Furuta Junko: The Horrific Murder That Tested Japan

Furuta Junko: The Horrific Murder That Tested Japan

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Furuta Junko
How the case of Furuta Junko led Japan's press to break the rules, and citizens to question the country's juvenile criminal law.

Every country has its shocking crimes and events so heinous they embed themselves in the mass consciousness. But one particularly horrifying incident in Japan struck home harder than most: the murder of Furuta Junko.

The Victim: Furuta Junko

Japan has a relatively low crime rate on paper. Still, it’s a country of humans. In other words, another breeding ground for horrific and depraved acts of violence. Unseen Japan previously covered the case of murderer Fukuda Kazuko, who was on the lam for fifteen years before her arrest.

During the early 1970s, a fringe leftist student group participated in the murder of 14 of their own as punishment for “ideological weakness.” In late 1988, a child serial killer who committed vampirism and cannibalism stalked Saitama Prefecture.

In 1995, members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult committed the sarin gas attacks. That act of domestic terrorism killed 13 people and injured thousands more.

Then there was Furuta Junko.

The case is one of Japan’s most notorious murder cases involving juvenile criminals – shocking in its brutality and maddening in its absence of true justice. Share on X

In November 1988 in Saitama, a 17-year-old high school student went missing. Authorities wouldn’t find her body until March 30, 1989 following a confession from two teenage boys arrested for another crime. Someone dumped her in a 55-gallon drum and covered it in wet cement. They then dumped it in an abandoned lot in Wakasu, Koto Ward, Tokyo.

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Known as 女子高生コンクリート詰め殺人事件 (Joshikōsei konkurīto-zume satsujin-jiken), or “Concrete-encased high school girl murder case”, the details of Furuta Junko’s imprisonment, torture, and murder horrified the nation and brought up questions regarding the effectiveness of Japanese juvenile laws[1].

Content warning: This piece is extremely graphic in sections. We call out those sections before they occur. However, it discusses violence and sexual assault throughout. Please do not continue reading if these are sensitive topics for you.

Furuta Junko’s abduction

Furuta Junko - picture
Picture of Furuta Junko. (Picture: Wikipedia)

Furuta Junko (古田順子) was born on January 18, 1971 in Misato in Saitama Prefecture. She had one older brother and a younger brother. The young woman attended Yashio-Minami High School and worked a part-time job. Overall, she was well-liked and popular at school.

On November 25, 1988, Furuta was biking home from her part-time job. Miyano Hiroshi (宮野裕史), 18, and Minato Nobuharu (湊伸のぶはる), 16, were lurking in the area. Their aim: accosting and raping local women.

The two saw Furuta on her bike. Minato kicked Furuta off her bike per Miyano’s orders before fleeing the scene. Posing as an innocent bystander, Miyano offered to walk Furuta home. Instead, he took her to a warehouse and threatened to kill her before raping her. He brought her to a hotel where he raped her again. He then called Minato and two other friends, Ogura Jo (小倉譲), 17, and Watanabe Yasushi (渡邊 恭史), 17, to brag about it.

Kept captive

Miyano dragged Furuta with him to meet with the other three boys in a nearby park. Miyano had connections with the yakuza and threatened to tell them to kill Furuta’s family if she tried to escape. The group, with Miyano as de facto leader, had accosted and raped women before. But they usually let them go afterward.

Furuta wouldn’t be one of them. Instead, the group took her to Minato’s home in Ayase in Adachi Ward and gang-raped her.

The group with Miyano as de facto leader had accosted women before, but they usually let them go afterward. Furuta wouldn’t be one of them. Share on X

On November 27, Furuta’s parents called the police. When her captors found out, they didn’t let her go. Rather, they coerced her into calling her parents. She had to tell them that she’d run away to a friend’s house and to stop the police investigation.

The Attack on Furuta Junko (WARNING: Graphic)

The torture inflicted upon Furuta goes beyond anyone’s worst nightmare. Her abductors beat, raped, and sodomized her multiple times a day. They invited other friends and low-ranking yakuza members to assault her as well. And they inserted foreign objects, such as lightbulbs and even lit fireworks, into her vagina and anus. These acts caused severe burns, tearing, and bleeding.

Her captors starved her and forced her to eat cockroaches and drink her own urine. They forced her to sleep outside on the balcony in the middle of winter. They hung her from the ceiling and used her as a punching bag, damaging her organs and causing internal bleeding. Her legs were set on fire multiple times, her burns becoming infected and full of noxious pus. The smell angered her captors, who beat her even more.

They poured hot wax on her eyelids, stuck sowing needles in her breasts, and even ripped off her left nipple with pliers. They dropped iron barbells on her torso. This caused further internal damage to the point Furuta lost total bladder and bowel control. Whenever she had seizures, the captors thought she was faking them and continued to beat her. Near the end, it took her over an hour to crawl downstairs to use the washroom due to her injuries.

Furuta Junko’s near escape

Sources vary on the exact number of days Furuta was in captivity. Most people believe it to be between 40 and 44 days. The captors kept her in Minato’s room on the second floor. Whenever adults were around she was forced to pose as one of the captors’ girlfriends.

Minato’s parents and brother knew what was happening under their roof. However, fearful of his yakuza connections and abuse, they played along.

The other boys allegedly bullied one of the boys they invited over into raping Furuta. After he told his brother, someone ended up contacting the police. Two police officers came to the Minato house but declined an invitation to inspect it. The officers lost their jobs after this came out for not following protocol.

In December, Furuta also managed to call the police. Her captors discovered her and subsequently set her on fire. Despite going into convulsions, Furuta survived.

Arrest

According to court testimony, on January 4, 1989, Miyano challenged Furuta to a game of mahjong. Somehow Furuta was cognizant enough to not only play the game but beat Miyano. This threw Miyano and the other captors into a rage, and more torture followed. They doused her limbs in lighter fluid and set her on fire. When more pus began to issue from her wounds, the captors wrapped plastic bags around their fists and continued to punch and kick Furuta.

Her body couldn’t take anymore. Furuta died later that day.

Fearful of arrest, they put Furuta’s body in an empty 55-gallon drum and filled it with wet concrete. They dumped the drum in an abandoned lot in Wakasu, Koto Ward, Tokyo. The lot was a popular illegal dumping ground for large home appliances. No doubt the captors hoped no one would look too closely at an old oil drum.

Later in January, police arrested two of Furuta’s captors for the kidnapping and assault of a 19-year-old woman they accosted in December. While in police questioning, they accidentally confessed to Furuta’s kidnapping and gave the location of her body.

Police found her body the next day. They arrested the rest of the captors arrested in April. DNA led to the arrest of at least two other boys. However, prosecutors only charged them for rape, not for confinement or murder.

Furuta Junko’s Murder: The Trial and Prosecution

Furuta Junko murder: classmates crying at her funeral
Classmates of Furuta Junko weep for their friend at her funeral.

The first trial began on July 31, 1989 in Tokyo. Under Japan’s Juvenile Law (少年法; Shōnen-hō), the main perpetrators were known as A, B, C, and D during the trial to protect their identities. Furuta Junko was identified as E. The juvenile law relies on the rehabilitation and education of young criminals rather than strict punishment.

It’s rare for juveniles to be tried in the District Criminal Court. Most are tried in the Family Court or Summary Court, the lowest adult court. Due to the heinous nature of the crime, the boys were tried as adults in Tokyo’s District Criminal Court. However, the judiciary still granted them special provisions reserved for juveniles.

The court didn't protect Furuta's identity as a minor, something many people took issue with after seeing the media splash Furuta's name and photograph in print and television. Share on X

The court didn’t protect Furuta’s identity as a minor. Many people called this out after seeing the media splash Furuta’s name and photograph in print and television. The court also sealed the names of the captors from the media. Since when did the rights of the criminals trump the rights of the victim? This didn’t sit well with the magazine Shukan Bunshun (週刊文春). In their April 20, 1989 issue, they broke anonymity and released the criminals’ names There were specific reasons why they did this:

当時『週刊文春』の編集長であった花田紀凱は、実名報道にいたった経緯を『朝日新聞』のインタビューで次のように語っている。「一回目[の記事で] は仮名にしました。が、第二弾の取材をしているうちに、いかにひどいかということがわかってきて、 編集部の中で、これは実名にすべきじゃないかという声が出てきた。要するに……野獣に人権はな い、と」。花田はつづけて、少年らの実名を公表することは「相当難しい問題」であるが、「この事件 は、ほんとに特異な非常にひどい事件」であったため例外扱いにしたと語っている。さらに花田は、 実名報道が少年法に違反すること、しかし同法には「罰則規定はないということ」を十分に認識して いたと述べている。

Hanada Kazuyoshi, who was editor-in-chief of Shukan Bunshun at the time of the murder, talked about the process of acquiring the real names in an interview with Asahi Shimbun. “We used pseudonyms in our first article on the incident. However, while collecting information for the second article, I realized how awful this situation was, so I brought up that we should use their real names to the editorial department. To make a long story short, we decided that beasts don’t have human rights.” Hanada continued to say that publishing the juveniles’ real names presented a “fairly difficult problem,” but that they made an exception because it was “a very terrible incident.” Hanada also stated that while he recognized that going public with the real names violated the juvenile law, he noted that there were no penalty regulations in place to punish them. [5]

Sentencing in the Furuta Junko Case

Courthouse sign in kanji

On July 20, 1990, the court held sentencing. All four criminals confessed to “causing bodily injury resulting in death” rather than pleading guilty to outright murder. The court sentenced Miyano, singled out as the ringleader, to 20 years in prison, the maximum sentence before life imprisonment. Ogura received 8 years in juvenile prison. Minato and Watanabe received 5-7 years and 5-9 years, respectively.

The lenient sentences left a bitter taste in many people’s mouths. Furuta Junko’s mother purportedly had a mental breakdown upon hearing what happened to her daughter and was submitted to a psychiatric ward for treatment. The Furuta family filed a civil suit against the Minato family and won; the Minato family purportedly paid reparations after selling their home.

It wasn’t just Furuta’s family who decried the sentencing. Phone calls and letters complaining about the light sentences flooded the Tokyo District Court and the prosecutor’s office. Most demanded the death penalty. The media reported that the sentencing was a gross failing of Japan’s juvenile law.

Furuta Junko Case: The Aftermath

Of the four original perpetrators, three have since run afoul of the law multiple times. Miyano reportedly bragged about getting off easy and continued his yakuza activities, using his father’s money to buy expensive cars. In 2013 he was arrested for fraud[6], but was released without serving time.

Ogura was legally adopted by a friend and changed his surname to Kamisaku upon his release. In 2004 police arrested him for attempted murder. He’d kidnapped and beat up an acquaintance he believed his girlfriend was involved with [4]. The victim told police that Kamisaku said he’d gotten away with murder before and that he could do it again. Kamisaku denied he’d said those things and served seven years in prison for the assault.

More recently, in 2018, Minato, who’d changed his first name to Shinji, was arrested for attempted murder[3]. He beat a salaryman with a baton and attempted to slash his throat with a knife. Minato stated he had no intention of murder, but given his past and his flighty testimony, the court didn’t buy it. Media reports were scarce on details, barely mentioning his involvement in Furuta’s death.

Delayed reform

As mentioned earlier, the main goal of Japan’s juvenile law is to rehabilitate and support juvenile criminals and reintegrate them back into society. Clearly, that wasn’t the case for the three who went out and committed more crimes. Yet with this case and others, people started questioning just how effective the law was in punishing juveniles who commit heinous crimes. It wasn’t until the Kobe child murders in 1997 (神戸連続児童殺傷事件; Kōbe renzoku jidō sasshō jiken), in which a 14-year-old boy killed two younger boys, that the government made plans to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 14 [2].

In 2014 the law raised the maximum number of years for the imprisonment of a minor 17 years or younger from 15 to 20. It was the same prison sentence the courts gave Miyano for his role in Furuta’s death. But there’s a sneaky little clause in the Juvenile Law[7] that states that if a minor commits a crime that is punishable as a capital offense in a criminal court, that minor should receive life imprisonment rather than the death penalty.

Did Furuta Junko receive justice?

So why didn’t Furuta’s killers receive life imprisonment? Is rehabilitation so much more important than justice? Even when the media reported the repeat offenses of the released criminals, there wasn’t a single mention of their roles in the Furuta case. It was if the criminals were still children, and exempt from taking full responsibility as adults.

The murder of Furuta Junko is one of Japan’s most notorious murder cases involving juvenile criminals. It is shocking in its brutality and maddening in its absence of true justice. Not only has she not earned justice; Junko’s imprisonment and torture have been glorified in books, an exploitation film, and even an ero guro (“erotic grotesque”) manga.

In the end, despite the public outcry, the killers served their original sentences, and nothing significantly changed in Japanese criminal law as a result. Even worse, a young girl lost her life in the most horrific manner possible and never received the justice she deserved.

Sources

[1] [inactive link]

[2] Courts in Japan. “控訴審判決本文 (PDF)”. 東京高等裁判所刑事第10部 (1991年7月12日). http://www.courts.go.jp/app/hanrei_jp/detail3?id=20261

[3] Nakano, Kenji. “Junko Furuta: Killer arrested for attempted murder 3 decades later.” Tokyo Reporter, Sept. 10, 2018. Link

[4] Wijers-Hasegawa, Yumi. “Man who killed as child back in court.” The Japan Times, July 7, 2004. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2004/07/29/national/man-who-killed-as-child-back-in-court/#.XTYsvnt7nIV

[5] 谷原圭亮、小嶋 聡、中島 寛、水野剛也. “The Media Naming of Adult Criminals with Juvenile Criminal Records: The 1989 Concrete-Packing Murder Case and 2004 Assault Case (Part 1).” 文教大学情報学部『情報研究』第33号 2005年 7 月. https://ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/110004308577

[6] 「東京・綾瀬女子高生コンクリート詰め殺人事件」犯行グループのその後… 4人中3人が再犯. https://www.zakzak.co.jp/soc/news/180903/soc1809030012-n1.html

[7] https://president.jp/articles/-/26161

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Alyssa Pearl Fusek

Alyssa Pearl Fusek is a freelance writer currently haunting the Pacific Northwest. She holds a B.A. in Japanese Studies from Willamette University. When she's not writing for Unseen Japan, she's either reading about Japan, writing poetry and fiction, or drinking copious amounts of jasmine green tea. Find her on Bluesky at @apearlwrites.

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