crematories, and they have applied for a special permit to work day and night.

The victims of the epidemic are daily reported from all classes and most of the obituary notices appearing in the Japanese papers are most of the upper classes of society who have succumbed to the malady.

Many are the sad homes in which both parents have died leaving young children orphans or in which one parent has died leaving the other to look after the little ones.

The congestion of the dead awaiting cremation gave a rise to a rather odd incident a few days ago. A certain merchant of Koishikawa Ward lost his daughter through the influenza and her body was sent to a crematory but owing to the congestion of corpses claiming precedence it was laid aside for a few days to await its turn. This was too much for her parents who took back the coffin wishing to see once more the face of their beautiful daughter. The coffin was brought back home but on opening it they found, to their horror, the body of a shabby old man.

An estimated 23 million people nationwide are believed to have been affected by Spanish influenza during the 1918-19 outbreak.

Monday, Feb. 28, 1944

Entertainers to curb extravagant centers


Full support of the government’s measures to temporarily reduce the scope of activities of extravagant entertainment centers is pledged by Uzayemon Ichimura, leading Kabuki actor; Takejiro Otani, president of Shochiku theater and film interests, and other leaders of the Japanese stage and screen.

In item 7 of the Decisive War Emergency Draft Measures that were announced by the Board of Information on Feb. 25 as the result of the government’s Cabinet meeting the same day, “prohibition from operations of high class pleasure establishments” is being envisaged. It is further stipulated that “high-class entertainment centers shall be temporarily closed” and that “these facilities shall be made use of for other purposes in accordance with their needs,” and that those connected with such establishments “shall be employed in activities in conformity with the present situation.”

Uzayemon Ichimura, leading veteran Kabuki star player, declared: “Things have come to a point to which they had to come as a matter of course. I rather think, the new measures have been taken much later than ought to have been. That under such an intensified war situation the amusement circles should have continued their activities without change, until now just as in peace time — this fact in itself is rather surprising. True, it may be said that this is proof of Japan’s great reserve strength. Yet, under present conditions, such a situation can no longer be allowed to continue. At last, the internal structure must in all fields be switched to another footing at great speed. We are always ready to quit the large theaters at any time at the government’s order. Then, what shall be our activities after leaving the large theaters? We actors, it goes without saying, shall offer our services for itinerant performances to entertain the fighters on the production front and the farming, mining and fishing villages. Many of us may have had this in mind already before, but on account of our professional engagements it has hitherto not been realized. But from now on, we shall be free to offer our services for such kind of itinerant performances. Thus, a way has been opened for those active on the stage to serve the nation.”

Friday, Feb. 7, 1969

Dancer arrested after 30 die in Koriyama fire


Koriyama police Thursday arrested a Tokyo stage dancer on suspicion of having caused a fire that killed 30 persons, including a Swiss woman, at a recreation center and a hotel here Wednesday night.

Whipped by winds of 15 meters per second, the fire gutted the three-story ferroconcrete Banko Paradise Recreation Center, the four-story ferroconcrete Bank Hotel and destroyed a wooden residence.

The suspect was identified as Masaki Matsushita, 29, a member of the Seven Star dancing troupe, headed by Hiromitsu Yamanaka, 28, who was one of those burned to death in the fire. Police said Matsushita, preparing to appear in the final show of the day, “Gold Dust Show,” had painted his body with gold dust shortly after 9 p.m. in the green room behind the stage in the big banquet hall, and had a metal stick with a ball of cloth doused with benzine attached to it.

The fire started when he placed the torch against a kerosene stove in the room, the dancer told police. The fire then spread to curtains, and to the ceiling and to the carpeted floor. Matsushita told police that we has unable to put the fire out because it spread too rapidly.

Thursday, Feb. 10, 1994

Dog trainer suspected of being serial killer


A self-proclaimed dog trainer who admitted to killing two women in Osaka confessed Wednesday to killing three men and burying their bodies on a farm in Shiojiri, Nagano Prefecture, police said.

According to police, Yoshinori Ueda admitted he killed and buried three Osaka Prefecture men who had been missing since summer 1992. The three are Sanpei Fujiwara, 35, unemployed and an acquaintance of Ueda from Osaka; Ko Kashii, 22, a construction worker also from Osaka; and Hiroshi Seto, 25, a part-time worker from Sakai.

Ueda became acquainted with Kashii and Seto when they worked together on temporary jobs. He proposed partnerships in the pet business to all three, police said.

Ueda has been arrested on suspicion of killing Sachiko Takahashi, 47, and has confessed to murdering Nobuko Ahiji, 47.

Police quoted Ueda as saying he fatally drugged the two housewives and buried their bodies on the same farm last Nov. 2.

The victims were all believed to have been dog lovers, and four were involved in the suspect’s plan to form a partnership in a new pet business, according to police.

Compiled by Elliott Samuels. In this feature, we delve into The Japan Times’ 121-year archive to present a selection of stories from the past. This month’s edition was compiled with the assistance of Christopher Kunody. The Japan Times’ archive is now available in a digital format. For more details, see jtimes.jp/de.

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