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BOOK REVIEW: 17 Year Old Murderers

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Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
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The following book review has been taken from Japan Today:

17 Year Old Murderers

by Mami Fukae

Decapitations, baseball bat assaults, knifings and other brutal crimes by teenagers seem to be dominating the news these days. Forced into action, the government recently revised the Juvenile Law for the first time in half a century, lowering the minimum age for criminal prosecution from 16 to 14.

It was prompted in part by a sensational crime in which a 14 year old boy decapitated an 11 year old boy in Kobe in 1997. After the crime, he taunted police and the media with notes signed "Sakakibara." But many people wonder whether revising the law will stem the tide of violence or rehabilitate young offenders.

One such doubter is Seiji Fujii. In his book, "17 year old murderers" published by Wani Books last September, the author demonstrates some bitter truths about the conventional Japanese social system. He says too many disenchanted young people are slipping through the cracks.

Fujii, 35, is well known for his extensive reports on juvenile crime. He wrote a graphic account of a 1988 incident in which a high school girl was abducted, gang-raped and tortured for over 40 days before finally being murdered by a gang of teenagers. In the book, Fujii questions whether the legal system is functioning well enough for the purpose of rehabilitating young criminals.

He cites a 1994 case, in which a 17 year old student was beaten to death by seven boys, all aged 16, following a chance encounter in a school compound. The victim, Toshiyuki Miyata, died after falling into a coma. Fujii writes that the victim's parents found the police uncooperative. They didn't even inspect the scene of the crime until six days after the incident.

According to Fujii, the officer in charge told the Miyatas: "Your son happened to be the victim in this fight, but it could just as easily have been one of the other boys. Generally speaking, both parties are to blame in a quarrel." After Toshiyuki died, the seven offenders were questioned but only one boy, named A in Fujii's book, was arrested. Only two of them, including the boy A, were sent to a reformatory.

"A" spent 15 months there, while the other boy stayed three months. The rest of the gang were put on probation and allowed to go back to school. A year after Toshiyuki's death, his parents sued the seven offenders and their parents, demanding compensation. And what the proceedings proved was that 15 months in a reformatory had no effect on the "A," whatsoever. He confessed to having beaten up others since he had been released from the reformatory.

"I heard those boys at the reformatory were told to live an orderly way of life, and to learn to endure," said Miyata's father. "But that wouldn't help them reflect on what they did to Toshiyuki. That's no way to rehabilitate them." Fujii suggests that a fundamental change in society as a whole has given rise to an increase in violent crimes by young people. He points to last year's busjacking by a 17 year old boy in Kyushu as an example. Brandishing a 30cm knife, the boy stabbed one female passenger to death, and injured two others in a crime that shocked the nation.

However, even more shocking was the revelation that the boy had been under psychiatric care. Long before he committed the crime, his mother had been fully aware of her son's violent nature. She said it had been the result of many years of bullying at school. While he was at junior high school, the boy had been forced to jump from a 5 meter high ledge to the ground. He injured his back and spent two months in hospital. His mother said she had complained to the boy's teachers, but to no avail. Her son apparently lost faith in school and dropped out of high school only a month after he started. His violence at home soon escalated. First, he chopped his younger sister's school uniform into pieces, then he tortured and killed his pets.

His parents were at a loss what to do. They consulted psychiatrists and educational experts. But the boy kept refusing to see psychiatrists himself. When he told his parents he wanted a computer, they got him one right away, hoping that it would ease the situation. Immediately, the boy seemed hooked on the machine, and started communicating with unknown users on the Internet.

But soon, the communication turned into an exchange of insults. In March, two months before the busjacking, the mother discovered numerous weapons, including knives, hammers, and a stun gun in his room, along with notes which read "There is someone else inside of me, who orders me to kill others" and "I will hole up in a school building and kill people." She called the police and asked them to help her take her son to a hospital. The police refused at first. She pressed on by contacting a psychiatrist she had heard on a radio talk show. He was instrumental in persuading the police to act.

The boy was taken for a psychiatric evaluation. According to reports, he was well behaved at the hospital. After 51 days of hospitalisation, he was allowed to stay overnight at home. Thereafter, he would spend more nights at home before the busjacking on May 3. After the crime, several psychiatrists predictably argued over the difficulty of identifying his condition. One doctor claimed, "It is not a matter of personal pathology. Rather, he is the product of his living environment. There will be further cases like his unless we establish a new social system that goes beyond psychiatry."

Finally, as if to offer a glimmer of hope, Fujii recounts how one killer teenager was affected by the gravity of what he did. The boy, named Kazuki, was one of the gang who kidnapped, confined and tortured a 17 year old high school girl for 40 days in the crime mentioned above. Eventually, all seven perpetrators were arrested. Four were sentenced as adults, while the other three were sent to reformatories. Kazuki, 16 at the time of his arrest, was one of the three, and he spent six months in a reformatory.

Fujii met Kazuki when he was 25. Recalling the incident, Kazuki told the author, "The first thing I did right after I was discharged from the reformatory was to visit a temple and pray for the repose of the victim's soul, because I will never forget her. I could have saved her but I didn't because all I cared about was saving my own skin. I must not forget what I did and I know I never will."

Kazuki has cut off all contacts with anyone he knew in the past, including his family. He has never thought about returning home and supports himself by delivering newspapers.

January 12, 2001

17 year old Murderers
published by Wani Books
1,500 yen

To read more reports on juvenile crime in Japan go to JapanToday.
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