The Year of Dokufu: Poisonous Women in Japan

by Kaori Shoji

 

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Wow. What a year THAT was, on a whole lot of levels. The unofficial diagnosis is that things will get worse in the year of the sheep, but let’s put that aside for now. A thought to mull over: 2014 was the year the crime rate among senior citizens multiplied by 46 times, and the image of the Japanese Woman – long ranked among the most demure, sensible and persevering humans on the planet – was shattered to smithereens. Now even the heroine of NHK’s trademark morning drama is imported from the US and the tall, blonde “Ellie” represents all that her dark-haired Japanese sisters apparently lost forever: stuff like dedication, endurance, sympathy and a willingness to toil for husband and family. Aw shucks.

Instead, the Japanese Woman is showing aspects of herself that are new, more interesting and often sh*t scary. The Japanese have a traditional name for these femme fatales: dokufu (poisonous women), who end up contaminating and/or destroying the lives of people around her. Novelist Natsuki Kirino once told me that “the women of Japan had been slaves for so long, the wounds of hurt and resentment have festered through generations, passed on from mother to daughter. At their core, Japanese women are capable of incredible acts of cruelty, deception, and violence.” Coming from one of the nation’s most prominent crime writers, famed for fantastically violent stories with women as the culprits, her words carried the weight of truth. Behold, the cast of dokufu who made 2014 a year to remember:

1) Haruko Obokata
She kicked in the year with a bang and has now made her exit, leaving behind a famed press conference statement of “STAP cells DO exist!” – in an adorable, little girl voice. That line was officially nominated for the most fashionable phrase of 2014. The former Harvard University research scientist lead her team in Riken Laboratories to discover and develop the STAP (Stimulus Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency) cell. When deployed, this had the potential to revolutionize stem cell technology. However, Obokata’s paper was disproved in January by “Nature” magazine and 3 months later, Riken concluded she had falsified the data. The golden girl’s fall from grace was swift and hard, compounded by the fact that she had no supporters in sci-tech academia. Rather, Obokata was criticized (especially by women) for being 1) too cute 2) wallpapering her office in pink and 3) showing up at press conferences in Vivienne Westwood dresses. Her supervisor Yoshiki Sasai who co-authored the STAP cell paper, hanged himself in Riken’s laboratory in August, by way of a public apology. Obokata is still an employee there, though her personal lab was shut down along with 200 others, and hundreds of employees were laid off.

2) Ayaka Shiomura
This would have been an open-shut case of sexual harassment (one among many) inside the intricate, mysoginist network of the Japanese political world, but it wasn’t that simple. In June, during a Metropolitan Assembly meeting, Assemblywoman Ayaka Shiomura accused an anonymous male voice, who yelled out jibes to the tune of “Can’t you have kids? What’s wrong with you?,” of rampant sexual harassment. Later, LDP member/Assemblyman Akihiro Suzuki came forward to fess up that the voice was his, and publicly apologized to Shiomura and Tokyo voters. He later resigned. For a brief while, Shiomura became a political heroine and shining advocate of the rights of female public figures. But in a matter of days, her past was exposed: a former swimsuit model and actress who also frequented host clubs. She was also rapped over the knuckles for several unfortunate statements (made on TV) regarding past lovers and how she billed them for terminating the relationship. The highest fee she got was 150,000 yen. After that her popularity plummeted, but she has kept her political position. Akihiro Suzuki on the other hand, disappeared into the ether.

3) The Sasebo Murder by a 16-year old girl
hand_with_knifeThis case sent shockwaves through the nation and temporarily labeled Sasebo in Nagasaki as the city of child-murderers. This 16-year old girl – on the school blacklisst ever since she tried to poison her classmate’s lunch several years ago – was found guilty of first strangling, and then dismembering the body of a friend who came over to her apartment. Sasebo has had similar incidents in the past, most prominently the 2004 murder of a 12-year old girl by her girl friend, which happened inside the school building with a box cutter. Minutes after the deed, the friend calmly attended homeroom.

Ironically, the mother of the most recent Sasebo murderess had been on the city’s PTA board and worked to stamp out juvenile delinquency. Apparently mom had been close to her daughter, but her death in 2012 unhinged the girl. The father quickly remarried and enraged by his coldness, the girl tried to club him to death. He arranged for his daughter to live in her own apartment, and paid for her therapy sessions. After the girl was tried and convicted, the father committed suicide to “apologize for causing such sorrow on the family of my daughter’s victim,” as written on his suicide note.

4) Akane Irisawa
Two years back, Akane Irisawa (then twenty years old) was on trial for setting fire to the futon of an 85-year old woman and burning her to death. Irisawa had been working as caretaker at a facility for elderlies in Hiroshima, and the victim had been a patient. Police arrested her on the strength of a confession, which she later denied. Irisawa did, however, admit to taking the patient’s wallet and pocketing the contents, even as the patient was burning inside the futon covers. In July, the Hiroshima court decided on a verdict of not guilty and Irisawa went free, triggering Net supporters to dub her as the “cutest, sexiest arsonist ever.” Irisawa is now a Net idol, and her bikini photos went viral. The relatives of the victim however, call her “the devil” and are suing the facility for gross negligence.

5) Chisako Kakeiblack-widow-spider
Sixty-eight year old Chisako Kakei isn’t glamorous and she certainly doesn’t have the Black Widow allure. Still, she has managed to marry four times and bury every one of her husbands, making, um, a killing (sorry) on each death. She has also been engaged to three or more men, all of whom landed in early graves, appointing her as the main benefactor to whatever financial assets they owned. Up to now, she had been questioned by the police but never convicted. But in December, husband no. 4 kicked the bucket and the police found traces of cyanide in his stomach and from an empty vial in the trash bin – apparently, Kakei had been a tad too sloppy this time.

How did she get her men? Kakei searched for prey in the nation’s numerous marriage and matchmaking agencies, and she was never without an older man willing to write off his fortune to her, thereby sealing his fate. Interestingly, older Japanese men are much more marriage-minded than women, because right on the day of her last husband’s funeral, Kakei was already slotting eligible men into her “date calendar,” all of whom were literally dying to tie the knot. Kakei’s total savings are rumored to be anywhere between 12 and 15 million yen.

 

Japanese media loses their heads over decapitation of teenage girl by teenage girl

A 15 year old girl was arrested Sunday by the Nagasaki Police on suspicion of killing her high school friend. The 16-year-old girl*, who can’t be named under Japanese because she is a minor, allegedly used a blunt instrument to kill Aiwa Matsuo, a fellow classmate, aged 15. The murder took place around 8 p.m. Saturday. The assailant allegedly attacked Ms. Matsuo from behind, pummelling her head several times with extreme force and then strangled her to death.

The assailant then cut off the left hand and the head of Aiwa. It was a horrific crime and the Japanese media coverage has been relentless in letting us know how horrible it was. For details see The Japan Times article Sasebo teen held for allegedly strangling, decapitating friend.

The initial reports that the assailant posted pictures of the murder on 2 channel, Japan’s favorite on-line bulletin board and gossip site, appear to be false.  The time the pictures were posted and the accompanying text seemed to suggest that the killer posted them but cyber sleuths and a police source says that this is very unlikely.  However, in the maelstrom that a gory murder case brings to Japan, for the time being, “decapitation” trumps verification every time.

Which is why, even I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the photos are real—but I really doubt it.

*The assailant was 15 when she committed the murder and when she was arrested. She allegedly turned 16 on Monday and spent probably a very unhappy birthday in a holding cell. 

In the grisly murder of a 15 year old girl by another classmate, this photo was reported to have been posted online by the killer. It seems unlikely this is true.
In the grisly murder of a 15 year old girl by another classmate, this photo was reported to have been posted online by the killer. It seems unlikely this is true.

 

Yakuza Comix 3: The complicated world of Japanese suicide, which is sometimes homicide

According to the National Police Agency (NPA), Japan’s annual total of suicides dipped below 30,000 people for the first time in 15 years in 2012 — to 27,766. While the fall is great news, part of me wonders: Has there really been a drop in suicides or should we look at it as a drop in homicides?

According to the government’s 2012 “White Paper on Suicide,” in 2011 there were 30,651 cases recorded of people taking their own lives. The motives listed were in the following descending order of problems related to health; daily life; family; and work.

But here’s an odd thing: The reasons for the suicide were only determined in 73 percent of cases — in more than 25 percent of cases they were for reasons unknown. Many of those cases perhaps presented no reason because they weren’t suicides at all.

According to the NPA, since 1998 there have been 45 cases of murder initially ruled by police to have been due to natural causes or suicide. Among those, one was a man from Nagano Prefecture whose murder in 1980 was treated as a suicide until the killer confessed in 2000 — after the statute of limitations had passed.

The NPA has admitted that in Japan only 10 percent of suspicious deaths result in an autopsy. However, when a death initially appears to be due to suicide, only 5 percent are autopsied. The lack of a comprehensive use of autopsies was only brought to the public’s attention after several cases of “missed murders” came to light. The 45 known cases may just be “the edge of the graveyard” as some cops have put it. For the rest of the story, please continue to original The Japan Times column

There’s definitely something a little odd about Japan’s high suicide rate. It may not quite be what it appears to be. And the factors driving the high suicide rates are not always what you’d expect. We asked Kaori Shoji, our favorite 図解ジャーナリスト (illustrating journalist) to break it all down–with cute pictures. She even added cultural references for fans of Japanese literature.

Japan has a fascination with death and suicide.

With only 10% of suspicious deaths getting an autopsy, and only 4-5% of what appear to be suicide resulting in an autopsy, getting away with murder in Japan may be easier than imagined. Stage it as suicide and...who knows? (Sometimes the cops do notice. And then you get the death penalty.)
Japan has a fascination with death and suicide. But sometimes suicide isn’t simply motivated by “honor” nor is it actually suicide. When there’s a payout for suicide by insurance companies, there’s an incentive to kill oneself and an incentive to kill other people. It’s all about timing and odds. And with Japan’s low number of autopsies (10% of all suspicious deaths) and lower number of autopsies for perceived suicides (4-5%)–the odds of getting away with murder in Japan are pretty good—if you stage it as a suicide. Of course, sometimes people do get caught. Usually after they kill two or more people. Nothing is full-proof. illustrations and hand-written text by Kaori Shoji 

 

 

 

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Exorcism Gets Everybody Killed; Female Faith Healer Gets The Gallows

Tokyo – Japan hanged two inmates this Thursday September 27th 2012, two months after the last executions took place on August 3rd.

Sachiko Eto, 65, a faith healer and self-professed exorcist, was convicted for murder after the deaths of six believers in Fukushima Prefecture between 1994 and 1995.

According to Japanese media reports and The Associated Press, Sachiko Eto, her daughter and another accomplice had beaten their victims to death, using thick drumsticks designed for the Japanese 太鼓 (Taiko) and other blunt instruments. The beating were to “drive out demons hiding in their bodies” and conducted in her home. At least one of the exorcism (悪魔払い)was apparently motivated by Ms. Eto’s decision that the the victim was sleeping with Ms. Eto’s lover.  Another victim was “exorcised” after refusing to loan Ms. Eto money. There were also questions as to the vanishing of her husband in 1992, before she became a spiritual leader.

 She was convicted on four counts of murder, and two counts of assault resulting in death. She was hanged this Thursday morning in Sendai detention center. At this point in the time, while Ms. Eto was blessed with magical powers, she has not successfully resurrected herself. Sachiko Eto is reportedly the first female in Japan to be executed in more than 15 years. Her daughter and the other accomplice have both been sentenced to life in prison.

Sometimes, you can’t beat the demons out of someone without killing them in the process.

Yukinori Matsuda, 39, was convicted for the murder of a man and a woman during a robbery in Uki, Kumamoto Prefecture in 2003. He also died by hanging the same morning in Fukuoka detention center. Nikkansports reported it was found that Matsuda had written a letter, dated from September 19th, to the families of those he killed, where he wrote that he would donate his organs after his execution and that “there would be no regrets.” In the letter, he also expressed that he deeply regretted having committed the “irreparable act,” and that he was “praying for the souls of his victims.” In the letter, he also said that he would have preferred to receive a lethal injection rather than be hung.

Kyodo News reported that it was the second round of executions carried under the Justice Minister Makoto Taki. According to Kyodo News, Minister Taki said at a press conference that he had selected the two inmates for their “extremely malicious and cruel crimes, which had a very negative social impact.”

Japan still one of the few industrialized countries to administer the death penalty

Japan is one of the last industrialized countries to still practice death penalty, together with the United States, China, and Middle East countries.

According to Amnesty International, from 1977 to 2010, the number of countries which abolished death penalty for all crime went from 16 to 96, and the death penalty has been abolished in 140 countries “by law or in practice,” while 58 countries, including Japan, maintains it.

In October 2010, The Japan Economic Newswire reported that “Japan has been urged to consider termination of the death penalty, regardless of domestic public opinion to support it, with the Geneva-based Human Rights Committee saying in 2008, ‘Regardless of opinion polls, the state party (Japan) should favorably consider abolishing the death penalty and inform the public, as necessary, about the desirability of abolition.’”

Reportedly, Mr. Kunio Suzuki, a Japanese right wing activist, expressed opposition to capital punishment on October 10th, 2010 during a anti-death penalty rally in Tokyo on the World’s Day Against Death Penalty: “Death row inmates must have killed someone in extremely embattled situations, and we should examine their experiences as ‘negative legacy’ of a state and pay attention to individual stories of each death row inmate.” He said.