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Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2003


True foreign crime

Japan's most notorious gaijin criminals

On Oct. 21, Japan's Supreme Court turned down an appeal for Govinda Prasad Mainali, a Nepalese man accused of robbing and murdering a 39-year-old Japanese woman in March 1997.

The "Toden OL Murder Case" gained an unusually high degree of public interest because Mainali's alleged victim@led a double life. By day, the graduate of an elite private university held a managerial position with Tokyo Electric Power. By night, she was a prostitute on the back streets of Shibuya. It was through this work that she met the accused.

Mainali was found not guilty in his first trial; but the ruling was reversed by the Tokyo High Court, which sentenced him to life imprisonment. The case continues to stir controversy over rights issues, and a number of Japanese journalists have taken up his cause.

Nevertheless, remarkably few foreigners have gained public notoriety for breaking the law here. The most famous, perhaps, was ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, who was detained for nine days after attempting to smuggle a bag of marijuana into Japan in January 1980.

But who were some of the others, and what did they do to achieve their notoriety?

Yokohama poisoning

Since her arrival in Japan in 1890, Edith, the wife of Walter Carew, hard-drinking manager of the Yokohama United Club, led the privileged life of a "memsahib" in Yokohama's foreign community. Walter, age 43 and 15 years Edith's senior, had been ailing for some time. Back in the days before antibiotics, arsenic was commonly taken for a variety of maladies and Walter regularly took Fowler's Solution, which contained arsenic, to relieve physical torments caused by a sexually transmitted disease.

His condition suddenly took a turn for the worse and he died on Oct. 22, 1896. Shortly thereafter, the Carew family physician was tipped off that Walter had been poisoned and, based on a forensic autopsy, Edith was arrested on suspicion of murder. The trial set tongues wagging in British communities all over the Far East.

After three weeks of testimony, a jury of five men needed only 25 minutes to reach their verdict, and Edith was sentenced to hang. But reluctant to risk hanging an attractive young widow who had not confessed to the crime, diplomat Ernest Satow had her sentence commuted to life at hard labor. Edith was transferred to Hong Kong, and later to Aylesbury, England.

She was released at age 42 and lived quietly until her death at age 90 in 1958. Walter Carew's grave can be visited in the Yokohama Foreigners' General Cemetery.

Bad timing

After years of diplomatic negotiations, extraterritorial immunity for foreign nationals accused of crimes against Japanese was abolished and Japan gained the right to try foreigners in its own courts.

The treaty with the U.S. came into effect at midnight on July 17, 1899. It didn't take long before the law was tested; an American seaman, Robert Miller, 49, was implicated in a triple slaying only hours after the law went into effect.

The crime took place at a saloon called "The Rising Sun" in Blood Alley, presently Yokohama's Chinatown. Miller, who had been drinking heavily, used a straight razor and claw hammer to murder an American and two Japanese females. The police found Miller, who was seen leaving the saloon hours before, asleep next door.

At the trial, Miller's lawyer pleaded temporary insanity due to his client's having imbibed inferior Japanese whiskey. The court was not sympathetic. On Aug. 19, 1899, the judges ruled: "It is the benevolent desire of His Imperial Majesty the Emperor that all strangers within our Empire should be treated with magnanimity. . . . It is most distressing to the judicial officials to be placed under the painful necessity of sentencing a citizen of one of the Treaty Powers to death."

On Jan. 12, 1900, Miller mounted the gallows in Tokyo. After enjoying a few contented puffs on a cigar, a mask was pulled over his head and the trap was sprung. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Zoshigaya cemetery.

The army question

From 1945 to 1958, according to one account, U.S. military personnel were involved in 9,998 crimes and other reported incidents in which Japanese were victimized.

Perhaps the one best remembered occurred in January 1957, when Spc. 3rd Class William S. Girard, a soldier in the U.S. Army 8th Cavalry Regiment, shot and killed a Japanese woman.

The incident occurred at a target range at Somagahara, Gunma Prefecture, which locals often entered, even during live firing exercises, to collect brass shell casings which they sold for scrap.

A witness insisted Girard, who was on guard duty, baited Naka Sakai, 46, by tossing empty casings toward her, calling out in broken Japanese for her to collect them, and then amusing himself by firing off empty cartridges from the grenade launcher on his M1 rifle. One shot struck her fatally.

Under strong public outcry and mass demonstrations, the U.S. military waived a court martial and handed him over for a Japanese civil trial. Tried in the Maebashi District Court on charges of causing grievous injury resulting in death, the soldier claimed he merely wanted to scare the woman off and had not aimed the rifle at her.

In November 1957, the court handed down a suspended three-year sentence. But less than a month later Girard and his Japanese wife, "Candy," were allowed to depart for the U.S. The incident expedited the closing of army facilities in Japan's main islands.

Ethnic anger

On Feb. 20, 1968, Kim Hi Roh, a 39-year-old Korean roughneck born in Japan entered a nightclub in Shimizu City, Shizuoka, and used a hunting rifle to shoot dead two Japanese gangsters.

He then drove to the isolated Sumatakyo hot springs resort and held 13 people hostage in a ryokan, which he threatened to dynamite if his demands were not met.

During the five-day standoff, Kim displayed a talent for communication that belied his history as a school dropout and ex-convict.

"I don't intend to die until the media makes people aware of the discrimination against Koreans," he said during news conferences.

His performance was cut short when plainclothes cops mingling with reporters seized him.

Kim, along with the rest of the ethnic Korean community in Japan, was stripped of his Japanese nationality after the Treaty of San Francisco in 1952, and forced to choose between becoming "South Korean" or "generally Korean." The treaty was chief among his grievances during the standoff.

Kim received a life sentence of which he served 31 years. His "efforts" on behalf of Japan's Korean minority made him a national hero in South Korea. He left Japan for that country after his 1999 release.

Mark Schreiber is the author of "The Dark Side: Infamous Japanese Crimes and Criminals" (Kodansha International, 2001).

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