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Lions Roar : March 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MArcH 2011 72 stories. they’re always tragic, and there are plenty to choose from. But in japan, it’s not enough to find a tragic event to write about, there has to be something special about it. and, sadly, sometimes a tragedy is just a plain tragedy. covering the Fourth district of the tokyo metropolitan police department, there was enough crime and sleaze just in the notorious red light district of kabu- kicho alone to keep me busy. But I had to cover a wide area and a lot of police stations. the totsuka police station was one of them. on a weekend in july, the bodies of mr. and mrs. akutagawa were found in their apartment. he was sixty-two and she was fifty-nine. It looked like what the japanese call a murishinju. In medieval times, shinju meant the suicide pact between lovers, or even a whole family. Muri means un- reasonable. together, the term refers to a murder–suicide in which one person kills a loved one and then himself or herself. my boss asked me to see whether I could get a human interest story out of it. I went to the home of mr. and mrs. akutagawa before going to the totsuka police station. the door was slightly open, so I could see into the place. their apart- ment was filthy, totally covered in trash. newspapers, magazines, clothes were ran- domly strewn about and a tV was on the floor. the neighbors had stuck close to ten notices on the door asking the couple to clear the hallway and the area in front of their apartment. empty plastic ramen bowls were stacked outside the door; the postbox was filled with bills. at the police station, they didn’t have much to tell me, but one cop broke pro- tocol and showed me photos of the pair. one was a crime scene photo in which a towel had been placed over mrs. akutaga- wa’s face. there were no signs that she had put up a fight at the time of her death. as background information, the detec- tive working the case told me the couple not only had outstanding loans on their condominium apartment, but likely had a significantly large consumer debt as well, and probably had borrowed from loan sharks. they’d drunk poison. the husband had boiled a pack of cigarettes, either peace or hope brand, in some alcohol and water. there is enough nicotine in a pack of smokes to kill you if you distill and drink it. She’d died first and he’d died shortly afterward. I gathered that death had been quick. painless or not, I didn’t know. the assistant chief told me, “he was a faithful salary man that had gone through company restructuring, and had just started at a new job, then that didn’t work out. It happens like that. a guy gets put in a situation where, even when living a relatively simple life, he can’t save enough to repay loans, and this eventually leads to suicide becoming an apparent solution to the problem. It is evident that the guy was not skilled in money matters. gambling was most likely involved.” “you can call it double suicide,” he said, “but if he killed his wife without her con- sent, it’s murder. he should be prosecuted for it accordingly, with all facts investigat- ed and necessary paperwork submitted.” the cops do this in japan a lot; they file papers on dead perpetrators. just because you’re dead doesn’t mean the wheels of justice stop turning. I tried to flesh out a story by finding people who knew mr. akutagawa, but no one did. I had gotten a photo of him from the police. I thought that would be help- ful. It wasn’t. he was practically invisible. he had been temporarily employed at a construction company in the Shinagawa Ward of tokyo. If he had any friend, or even acquaintance, in the area, no such individual could be found. “Don’t worry about us,” the note said. “We’ve been dead for a long time. Sorry, we didn’t clean up before we left. We didn’t have the energy.”