Does Japanese culture allow criminals to get away with murder?

10 11 2007

Photo of Saito from; I’m not sure where they got it because I couldn’t find it; A Japan policeman “on the job” from Flickr

According to a recent L.A. Times article, a 17-year-old sumo wrestler with bruises, cuts and burns on his face and legs was declared by police to have died from “heart disease.” The news has already made laps around the world in the last few months. BBC, The New York Times and everyone else and their mama has reported on it, however, I think The L.A. Times brought up something new.

“As is common in Japan, Aichi police reached their verdict on how Saito died without an autopsy. No need for a coroner, they said. No crime involved. Only 6.3 percent of the unnatural deaths in Aichi are investigated by a medical examiner, a minuscule rate even by nationwide standards in Japan, where an autopsy is performed in 11.2 percent of cases.”

This is the same Takashi Saito that Reuters reported on in June. Because of the teen’s profession, “heart failure” was spun to make sense as a health-related cause of death.

Here’s the old news brief that I found.

TOKYO (Reuters) – A 17-year-old sumo wrestler died from heart failure after a training session this week, the Japan Sumo Association said on Thursday.

Tokitaizan, whose real name is Takashi Saito, suffered discomfort after training on Tuesday for a Nagoya tournament. He was taken by ambulance to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

A native of Niigata, two hours north of Tokyo, Tokitaizan was ranked 39th in sumo’s junior rankings for the July 8-22 Nagoya Grand Sumo tournament.

Most sumo wrestlers intentionally put on weight but can face heart problems in later life. Some of the biggest wrestlers weight over 200 kilograms.

Last month senior wrestler Tochiazuma announced his retirement from sumo after suffering a slight stroke and being diagnosed with high blood pressure.

The Economist reported in an article this month that Saito, who competed in sumo wrestling under the name Tokitaizan, tried to runaway from his training camp after being severely beaten by senior wrestlers but each time he escaped he was brought back. Wrestlers refer to this bullying as “petting.” Think of it as the same way frat brothers initiate each other. The formal name for it is called kiai-ire or “instilling spirit” according to the article. Apparently, this is a case where the bullying got out of hand. The article also noted how sumo wrestling is a sport in trouble in Japan because of the severely declining ticket sales and number of new recruits. This fact could have also kept the murder hush. After public backlash, the JSA banned the stablemaster, who had let the beatings take place, from the sport of sumo.

If police are not investigating potential homicides this means the declining crime rate in Japan that I briefly mentioned a couple of posts ago could very well be false. Japan claims one of the lowest per capita homicide rates in the world. According to the L.A. Times, officers made arrests in 96.6 percent of the country’s 1,392 homicides in 2005. Doctors are pressured to keep quiet about observation that point to unnatural deaths and normally contribute deaths to health reasons like heart failure.

“Forensic scientists say there are many reasons for the low rate, including inadequate budgets and a desperate shortage of pathologists outside the biggest urban areas. There is also a cultural resistance in Japan to handling the dead, with families often reluctant to insist upon a procedure that invades the body of a loved one.”

The writer’s source, Hiromasa Saikawa is a former member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police security and intelligence division. In 1997, he left the force after 30 years of seeing police trying to avoid investigating homicide cases to keep their almost perfect solution rate. Officers won’t investigate unless the killer’s identity is obvious, he said. Saikawa has written a memoir entitled Policeman at the Scene that describes the Japanese police culture.

Corruption and inefficiency are not the surprises here and neither is the unfortunate cruelty of the crime against Saito. What I want to know is how large the role of “culture resistance to handling the dead” has played in these murder cover ups. If families are reluctant to getting autopsies performed on their loved ones then how is anybody going to know that there is a cover up in the first place?




5 responses

10 11 2007

Hi there…
I think you’re over simplifying. There is currently an inquest occurring not just on the Saito Takashi death, but on the hazing that occurs in sumo generally. On murder within Japan, the conviction rate is actually higher than it is in the States. And far less prevalent a crime in Japan than it is in America too.
When within today’s premier newspaper, a large space is given on page two to 2 rugby players growing cannabis, I’d suggest that it’s a pretty good indication that the level of crime in Japan’s pretty tame compared to other countries. Would that even make a major national paper in USA? I doubt it would in my home country of Australia.

Anyway, regards, and thanks for the acknowledgment on the photo too.

Don With Malice…

14 11 2007

As the L.A. Times article suggests, even though the conviction rate is higher in Japan this may be because many police are only investigating crimes that are clearly murder or that they think they know the identities of the murderers. Again, it may appear that murder is far less prevalent a crime because maybe murder is being underreported. I think the interesting thing about the article is not the actual crime, but the fact that only “6.3% of the unnatural deaths in Aichi are investigated by a medical examiner.”

I personally think that two cannabis would make a national paper here just like how the Duke lacrosse rape case made every newspaper in the States. People like to sensationalize everything.

19 11 2007

Stnt makes a good point about the desire to sensationalize.
The low rate shocked me as well. I wonder if other cultures have the same hesitation to handle the dead and how their rate of medial examiner investigations compares to Japan. It still seems so shockingly low.
As for the comparision to American frat groups, I think the fact that group hazing is present among groups of (usually) males in multiple cultures is disturbing. Why was only the stablemaster suspended?

2 12 2007

The entire sumo subculture is highly protected in Japan though. The book, Freakonomics, details an entire chapter about the complicated rituals and social protections that are around the sport. Odd comparisons of the win/loss ratios of different sumo wrestlers reveal some finagling on the part of the wrestlers to keep their friends in tournaments.

25 01 2008
The Monster

“and normally contribute deaths to health reasons”

I think the word you’re looking for there is “attribute”. A doctor that contributes deaths is one I wouldn’t want treating me or my family.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: