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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Murder In Yaita

Supreme Court of Japan (最高裁判所 Saikō-Saibansho).
Who knew that such decadent behaviour actually existed in (yawn) Yaita, perhaps the dullest town I ever visited in Japan. I didn't even get laid there. And, if you were to look at my track record in Japan, that's saying something.

Known as the Tochigi Patricide Case because journalists often lack imagination, this murder case actually took place in that sleepy little city called Yaita just south west of Ohtawara-shi (Ohtawara City) where I lived in Japan between 1990-1993. Ohtawara's claim to fame - aside from myself was a Yakuza (crime lord) boss - who was actually quite nice to me - and I believe a murder of some people in my apartment building... though that was rumour and I've yet to discover if it was true.

But in Yaita... dull, beautiful Yaita... who knew she harboured such a deep dark secret that is in reality far worse than its media-created name?

The 栃木実父殺し事件 (Tochigi Jippugoroshi Jiken) or Aizawa patricide case is indeed about someone's child killing their father (patricide)... but in reality, it's so much more. It's about a father-daughter incest case, and the daughter killing him.

This true murder occurred in 1968, though it has its beginnings much earlier, and its ramifications were felt long after as her controversial trial led to a change of parricide's penalty in the Criminal Code of Japan.

Aizawa Chiyo (surname first) was born in Yaita-shi (City of Yaita), Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture) on January 31, 1939. To those that knew her, she seemed perfectly normal. But, from the age of 14 on, she would be sexually abused by her father for 15 years.

Aizawa was the eldest of six children born to her mother Aizawa Rika and father Aizawa Takeo (May 3, 1915 - October 5, 1968). Not content with merely being an alcoholic, Takeo liked raping his daughter - starting in 1953. Her mother, perhaps fearing his drunken rages, was unable to stop the attacks and went to live in Hokkaido, leaving Chiyo to fend unsuccessfully for herself.

Chiyo's mother did return a few years later to try and help her daughter, but by this time father and daughter were living together with him treating her as his wife to the outside world. Between 1953 and 1968, Chiyo became pregnant by her father 11 times, giving birth to five daughters and having six abortions. Two of the children died in infancy. After her sixth abortion, Chiyo underwent sterilization (tubal ligation - got her fallopian tubes tied).

At the age of 29 Chiyo met and fell in love with a 22-year-old man - all well and good for any young lady, but this event made her father Takeo very angry. Threatening to kill their three daughters, her father confined Chiyo in their house of horrors.

Perhaps reaching that tipping point, or true love won out, Chiyo snapped and strangled her father on October 5, 1968.

No one outside of that house in Yaita knew why she had snapped. Everyone knew her husband was an alcoholic, but no one realized she was really his daughter and that the three surviving children were their offspring from their relationship.

Now... here's the strange stuff, believe it or not.

According to Japanese law at that time, polygamy was illegal. That means you can't have more than one wife. Rakeo was still married to Chiyo's mother and despite the incestuous relationship, was not married to Chiyo.

Also illegal is intermarriage between close relatives - I believe the closeness stops with immediate family, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews and first cousins... Second-cousins and beyond was fine... but again, the Aizawa case was not an infringement of this law.

Not illegal in Japanese law, however, is inbreeding... therefore the children between father and daughter were merely considered illegitimate. 

The only illegal act up for discussion here is murder, or in this case, patricide.

In Japan at this time, the penalty for patricide was the death penalty or life imprisonment under Article 200 of the Criminal Code of Japan.

Depending on the circumstances of the crime, a judge could allow two reductions of the senetencing by half of the appropriate sentence. This means that a life sentence in Japan could be reduced by half and half again to a mere seven years, from the original 28 years. 

But that's the maximum. The minimum that Chiyo could have suffered was three years and six months in prison... but note that Japan's laws at the time did not allow suspended sentences longer than three years.

In her trials, Chiyo's lawyers said the murder of her father was committed in self-defense. As well, her state of mind at the time was insanity after all of the abuse heaped upon her from the repeated rapes.

On May 29, 1969 in Tochigi-ken's capital city of Utsunomiya, the Utsunomiya District Court considered Article 200 unconstitutional and acquitted Aizawa because the crime was committed in self-defense.

Holy smokes! The law got it right. 

But, on May 12, 1970,  the Tokyo High Court did not agree with that verdict and sentenced Chiyo to a prison term of three-years and six-months.

Holy smokes! The law got it wrong!

But because law and order is never a simple thing, in the final appeal of the case before the Supreme Court of Japan, the Court recognized that placing a severe penalty on Chiyo violates the principle of human equality before the law found in the constitution.

As such, on April 4, 1973, the Supreme Court of Japan ruled Article 200 was unconstitutional, and instead found Chiyo guilty of murder and sentenced her to two-years and six-months in prison - suspended for three-years.

With her suspended sentence, Chiyo was a free person. Rather than go back to little Yaita where everybody now knew who she was, she stayed in the much larger city of Utsunomiya. She is still alive today.

Holy Smokes! The law got it right. Finally.

The end result from a law point of view is that on April 19, 1973, Japan's Ministry of Justice announced that Japanese murders who had killed their parents could be granted, on an individual basis, amnesty.

And lastly, Article 200 of the Japan penal code was abolished in 1995.

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph


  1. Woah! Life imitates art! The judges should all have watched Crazy in Alabama, especially the end, and saved everyone a lot of hassle.

  2. I've not seen that movie - thanks for the head's up! I'll check it out! Cheers Marc!

  3. For those uncultured folk who haven't seen Crazy in Alabama: the girl goes free coz she acted in self-defence. Plus she's a great actress and she's hot, but those aren't the most important reasons!

  4. Those are good reasons! Thanks for the live link to the movie in your first LOC.

  5. Man, that's messed up! Who knew such a sleepy town held such a seedy, dark secret. I will do some more research on this subject.