A warning: the following article concerns a series of ghastly deaths.
This past weekend saw the celebration of Halloween begin all over the world, including two areas of Tokyo known for heavy dress-up and merrymaking this time of the year -- the Shibuya Scramble-Crossings and Ikebukuro, whose Ikehalo festival was co-hosted by a woman who makes nearly $10,000 per month dressing up as anime characters.
But Friday in Japan also presented a more macabre beginning to the occasion than any cartoon mimicry ever could. On the two year anniversary of the latter's arrest, crime journalist Tetsuya Shibui presented an extended interview with the culprit of the so-called Zama Suicide Pact Slayings, an obviously twisted man named Takahiro Shiraishi.
A couple of items worth mentioning from the jump: No one in this story commits suicide, and Shiraishi, 29, demands money from reporters who wish to interview him -- in his Tokyo jailhouse, the Tachikawa Detention Center -- a sum Shibui, though conflicted about the transfer, ultimately paid (Jiji Press was able to avoid paying on the first anniversary of the arrest and still extract some info).
So what did this sensational, very much-unhallowed homicide incident actually involve? It's basically that one exception that proves the rule of safety in big Japanese cities -- the true story that later serves as the basis of a horror film by Hideo Nakata or Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
It's truly the lowliest sort of tabloid fare -- the kind of tale society would be better off letting psychiatrists handle than Weegee-wannabe press syndicate stringers. I don't like myself for retelling it. On other hand, trafficking in filth, while not a higher impulse, is most certainly a native human desire (and one not so easily resisted).
In August 2017, a man sought to rent an apartment in a complex of 12 in Zama City, Kanagawa Prefecture. He provided sufficient ID and all the necessary forms, though he left the employment field blank. He admitted he was unemployed though may have promised he had just secured a job.
Either way, the rule for unemployed applicants was simple: Show a bank statement demonstrating you have the money to pay the rent for seven months -- which at one point would have been 140,000 yen, though the rent was later reduced. This man put on display a bank account with 500,000 yen (his father worked in automotive design -- my understanding is that this was the father's money) and moved in August 22.
What he did not disclose: he was unemployed because his former job, as a Shinjuku "scout" for prostitution services, had landed him a suspended prison sentence.
And so Takahiro Shiraishi was now the lessee of record for room 205, a flat of 13.5-square meters, with a kitchenette below a lofted sleep area.
Over the next month, officials managing the complex for its owner passed the apartment eight times. On every occasion, they noticed an odd smell emanating from apartment 205 but nothing so nasty or overpowering it gave them pause.
Meanwhile, with a truly heinous Twitter handle -- let's just say Shiraishi claimed to be an expert in a particular form of killing; he also used three additional social media accounts -- the man in room 205 began to approach and converse with men and women online between the ages of 15 and 26 who'd expressed suicidal intent.
I don't want to celebrate illness -- I believe in interventions before sick and potentially dangerous people hurt those around them. So I do wanna get the awful details out of the way, while expressing first my sincerest condolences to the families of the deceased -- and a desire for Japan to stop glamorizing suicide as noble (its homicide rate is quite low and thus not deserving of similar mention).
Shiraishi claimed he'd help the vulnerable kill themselves. When they visited his apartment, he drugged and hanged them, sexually violated their corpses, stole whatever money they had in their possession, then dismembered them, finally discarding in the trash certain parts while retaining others in coolers and freezers.
Over a single month, he killed in this fashion eight young women (three in high school) and one man. One of the women's brothers began searching for her. Shiraishi also neglected to turn off the ninth victim's phone immediately.
On Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017 -- Halloween -- police, following the above tips, raided Shiraishi's apartment. A DNA test of a body part in his apartment was matched to that of 23-year-old Aiko Tamura -- the woman whose phone had pinged.
Officials disclosed very little to the press. TV began replaying footage of Shiraishi's arrest, his hand covering his face. Because each act Shiraishi committed was such a heinous crime itself, and Japan allows endless "re-arrests," Shiraishi, though detained, wasn't fully charged for his acts until Sept. 10, 2018 -- nearly a full year after he was caught.
He still hasn't been tried, which seems an injustice to the next of kin by-way-of-protracted-waiting.
But go back two years, and there was one particular figure Japanese commentators online felt had been hurt, victimized, by the heinous actions of the lodger in 205: the building's owner -- reported by Nikkan Sports and Yahoo News Japan to be boxing champ Naoya Inoue's father, Shingo, who'd started his own paint business at the age of 19 and moved into small-scale real estate ownership 15 years later simply to diversify his holdings.
You knew there had to be an effing twist -- some reason a boxing writer would recite this grotesque history.
Exactly two years -- minus two days -- before 18-0 Naoya Inoue contests the World Boxing Super Series Final against Nonito Donaire in Japan, here is Yahoo making the mind-blowing connection for all to see:
According to reports, Shingo said he was very sorry about the whole event -- that he'd been stunned by the news, that everything in his head had gone blank upon learning it, that when the police investigation ended, he'd hold a memorial service.
That's really all Shingo could have been expected to say. He was not the manager of the building but its removed owner. And even when the cops first visited the killer's apartment, they did not notice anything amiss...until one of them finally caught a glimpse of a woman's purse, at which point the killer pointed to a box containing some of the remnants that would implicate him.
If a cop had not spotted that purse, the raid crew would have left.
No one has ever held Shingo in the least bit responsible -- nor should anybody. That's not at all the point of this story -- to attach the least bit of guilt to his name.
Actually, it's merely to share the oddest part -- for me -- of a beyond-the-pale episode I encountered in reading about Shingo's training methods and his champ bantamweight son.
There isn't a single news outlet even in the West that has not covered the Zama murders in some depth -- The New York Times, The Independent, Psychology Today. Vice included it in a series on killers.
And yet, despite those initial reports from Nikkan and Yahoo, the apartment owner has gone utterly unmentioned elsewhere, including all those Western periodicals.
If somehow this whole thing was initially misconstrued and misreported, please let me know -- I'd never aim to get it wrong or spread misinformation. I emailed for help Tetsuya Shibui, the writer who recently paid to interview Shiraishi in prison but never heard back (I've also feared ever since that he's simply gonna steal my story -- not because of any personal animus or character deficits of Shibui's of which I know -- simply because the payment spooks my overactive imagination).
And unless I am misunderstanding the quotes Shingo gave, the man actually spoke on the topic.
Of course, it should go without saying that I wish he never had had to -- but as reversing the crime itself ain't possible and press has detailed it anyway, I'm not sure why a writer would exclude those words.
There would seem to be a very legit journalistic rationale for just the opposite: In the very large nation in which it occurred, the apartment's owner remains a major celebrity (Shingo Inoue was even asked by a publisher to work with it on a book on parenting).
There's no moral here. This is merely an addition to copious English-language versions of a Halloween true-crime story whose anniversary just passed. Merely an eerie footnote to the many words that anniversary spurred in Japanese media and to the many accounts of Naoya Inoue's career his Nov. 7 title tilt will soon occasion.
A story is a story.
Which may be a plainer way of saying: life is effing nuts.
Much love to all, and here's to far more innocent Halloween house calls -- and to those alone.