Sakakibara and the Pelago Theory

Many years ago, in fact in around 1997, I somehow stumbled upon a website called pelago.com, a play on ‘archipelago’, being based around stories and events in Japan.  Don’t go there now – it’s currently a software company site, unless you want that instead. I vaguely remember reading a few of its issues whilst I was on the JET Programme at that time.

However, in 1997, it was purported to be written by former reporters of various papers (such as the Japan Times Weekly) who were let go or similar for trying to publish the truth as they saw it, or at least, unpopular ideas or takes on that truth.

I remember looking for the site again a few years ago but it was long gone, though I was able to gather a few bits from the WayBack machine, which had entries from April and December 1997.

Hang on, why am I even looking at this now in 2011? The name Jun Hase to be exact; someone mentioned the name at work a few weeks ago and it reminded me that that was one of the stories the original Pelago team had laboured over in its original incarnation, and was the biggest story at the time, which happened shortly after I came over to Japan the first time.

The crime itself was particularly grisly, with an 11 year old child’s head, that of Jun Hase,  found at the school gates, a note inserted into the mouth – a crime not often seen anywhere in the world and certainly not in Japan before or since. It outraged and scared the whole nation, placing a brief focus on the stressed world of some school children. The  name ‘Seito Sakakibara’ became a national watchword for this new type of evil in Japan, as the alias of the apparent killer used in the note, a 14 year old. (‘Sakakibara’ also apparently killed another child – a 10 year old girl).

Pelago’s contention was that the (then) child convicted couldn’t possibly have done it, or at least certainly not alone. They wondered why an accomplice wasn’t being sought, despite a person having been seen by witnesses. What happened to him/her? From Pelago’s piece:

“…the police report was met with skepticism from many journalists, for several reasons. The suspect could not have driven any of the three vehicles linked to the crime. Therefore, the police concluded he lured Hase into the telecommunications complex, where he strangled and decapitated him. But no blood was found on Hase’s body, head, clothes or in the ground — Hase had to be killed elsewhere and his body was carried uphill to the complex. Yet there were no signs of the body being dragged along the ground. Plus, Hase was strangled with one hand — quite a feat for a teenager. Plus, several witnesses recalled seeing a large man, about 160 lbs, between the ages of 20 and 40. Finally, the complex kanji and grammar in the letter were too advanced for a junior high student.”

They covered a lot of other stories too, forwarding theories which I remember at the time were considered a bit outside the mainstream such as their coverage of the Aum Shinrikyo – and these weren’t that far out there either – Aum’s links in Russia and to the Japanese government were well known, if not widely reported.

The about page for the old pelago.com lists three main contributors/editors: Yoichi Clark Shimatsu, Masanori Tabata and Philip Cunningham. I wonder if the Philip Cunningham is this one.  I should really e-mail him and find out. A quick search on the others reveals a fairly extensive resumes for journalism.

So I wonder, what happened to Pelago? Did anything come out of any of the pieces they wrote after the fact, and was anything done about them? Were they really journalists forced out of a journalistic requirement in Japan which prefers regurgitating the edicts of press clubs, or were they disgruntled former employees, pushed out for being crackpots?

Oddly the more I think about it, the more interested I am myself, given how contrarian their views were. I’ll update if I find anything.