Robert Whiting on “Slaughter in Saitama adds to list of foreigners murdered in Japan, shines light on social issue”, on the Bishop Family Murder Case, an underreported event in 2022 that I consider to be a hate crime

mytest

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Hi Blog.  A couple of weeks ago I met up with Robert Whiting, renowned author of books on Japanese baseball, and, most importantly, to me one of the best books on Japan “Tokyo Underworld“.  We had a nice chat.

One of the topics that came up was the Bishop Family Murder Case in Saitama in during Christmas 2022, which didn’t receive enough attention as a hate crime.  Whiting takes it up on his Substack with characteristic thoroughness and historical contextualization, and he has given me permission to reproduce it in full on Debito.org in order to rectify that.  Read on.  Subscribe to his Substack here.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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Slaughter in Saitama adds to list of foreigners murdered in Japan, shines light on social issue

 

TOKYO — Tokyo was stunned in late December by the news of the brutal killing of longtime Japan resident William Bishop, a 69-year-old U.S. national, his 68-year-old wife Izumi Morita, and their daughter Sophianna Megumi Morita, 32. All three were found dead outside their residence in Hanno, Saitama, with multiple wounds early Christmas morning.

Later that day, prefectural police arrested the Bishops’ neighbor, a 40-year-old Japanese man named Jun Saito, at his residence around the corner believing he had bludgeoned the Bishop family to death with what was believed to be a hammer. Saito had barricaded himself in an upstairs room, and the police had to force their way in to apprehend him.

The authorities said they had received reports of a man in black clothing carrying what appeared to be a hammer as he left the Bishop home on foot shortly after the murders. They checked video cameras in the area and around the Bishop residence and discovered footage of a man in black clothing attacking a person.

Traces of blood on black clothing was confiscated at the Saito residence. Police also seized multiple potential weapons, including an ax, at the suspect’s residence, according to reports.

Although the three members of the Bishop family were found dead outside the property, blood discovered inside the residence suggested they were initially attacked indoors.

Police believe the victims were struck repeatedly due to multiple injuries found on their bodies which indicated a struggle. William Bishop’s cervical area was severely damaged.

There was a history of conflict involving Saito and the Bishop family, who had reported repeated damage to their car and property on half a dozen occasions, resulting in Saito’s arrest three different times, although Saito was ultimately not prosecuted in any of the cases. According to the Shukan Bunshun of Dec. 30, repair damage to the Bishop family automobile cost ¥1 million, forcing the family to keep their auto under protective cover in a garage behind a locked iron door. There were no reports of trouble with other individuals in the neighborhood.

When police first arrested Saito in January 2022 for damaging the Bishop’s vehicle,  they said that the Bishops told them they did not personally know who Saito was.

The house Saito was living in belonged to his parents, who reportedly moved out because of his violent behavior.

Prosecutors charged him with murder. Saito, in detention, denied the charges.

Although all the facts are not yet in, the suspect appears to be part of a troubled generation suffering from mental disorders, who dropped out of school and work in droves in the ’80s and ’90s, when Japan’s economic bubble burst, Japanese firms retrenched and downsized, and jobs were not readily available. The Japanese government has identified over half a million of these, so-called hikikomori, social recluses, who live at home, passing their time on the Internet — the rise of which has contributed to their continuing isolation, remaining economically dependent on their parents, who, in turn, do not know what they can do to help their offspring find their footing outside of the household and try to hide what they view as an embarrassing situation. Hikikomori have failed to develop necessary social skills and are unable to adjust in a society that is very structured and sensitive to social stigma, one which fails to provide for social resources and professional treatment for mental illness, primarily because parents are too ashamed to seek it for their offspring.

This has become known as the “80-50” problem in recent years as hikikomori children from the post-bubble era are entering their 50’s and their parents are in their 80’s, becoming less and less able to care for them.

 

According to William Bishop’s LinkedIn account, he was a native of Indiana, who first came to Japan in 1974, where he graduated from Sophia University in Tokyo. He then obtained a Master’s Degree from Temple University in Pennsylvania and returned to Japan, whereupon he served as a trade representative for the state of Indiana, worked for Eli-Lily and started his own health care consultancy. He was a member of the Board at Temple University as well as a former chair of the health care committee at the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

Fluent in Japanese, Bishop described himself as having a wide range of experience in market access, communications, trade promotion and attracting investment. He was also an author. He wrote novels about the Old West in his spare time.

Bishop’s daughter, who went by Sophianna Bishop, was a resident of Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, who was visiting her parents when the attack occurred. She worked at an advertising agency in Tokyo.

Saito aspired to be a film director, but failed to complete his only film, “The Gift,” a movie directed by Saito about a man with HIV, which he started with funds awarded by a film festival, only to withdraw from the project midway due to “emotional problems.” He then began living a solitary life in the Saitama house. (Bunshun).

Colleagues described Bishop as “dedicated, hard-working and a real leader,” someone who knew more more about Japan’s health policy than anyone else. In Bishop’s Linkedin account tributes flowed in. Abby Pratt, a fellow ACCJ officer, said, “Bill had a great sense of humor and was such a pleasure to work with, one of those people you’ll never forget. I loved how he could seamlessly shift from his rich South Dakota twang to fluent nihongo.”

Simon Farrell, the former editor-in-chief of the ACCJ Journal, added, “Bill was well-travelled, generous, gentlemanly and empathetic, with a deep interest in Japanese culture and language.”

Lance Gatling, head of Nexial, knew Bishop for decades and said, in an interview with Substack, “He was a prim American with a dry wit who was very involved in ACCJ affairs, was VP for years. He was a solid citizen, one who had just bought that house five years ago and retired recently. He was a state rep for some years.”

“Bill was an inoffensive soul, hardly someone you’d consider a bodily threat of any sort. A bit snippy in language at times, so what? A 40-year old hikkikomori living in his parents’ home alone for decades killed Bill, wife and 32-year-old daughter who was visiting. All three, some reports say it was a hatchet.

“I hope they hang him.”


Murder is rare in Japan compared to other countries. Social civility and strict hierarchical codes of conduct are often cited as reasons for the low incidence of violent crimes in Japan.

However, Japanese assaults on foreigners are not new in in the long history of Japan’s relations with the West.

Sonnō jōi was a rallying cry and slogan of a political movement in Japan in the 1850s and 1860s that sought to overthrow the feudal Tokugawa shogunate and restore the Emperor of Japan to the throne. It literally meant “Be Loyal To The Emperor; Expel The Barbarians.” It was a reaction to the treaty signed in 1854 by the Japanese bakufu, or government in place, opening Japan to trade under military threat from U.S. Naval Commodore Matthew Perry and his so-called Black Ships and was vehemently opposed in samurai quarters. It inspired a number of attacks against the Shogunate and attacks against foreigners in Japan by rogue samurai and entire samurai clans.

The most prominent such incident was the murder was of British citizen Charles Lennox Richardson in 1862. Richardson was riding his horse with three other travelers, including a woman, through what is now Tsurumi Ward in Yokohama, when he encountered a retinue of armed samurai escorting the regent of the Satsuma Clan traveling in the opposite direction. Richardson failed to dismount and pay his respects, as required by local custom and law, despite being motioned repeatedly to do so.

“I know how to handle these people” he was quoted as saying to his companions, according to the Japan Herald “Extra” of Sept. 16, 1862.

He was subsequently slashed with a sword and fell from his horse. Several samurai finished the assault, hacking and stabbing at him with swords and lances. Two of Richardson’s male companions were also wounded but escaped. The woman traveling with them was unharmed, a samurai sword barely missing her head, but slicing through her hair and hat, before fleeing in a panic. 

Richardson survived briefly before succumbing in a nearby peasant’s hut.

Richardson’s wounds were described in a recent article by Paul Martin in Japan Forward: “The whole body was one mass of blood; one wound from which the bowels protruded, extended from the abdomen to the back; another on the left shoulder had severed all the bones into the chest; there was a gaping spear wound over the region of the heart; the right wrist was completely divided, and the hand was hanging merely by a strip of flesh; the back of the left hand was nearly cut through; and on moving the head, the neck was found to be entirely cut through on the left side.”  (https://japan-forward.com/the-british-in-bakumatsu-japan-the-namamugi-incident/

 

Mitsubishi later curiously purchased the peasant hut and made it the HQ of the Kirin Brewery. Richardson is buried in a private plot in the Yokohama Foreign Cemetery.

A plaque in front of an apartment building marks the spot of what is known as the ‘Namamugi Incident.’

The incident caused a great deal of alarm in the foreign community based in Yokohama, whose members argued that Westerners were protected under the Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty which exempted them from local requirements.

However, protests over the incident from the British Government were ignored so the British navy, in retaliation, bombarded Kagoshima, destroying many houses and sinking three steamships belonging to the Satsuma Clan. In the end, the Japanese Bakufu military government paid a substantial sum as compensation.

Imperial rule was restored in 1868, under the 15-year-old Emperor Meiji, with Japan beginning its transformation from an isolationist feudal state into an industrialized world power.


Another famous incident was inspired more by greed than by anti-foreign sentiment or revenge. That was the murder on April 4, 1899, of Reverend Thomas Alfred Large, the 31-year old Canadian principal of the Toyo Eiwa school for girls in Azabu. Two men broke into his house at night, knocked his wife unconscious, and stabbed Lange with their swords. He fell to the floor gasping and died shortly thereafter.

As recounted in Mark Schreiber’s excellent book, “The Dark Side: Infamous Japanese Crimes and Criminals” (Kodansha International, 2001, p.125-127). “The Japanese government’s overriding concern were the political implications, if any, over the slaying. If the assailants had acted out of anti-foreign, or anti Christian motives, some feared the Western powers might reject Japan’s ongoing efforts to renegotiate unequal treaties. A substantial reward was posted for information leading to the killers’ apprehension … But the killers’ motive was almost certainly apolitical. In those times, burglars had no apprehensions about robbing foreigners. The Japan Weekly Mail of April 26 observed, ‘Without some hypothesis, it appeared difficult to imagine that the onslaught … could have been incidental to a mere burglary. But several Japanese … say it is the habit of sword-carrying burglars in this country to … simply kill or maim the obstructionist, and then proceed with their thieving work …’ ”

“Newspaper reports of the crime itself were sensationalized and full of inaccuracies, but public opinion was uniformly sympathetic toward the Large family. The vernacular Hochi Shimbun editorialized, ‘… the victim was a foreigner who had come here from a distant land, and was engaged in teaching Japanese students. There is something sad about the fate of a man who dies far away from the land of his birth … How much sadder is the lot of one who falls under the weapons of common burglars in a foreign country. Such a fate should move everyone to pity … We trust, however, that the foreign public will not judge Japan by this catastrophe …’ ”

It wasn’t until five years later that police caught the perpetrators, who turned out to be professional robbers, arresting them on other charges. Both had turned to robbery after running up heavy gambling debts. One of the men was sentenced to 14 years in prison where he died, in 1896. The other, sentenced to 13 years, but was released after serving nine years and nine months as part of an imperial amnesty to commemorate the death of the Empress Dowager in 1898. When the latter’s involvement in the crime was revealed, the statute of limitations had expired one month earlier. When questioned, the man, of course blamed his confederate.


On the other side of the ledger, was American seaman Robert Miller, who was convicted of a triple murder in Yokohama in that same 1899, shortly after a new treaty was signed abolishing the principle of extraterritoriality and giving a Japanese court the right to try foreigner. The crime took place at a saloon called “The Rising Sun” in what is now Yokohama’s Chinatown. Miller, in a drunken, jealous rage over the affections of  the saloon’s comely female proprietress named Suye Tonooka, used a straight razor and claw hammer to murder an American named W. Nelson Ward, who habitually occupied the establishment, and a teenage serving girl named Aki Suzuki who was sleeping with Ward … Police found Miller the next morning snoring away in a nearby bar.

He became the first Westerner to be hanged by Japan, congenially smoking a cigar as he stood on the gallows. (Read all about it here in a detailed piece by Eric C. Han https://www.jstor.org/stable/24243133 as well as Mark Schreiber’s account in The Dark Side. )


Still another famous episode, this one well into the postwar period, when U.S.-Japan relations had become critical in the global fight against communism, was the knife attack on then U.S. Ambassador Edwin O. Reischauer by a Japanese youth in March 1964 outside the U.S. Embassy. Reischauer was stabbed in the thigh outside the Embassy in what was an apparent assassination attempt. The young man whose name was Shiotani Norikazu, reportedly had a history of mental illness and suffered from a disorder of the inner ear called Meniere’s Disease. He was said to be angry with the U.S. occupation of Japan but apparently did not belong to any political group. Reischauer was taken to the hospital where he received a blood transfusion and recovered.

Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda was moved to apologize twice: Once to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and once to the American public via a live telecast relayed by a communications satellite.

Unfortunately, the blood Reischauer received was tainted with the hepatitis C virus which complicated his recovery and Japan’s Minister of Public Safety was compelled to resign. Reischauer suffered various ailments over the years as a result of the tainted blood and it ultimately contributed to his death 26 years later.


The most famous case of murder in recent years involving a Westerner and a Japanese citizen was that of Lucie Blackman the former British Airways flight attendant who worked as a hostess in a Tokyo night club and was killed by a wealthy patron.  It gained international attention when Tony Blair brought it up to his Japanese counterpart on a visit to Tokyo and the case made the cover of TIME Asia. It was later memorialized in Richard Lloyd Parry’s harrowing account “People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman.”*

It is a phenomenon that causes many Japan observers to ask the question why did it take the disappearance of a white woman at the hands of the Japanese not only to make the cover of TIME, but to cause the authorities to move on behalf of an illegally working migrant. The answer seemed have more to do with economic clout than anything else. Or was it racism?

Complaints by authorities from less-developed countries in Japan, it appeared, were just not worthy of the same attention as those from more developed, Occidental  nations.

Indeed, the March 2007 murder of U.K. English teacher [Lindsay Ann] Hawker at the hands of a Japanese martial artist, who raped and strangled her to death, also received national attention. Her assailant was captured by police after two-and-a-half years on the run and sentenced to life in prison. However, another case involving the 2006 murder of a Japanese pimp by his Thai sex slave who had endured unspeakable abuse, did not. Like so many other cases involving non-western foreigners, in particular, zainichi Koreans, it slipped under the radar.

More on this subject later.

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Incidents of confrontationalism toward NJ are on the rise. Debito.org argues that this is standard social bullying of foreigners being disguised as a reaction to alleged “overtourism”. Push back at it.

mytest

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Hi Blog.  This is just a quick personal post as what’s happening to others is also happening to me.

We’ve had plenty of reports in recent months of people being confrontational towards NJ (Resident and Tourist), or people who look like NJ, accusing them of all manner of cultural slights and faux pas.

In recent weeks, we’ve had a confrontation at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, and enough tourism in Kyoto and Mt Fuji to warrant bans on people going to certain places — even the recent overkill of a local government putting up a screen to block a view of Mt Fuji around a convenience store, with predictable accusations that foreigners are spoiling everything.  Halloween in Shibuya even became a target, with drinking in the street made out to be a foreign-imported problem (seriously?!).

Some of this is inevitable.  For quite some time now we’ve had grumbles about Chinese consumers’ spending habits in places like Ginza.  And whenever foreigners are about, they tend to be the first people blamed for any problem due to “cultural differences” that are automatically at odds with Japan’s putative “uniqueness”.  They’re a soft target.

It even happened to me yesterday in front of Tokyo Station.  Some ojisan (now they’re actually younger than me) decided to jump his place in line for taxis in front of us, and then cursed me out when I told him that that wasn’t acceptable behavior.  When I cursed him out back, he told me to speak “proper Japanese” peppered with a few “omae”s to establish his dominance.  I told him to get lost and to eat shit, and he jumped into the cab and fumed as the doors closed.  The people behind us in line apologized to me (thanks; appreciated, but not something you’re responsible for), and a visual survey of the crowd behind me reveled no hairy eyeballs being directed at me.  They saw his line jumping too.  So I got the next cab and got on with my day.

But the lesson I took from this incident is that, since bullying is a cultural standard in Japan due to the hierarchical nature of everything here, there are plenty of bullies who naturally believe that anyone who looks NJ is on lower social rung.  Seeing me as a soft target, the bully yesterday decided to enforce that.

And while he didn’t accuse me specifically of being a tourist, it’s easy nowadays to justify the standard bullying that happens to NJ as a reaction to overtourism.

We as Visible Minorities and NJ Residents should be wary of that dynamic and push back at it.  Don’t let overtourism become leverage for bullying.  Make it clear that rules are rules, rudeness is rudeness, and Cool Japan is no longer cool when it becomes knee-jerk disrespectful.

After all, tourism is what Japan wanted.  “Cool Japan” and all that.  And now you’ve got record levels of visitors (not to mention NJ Residents, by the way).  So live with it.  Deal with it (as I’ve found Japan generally has, successfully).

But definitely don’t blame people who look “foreign” for doing what Japanese do too.  I mean, just about everything foreign tourists do here are what Japanese also do at home — from littering to being loud in public to shoplifting (theft by Japanese is by far the largest crime in Japan), etc. etc.  And it’s especially true for Japanese abroad, due to a philosophy of tabi no haji wa kakisute (“shed your shame when traveling”, with both positive and negative connotations).

Lose the racism and quit the bullying.  And stand up to the bullies when necessary.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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