The Setagaya Family Murders


One of the ways I know that the year has gone by quickly and it’s December 30th already is the annual pilgrimage of police officers to the scene  of the Setagaya family murders.  There are very few crimes in Japan but, as I have said before in this blog, when they do happen, they tend to be bizarre.  And the Setagaya murders were just that.

Here’s today’s new report from

“Police officers on Sunday paid their respects outside a home in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, where a family of four was murdered 12 years ago.

Police also handed out flyers appealing for information at nearby Seijogakuenmae train station, in the hope that someone will come forward with new information.

Mikio Miyazawa, 44, his 41-year-old wife Yasuko, 8-year-old daughter Niina, and 6-year-old son Rei, were found dead on the morning of Dec 31, 2000. Miyazawa’s son had been strangled, and the other three had been stabbed to death. Fingerprints and other evidence in the home indicate the killer used the computer and ate ice cream after the attack on Dec 30, spending up to 11 hours before leaving the next morning.

Approximately 190,000 officers have been involved in the case to date, and police have received more than 16,000 pieces of information from the public, yet the killer remains at large. Fifty police officers are still assigned to the case to follow up on any leads. The reward was raised from the initial 3 million yen to 10 million yen for information which leads to the killer or killers’ arrest.

Despite extensive detective work focusing on the killer’s clothing, accessories, weapons, and other circumstantial evidence such as the sand found on the clothing that the killer abandoned at the scene, police have not identified any suspects years after the murder.

Following the murders, police deduced that the clothes and knife left at the scene had been bought in Kanagawa Prefecture. Three kinds of powered fluorescent dye were found on the trainers and bag left at the scene. In the pocket of the sweater, which had only gone on sale two months before the killings took place, were found traces of bird dropping, Japanese zelkova tree and willow leaves.

DNA analysis has revealed that traces of blood found at the scene not belonging to the family suggests that the killer has a mother of European descent, possibly from a country near the Mediterranean or Adriatic Sea. Analysis of the Y-chromosome has revealed that the killer’s father is of Asian descent, with the DNA appearing in 1 in 4 or 5 Koreans, 1 in 10 Chinese, and 1 in 13 Japanese.”

The Setagaya murders show two things:

Japanese ‘CSI’ is apparently the best in the world.  I have heard that they give training to American CSI teams.  Japan itself is a rather OCD nation and everything has to be done properly down to the smallest detail.  In the past I have been told off by government officials and at the bank for not making sure that my ‘hanko’, my official seal – used in this country instead of signatures – is 100% upright and totally in the little circular box. Sometimes they have even taken my seal from me and restamped it next to my shoddy original.  (A wonky seal is sometimes a way of expressing displeasure or just a ‘wrong’ attitude.)  Anyway, Japan is a pernickity country – which on the whole I like – and Japan’s CSI team have certainly extracted all the evidence in this case.

However, the Japanese police in this country are not considered the cleverest or most efficient or most pleasant of people.  As as foreigner, I have experienced this myself although I would also point out that several of my ex-students have become police and they are very nice guys, especially the one who, on graduation day, came up to me and said, “Sensei, in the future, if you have any problems with the police at all, just let me know and the problem will go away”.  His father and his grandfather are also cops and I think they have the neighbourhood sewn up.  So I’m alright.  But I think the real problem with the J-stone cops (as foreigners tend to call them) is that they just don’t have the resources to solve major crimes, for one very good reason:  they just don’t get the experience.  Other than peeping toms and bicycle thefts, there’s just not that much crime about.  And you can’t set up a national DNA database for bicycle thieves.

When I teach the crime class of my  British Culture course, I always ask the students what they do to protect themselves against crime.  One student said he never locked the front door of his family’s house when he went out.  “Why on earth not?” I asked.  “It doesn’t have a lock” he replied.  This is still common in rural areas.

Setagaya suspect




There is now a book in Japanese on this, and the author Fumiya Ichihashi even suggests a suspect.

For more information in English, go to




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