On the morning of March 20th, 1995, Japans capital city of Tokyo fell into panic and terror as members of a cult known as the Aum Shinrikyo released sarin nerve gas into the Tokyo Metro subway system.
13 people died, 50 were severely injured, and 1000′s of others were left with temporary vision difficulties. It was the worst terrorist attack in modern Japanese history and is talked about to this day.
As details about the events of this attack are readily available from a wide range of sources, I will say no more of the attack. Rather, I will focus on a single point… The fugitives, or rather the police’s “role” in bringing them in.
Today, June 15th, 2012, marks a significant moment in history, as the final remaining member of the Aum cult involved in the attack, Katsuya Takahashi, has finally been taken into police custody. And for all of Tokyo’s technology, security cameras, and police efforts, it was a comic book cafe (employee) that brought this fugitives 17-year-run to an end.
A comic book cafe.
If little else, this has served as a shining example to budding criminals in Japan: It is possible to evade police custody, no matter how serious your crime is.
And what is worse, is that reports show that the police were at first unwilling to even go and check out the comic book cafe after receiving the tip. They only did so after the tipster repeatedly and strongly persisted on the matter.
When the Japanese police have time to put innocent people in jail, harass people for turning in wallets, track and make “ground-breaking” arrests for cyber-crimes, and stand around in offices and kobans smoking and talking about who can piss the farthest, how is it possible that it took 17 years to catch one of Japans most wanted men?!
It brings to question how much effort was actually put into the search in the first place. And as many have already said, it wouldn’t be a shocking surprise to find out that the police were simply hoping for him to eventually turn himself in.
Seem unlikely? To most people it would. But this tried and tested Japanese police technique of ‘put the faith in the murderer and them turn themselves in‘ proved to produce results when one of the other Aum fugitives, Makoto Hirata turned himself in late at night on December 31st, 2011.
It would seem that it was this event that woke the Japanese police up enough to put appropriate priority back onto the case. Overnight, it became a media obsession. You couldn’t turn on a TV, or walk by a major transportation hub in Japan without seeing fresh posters featuring 17 year old photos of these fugitives being displayed. But despite the outdated photos, ripping off the band-aid seemed to have some effect. Within 5 months, Naoko Kikuchi was spotted by a woman who called police. This phone call lead to her arrest.
And with this arrest, the police went into high gear. Progress reports could be heard nightly on Japanese news. There was only one remaining suspect, and they were finally determined to catch him.
Or at the very least to have him handed over to them.
The police boasted their efforts as they poured money and manpower into search and surveillance. They found themselves hot on the trail again and again after finding footage of him on security cameras in the Tokyo area. They posted officers at every single major transportation hub, and worked themselves into a frenzy of excitement.
And in the end, for all of their efforts, an employee at a comic book cafe is the one who takes the glory.
I think I’ve heard this story somewhere before….
It took 17 years, one guilty conscience, overworked media outlets, and two good Samaritans, and finally Aum is behind bars.
And albeit an inarguable fact that the end result is incredible news, perhaps we should look at how we got here…
And maybe its time to ask , if this is the degree of seriousness and urgency that the Japanese police take the most severe crime in Japanese history with, what hope do we really have for… well… any injustice in this country?