Japan has been the home of some bizarre and brutal crimes, including bloody massacres, large scale poison attacks, and of course, violent serial murders. A lot of these tragedies aren’t as widely reported in the western world as they are in Asia, so here are 9 Japanese serial killers you might not have heard of.
1. Tsutomu Miyazaki
Tsutomu Miyazaki might be the most infamous serial killer in Japanese history, and for good reason. His crimes are the stuff of nightmares, and he single-handedly changed perceptions of otaku culture for the worse.
Known as the Little Girl Murderer, Miyazaki’s life had not been easy. As a youngster, he was born with a severe wrist deformity which affected his confidence and his ability to make friends. Although he was born to a wealthy family, his parents were emotionally distant. He grew up as a recluse and suffered various mental health problems.
In 1988, he made his first foray into murder. His first victim was a four-year-old girl who he lured into his car and they drove away into a secluded area. He strangled her and dumped the body. Only a few weeks later, fuelled by the desire to feel the same thrill, Miyazaki kidnapped and murdered another little girl with the same modus operandi.
As his fantasies grew, his murders progressed in brutality. He killed twice more in the same manner, but with his final victim, he dismembered her in his home and ate parts of her torso. He also took pictures of his victims, defiled their dead bodies and sent body parts and letters to the grieving families.
Miyazaki was finally caught in 1989 when he was discovered naked in his car with his would-be fifth victim. He was sentenced to death and hanged in 2007.
2. Takahiro Shiraishi
The crimes of Takahiro Shiraishi have only recently come to light, and this man certainly belongs on the list of the most vicious serial killers in history.
Despite having a normal childhood, as an adult, he distanced himself from his family and began working in the sex industry, luring women into prostitution in Tokyo’s red-light district. This experience taught him how to manipulate women and gain their confidence; a tactic he later used to in his murders.
In 2017, Shiraishi used Twitter to find women with suicidal tendencies, then invited them to kill themselves at his home so he could watch or help them. But after they arrived, Shiraishi strangled them then dismembered their bodies.
A family member of one of the victims followed her online trail, leading him to Shiraishi, who went by the moniker hangingpro. When police arrived at Shiraishi’s apartment, they discovered the mutilated bodies of eight different women and one man.
3. Yukio Yamaji
Yukio Yamaji had a difficult upbringing, being raised in poverty by his mother after his father died when he was 11 years old. Only five years later in 2000, he beat his mother to death with a baseball bat and turned himself into the police.
Due to his age and difficult family situation, he was sent to juvenile detention. He stated that his motivation for murder was his mother’s debt and that she’d interfered in his relationships. Despite the heinous crime, Yamaji was released on parole only three years later in 2003 as he was believed to be reformed.
But this proved to be a fatal mistake, because in 2005, he succumbed to his murderous desires once again. In Osaka, Yamaji stabbed two sisters to death, then covered his tracks by setting fire to their apartment. However, he was soon suspected by the police as he had recently moved into the same building.
When interrogated, Yamaji immediately confessed. He was charged with their murders, but this time the judge wouldn’t be as lenient as the first time. Despite undergoing a psychological evaluation that revealed he suffered with Asperger’s Syndrome, Yamaji received the death penalty.
4. Miyuki Ishikawa
Nothing screams serial killer like having murdered over 100 people.
There aren't many women serial killers, but Miyuki Ishikawa was a midwife at a maternity hospital in Kotobuki where many infants were abandoned due to the poor financial situation of their parents.
Ishikawa, frustrated by the lack of resources to look after the abandoned babies, decided to take matters into her own hands.
Under her care, many children died of starvation or suffocation due to her neglect. She even tried to get money from the parents for the murders, claiming that the price for their death is less than what it would have cost to raise them. In 1948, police discovered the bodies of five infants and their autopsies concluded that they hadn’t died of natural causes. An investigation pointed to Ishikawa and her accomplices (her husband and another doctor) and the three were arrested.
The exact number of babies which Ishikawa murdered is unknown, but police discovered over 40 bodies in the office of a local mortician, and another 30 in a nearby temple; two places Ishikawa used as dumping grounds.
Strangely, Ishikawa was only sentenced to eight years in prison as authorities considered the homicides as crimes by omission rather than intentional. After an appeal, the sentence was reduced to only four years.
5. Futoshi Matsunaga
Futoshi Matsunaga can be considered one of the more recent Japanese serial killers as most of his crimes happened in the late 90s.
The exact number of his victims is unknown, as no remains were ever found, however, Matsunaga is infamous for being a particularly disturbed killer, as he would kidnap multiple victims at a time and force them to torture each other.
Matsunaga’s first victim was a man who he initially tried to blackmail, but then abducted him and his daughter and held them in his apartment.
Matsunaga electrocuted the man and forced him to eat his own feces. After he died, he convinced the daughter that it was she who had murdered him.
Matsunaga was aided by his accomplice, Junko Ogata, who was also his mistress. Although Ogata helped Matsunaga in committing the crimes, he was abusive and manipulative towards her.
Matsunaga’s other victims were five members of Ogata’s family, who had been living with Matsunaga and Ogata at the time. Matsunaga bound them and held them captive, then gradually killed them one-by-one, even coercing a 10-year-old girl to hold down her mother while her father strangled her.
Once all five were dead, Matsunaga chopped up their bodies, boiled then discarded them.
Everything came to an end in March 2002 when Matsunaga’s final kidnapped victim escaped and contacted the police. They arrested the pair and although Matsunaga claimed he was innocent, Junko confessed to everything. This led to a conviction for both of them, a life sentence for Ogata and a death sentence for Matsunaga.
6. Seisaku Nakamura
Seisaku Nakamura, known as the Hamamatsu Deaf Killer, was one of Japan’s youngest serial murderers, and was responsible for the stabbings of nine people.
Born in 1924, Nakamura was born deaf, but he was a highly intelligent child. Although from a young age he displayed psychopathic tendencies such as a lack of compassion or empathy.
This behavior, along with the cold treatment he received from his family contributed to him turning violent and committing murders at a very early age.
His first victims were two women who Nakamura tried to rape, but ended up killing as they resisted his advances. In 1941, at age 17, he recklessly assaulted two women in a geisha store, killing one of them.
Only two days later, Nakamura impulsively stabbed three more people in a restaurant, fatally wounding all of them.
Soon after, he directed his anger towards his family. During a heated argument, Nakamura stabbed his brother to death and seriously injured five other members of the household, including his parents and his nephews.
However, the victims never informed the police who the perpetrator was for fear of retaliation from the disturbed teenager.
Nakamura’s final victims were another family whom he followed home in August the same year. He killed both parents and two of their children, but the oldest daughter survived and was able to later identify Nakamura.
He was apprehended after a few months and due to pressure from the public, he was quickly tried and convicted shortly after. He was executed at age 19.
7. Kiyoshi Okubo
Born in 1935, Kiyoshi Ōkubo, was a Japanese serial killer who went on to rape and murder eight women.
Ōkubo was a quarter Russian from his mother’s side and often found himself teased at school because of his ethnic features. Although he came from a large family with eight children, Ōkubo was still showered with affection, especially by his mother who had a hard time enforcing any discipline on him.
Due to the lack of authority in his family, he began to rebel at school, disrespecting teachers, but also his female colleagues.
Ōkubo showed a disturbing behavior from a young age, and when he was around eleven years old, he sexually assaulted a young girl by forcing stones up her genitals.
A few years later, he attempted his first rape but was caught and imprisoned for four years.
In 1961, Ōkubo married a woman who was unaware of his criminal record and had two children with her, but he continued to be on the lookout for more rape victims. In 1971, he transitioned to murder and killed eight women over a span of two months, all of whom were strangled.
Only a few days after his murders finished, Ōkubo was caught and confessed everything. He tried to blame his acts on his treatment received while in prison for his previous crimes, claiming it made him want to rebel against authority. He was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging in 1973.
8. Genzo Kurita
Genzo Kurita was a disturbed man with no regard for human life.
His murder spree lasted four years, from 1948 to 1952, during which he claimed the lives of eight people. As a young adult, Kurita started to have problems with the law and was arrested a couple of times for burglary and assault.
In 1948, Kurita committed his first murder, killing one of the girls he was dating at the time as she continually pressured him to get married. Later, he went on and killed another one of his girlfriends.
Kurita was not convicted for his first murders, so after a few years, in 1951, he regained his confidence and killed again. This time, it was a young woman in Koyama who he murdered and raped right next to her sleeping baby, who he left unharmed.
Shortly after, his deadly desires took over again, leading him to rape and kill a 29-year-old woman who he threw off a cliff. More brutally, Kurita also threw her three young children along with her. Fortunately, the eldest daughter survived the incident.
Kurita’s final murders were committed in January 1952 when killed an elderly woman and her young niece. Once again, he raped her corpse. But this time, he left fingerprints at the scene, which police quickly identified and he was arrested only a few days later.
Kurita received the death sentence which he appealed, but due to his unstable mental condition, he retracted the appeal and he was executed in 1959.
9. Akira Nishiguchi
Akira Nishiguchi was born in Osaka in 1925 and began his criminal career as a fraudster before turning his hand to serial murder.
Nishiguchi found himself on Japan’s Most Wanted list after murdering two men that he first defrauded. While the police worked tirelessly to catch him, he went into hiding in a hotel in Hamamatsu for five days following his first killings. There, he killed the owner of the establishment, along with her mother.
After vacating the hotel, he went to murder an elderly gentleman working as a lawyer in Tokyo. The police’s efforts to catch Nishiguchi paid off when an 11-year-old girl recognized him and informed the authorities. He was caught and sentenced to death by hanging. He died on the 11th of December 1970 at the age of 45.