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.

Gaijin Hanzai Informative Magazine

You’ve probably seen this on a bunch of blogs, including the always readable Arudou Debito’s blog.

It seems some folks have put together an informative book, with photos and illustrations to point out the sheer, unadulterated evil we foreigners in Japan do. There just aren’t enough superlatives to describe just how awful we are apparently. Well, I say ‘we’, but apparently no Europeans or North Americans commit crime … just the rest of them. Pages here, here and here.

Gaijin Hanzai Ura File” as the book is known, may well still be available from such hard core right wing establishments as…er…Family Mart.

All in all, it’s just an odd situation, with these fairly normal shops having to apologise and get it off their shelves to save a bit of bad publicity.

This blog is not really the place for me to go into the ‘race issue’ in Japan, or even my own experiences, and though I would say Japan has an inclination to legalised, institutional racism, I wouldn’t say it’s (personally, physically) dangerous, and I don’t think these people represent even a tiny, if vocal, percentage of the population. That said, some foreigners have committed crimes, and I’m not talking about visa overstays either. However, by far, most crime is committed by Japanese, even by percentage.

Overall summary: kind of sad this book can be published in 2007 in what is a very enjoyable place to live.

Chainsaws and magazines

It’s true that Japan is a very, very safe country. However, it does have its crime, and it does have its violence, but one of the more notable things about Japan is some of the very weird crimes it has.

I saw this one on the web today: a 70 old man threatened convenience store staff with a chainsaw after they asked him leave after spending three hours just reading magazines in the shop.

Of course, this happened in Ibaraki prefecture, where all of the weird stuff seems to happen.

Murder month?

It been a difficult few weeks in Japan, with some very tragic events unfolding. Murders occur all over the world, and to be honest, murders in different countries to tend to vary slightly given the host country, and unfortunately the last couple of weeks have seen a few very pointless and grizzly crimes. Japan is rightly not known for it’s violent crime – especially outside of it’s ‘criminal underworld’, and often, sadly, these stories just pass us by, but a few stories this week just seemed to pile up and made me wonder how deep the problem is. And just what the problem is.

The first was the cold killing of a schoolgirl allegedly over something written on a website – the girl simply slashed the other girl’s throat and let her bleed to death. [BBC, Reuters].

Next came the drawn out task of identifying a body found near rice fields in Ibaraki Prefecture. Again, this turned out to be a young woman, but the murderer has yet to be found. [Japan Today]. In this case a foreigner has been questioned, but it’s not thought he was involved. This is only relevant as the media here like to push the idea that most crimes are committed by foreigners, when the Police’s own statistics show that they’re not (with the exception of work permit violations). In this case, the Police seem to have little to go on.

The final case was an attempted murder, and was probably the most bizarre – a Railway employee was shot in the stomach by a mystery gunman, who then grabbed the bag he was carrying and made his getaway. What’s odd about this is that it happened at 8.45am, in the Den-en Toshi Line ticket machine area of Shibuya station. For those who don’t know, this is probably one of the busiest underground stations in Tokyo – even at 8.45, it would have been packed. I know this because I pass through that station every day, and was there about an hour before it happened. ‘Fortunately’ reports say the victim will recover, and the gunman actually stole the man’s toiletry bag. The theory is that he was actually hoping to steal ticket machine takings, which would allegedly run into hundreds of millions of yen. [Mainichi]

The reason I’m writing this post is that I thought this recent rate was fairly unusual. Really. Anyone who has lived in Japan for any length of time will tell you that it’s the safest place they’ve ever lived. I’ve lived in some pretty bad places in Tokyo, and yet never felt safer. However, I do know violent crime happens a lot here – and Japan does have some of the world’s most gruesome and yet seemingly unmotivated murders (though virtually no serial murderers).

“Is Japan changing?”

No, not really, or at least, not in this sphere. I think these reports are just finding their way into the media a little more. I know many people are concerned that the Police are virtually ineffective unless they find a smoking gun, but that too doesn’t reflect the fairly pacifist society here. Many of the normal police from the Koban (policeboxes) are just not equipped to deal with anything more serious than a stolen bicycle or a drunken argument. Ask them.

It’s just that when people snap here, they tend to…snap, as in there is reportedly very little ‘meltdown’ time, just a rapid deterioration. In looking for references for this post via my usual Google News I was saddened by the level of violent attacks in Japan recently, including a double murder in Saitama [Mainichi]. It’s sad because I know this is still a lot less than other countries. Given the number of humans who live in very close proximity to each other here, it’s in some way surprising that the rate of reported violent crime is as low as it is.

I’m not quite sure what the bottom line for this post is other than to wish the victims families whatever consolation there is, and hope that some form of justice is administered. If anyone has any theories, let me know.

Lucie Blackman

I haven’t seen much about this over here (or anywhere) but it seems that a man is now fully on trial for the murder of British traveller Lucie Blackman [BBC here]. This was probably the one event that really shattered many British people’s ideas of safety in Japan. I hope that for once, justice is swift and accurate here.