Saturday, May 20, 2006

The History of Violence: Yatsushiro's Morbid Side

Sakakibara murder site in May 1997.

Aum Shinrikyo leader Shoko Asahara/麻原 彰晃 (née Chizuo Matsumoto/松本智津夫).

Like any small town, Yatsushiro has mysteries. Conundrums. Things people don't like to talk about. Nagging shadows that are simply too taboo and brutal to bring up. For instance, do you know the history of some of your neighbors, as well as some of the people raised in this town? Try this one on for size:

On May 27, 1997, the head of Jun Hase ( , Hase Jun?)(ca. 1986 - May 27, 1997), a student at Tainohata Elementary School, was found in front of the school gate hours before students arrived for classes. Hase had apparently been beheaded with a knife, with further mutilations being done before being left at the front. [2] A note, written in red pen, was found stuffed in his mouth, identifying the killer as "Sakakibara." The note read:

"This is the beginning of the game... You police guys stop me if you can... I desperately want to see people die, it is a thrill for me to commit murder. A bloody judgment is needed for my years of great bitterness."

Additionally, some English was on the note as well: "shooll [sic] kill".

Or how about this former Yatsushirite?

On March 20, 1995, members of Aum attacked the Tokyo Subway System with the nerve gas Sarin. Twelve commuters died, and thousands more suffered from after-effects. After finding sufficient evidence, authorities accused Aum Shinrikyo of complicity in the attack, as well as in a number of smaller-scale incidents. Tens of disciples were arrested, Aum's facilities were raided, and the court issued an order for Shoko Asahara's arrest. Asahara was discovered in a very small, completely isolated room of the building belonging to Aum, meditating.

Shoko Asahara faced 27 murder counts in 13 separate indictments. The prosecution argued that Asahara "gave orders to attack the Tokyo Subway", in order to "overthrow the government and install himself in the position of king of Japan". Several years later, the prosecution introduced another theory — that the attacks were ordered to "divert police attention" (from Aum). The prosecution also accused Asahara of masterminding the Matsumoto incident and the Sakamoto family murder. According to Asahara's defense team, a group of senior followers initiated the atrocities, keeping them a secret from Asahara.

At best, unnerving, isn't it?


All of this has a beginning. Don't worry. I'll explain.

When I was young, growing up in the town that hell forgot, we managed to snag subtitled Japanese news in the mornings before going off to school, airing at 6:30 in the morning. It was a revelation.

At that time I was about 13 years old, and things weren't going well for me, which was a situation that continued well into my teens. In fact, I don't even like to think I existed until I was 20. But regardless, every morning I'd wake up and watch the news before being carted off to a school full of sociopaths and future violent criminals.

It was horrifying, edifying, and beyond a doubt amazing.

Via these strange phantom broadcasts ("Why the hell are we getting this?"), I'd revel in the oddities of a then-obscure foreign culture, as this was years before the early 00's "Japan culture boom" that rocked nerds all over the US. Confounding, ridiculous, and arcane, I'd stick by the tube religiously from the second the screen flickered until it was time to make instant oatmeal.

I saw footage of the Kobe earthquake which ravaged the city and killed thousands. I saw Tokyo fall apart during the isopropyl methylphosphano (sic?) flouridate gas attacks. I saw the subsequent manhunt and near dismantling of Aum Shinrikyo. And I saw Shoko Asahara's face for the first time.

Asahara can be likened to Japan's Charles Manson. Morbidly obese, nearly blind, and genuinely disturbing via his mix of religious metaphysics and the terrifying miasma of his murderous organization, Shoko Asahara scared the living shit out of me. The man screamed "horror", and I dare anybody to not spend a little time reading about Aum Shinrikyo and not think that his disquetingly calm aura belied disturbing passions and desires.

Look at him. Look.

Asahara could have you killed. Brutally. Shot. Head cut off. Fingers gone. Eyes gouged out. Lime-dissolved. Burned beyond recognition.

Sure, his organization may be remembered as particularly bumbling and inefficient in a lot of respects, but it still continued under the auspices of Japanese police for far too long. Thank God a hurried response by the group only allowed a gas with a purity mixture of 11% to be released in the subways and not 40% or even 90%... hundreds of thousands could have been killed. Can you imagine going to work and ending up choking down enough neuro-toxin to paralyze your diaphragm while thousands of people rush about Tokyo's busiest subway stations? What about the blood rushing up from your lungs as you gasp and convulse, begging wordlessly to not die on a damn subway car at rush hour? And all because some religous cult wants to make a last-ditch effort to throw off an investigation.

And guess where this guy's from?

Yep. Kyushu's finest. And here I am, traipsing around Captain Gas-a-lot's backyard.



Every now and then a murderer takes the public consciousness by storm. In Japan this is also a fairly regular occurence. It's just like America's obsession with Dahmer, Manson, Ted Bundy, OJ, Scott Peterson, et al. But the brutal and seemingly arbitrary nature of Japanese culture made their killers more and more terrifying to me.

For instance, Tomoko Kaneda was a nurse in Tokyo who murdered, dismembered, and hid the body of her friend in various trash recepticles near her apartment. She methodically hid the body parts over a course of ten days, possibly to stunt police investigation (garbage is picked up twice a week in Japan), and was then jailed.

The boyfriend plans to marry Kaneda after her release, with the ceremony taking place in the Church of Satan.


This all culminated during a discussion I had with a Japanese friend a few months ago. We were discussing Kaneda, who I had found out about in an official Japanese Language study packet from my "Big Bosses" in Tokyo, and she mentioned Shonen A to me. She inquired if I knew about him. I answered affirmitively that I did.

She then told me that he now lives in Yatsushiro after an early release.

Dios mio.

I first heard about Shonen A in the first (and so far only edition) of Creation Books' excellent Suture: The Arts Journal. The story was delineated in an article about Japanese post Ukiyo-e artist Suehiro Maruo. Maruo's work could be described at gut-churning, and the description is well-deserved. But the cultural context lead-in featuring vicuous murder, mutilation, police-baiting, and Engrish capped things for me again.

"God this country can be scary."

My friend proceeded to tell me that nobody liked or cared to discuss Shonen A and his life in Yatsushiro. I've heard it intimated that he works in a convenience store (note to self: be very nice to employees there from now on), and that he lives with older relatives here. Regardless, the rumors about Shonen A set off a raging stampede amongst a select group of local JETs to find out if this was true or just an old wive's tale, compounded by Winter alienation, cultural uncertainty, and an unrelated double murder that had happened in our area of Kumamoto during that period.

Within days we had second confirmation from a trusted source. It was true.

Welcome to Yatushiro. Care to meet the neighbors?


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You make me feel hella great about coming to Kyushu. Fantastic.

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