(Fourth of Five Parts)
This is the second to the last part of Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward reporter Hideki Yoshimura’s interview with veteran investigator Kunio Tojima of the Police Colonel of the Royal Thai Police.
Would you tell me about your family and their place in your career?
My family includes my wife Hisako and our two sons. However, my wife fell victim to leukemia and died in March 1994. She was 53.
She became ill quite suddenly and was admitted to the hospital where she worked as the head nurse. Of course, as head nurse, she was telling her underlings what to do as they gave her shots. The day she died, she seemed well to me. She told me I should go take some photos of Mt. Fuji, as photography was my hobby, but that day I didn’t feel like it.
Maybe she’d known from her line of work that her time was near. I usually left everything in the household up to my wife. She’d left a farewell letter alongside our bank books and other small items. In this sad letter, she had written, “I wanted to always be there waiting for you when you came home to rest your wings. I’m sorry.”
After I lost my beloved wife, I needed a diversion, so I took my 4,300 cc Nissan Safari and went off to take some photos. I headed to the former Kamikuishiki Village in Yamanashi Prefecture, where the facilities of the Aum Shinrikyo cult were located. This was prior to the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system. As I took photos of the cult’s 13 buildings, one of the followers took down my license plate number and followed me all the way back to my home in Chiba Prefecture. My kids were independent, and my wife had passed away, leaving only myself at home, so I wasn’t particularly worried.
Did your duties in criminal investigation include photography?
Yes, and, as a matter of fact, I was also pretty good in aerial photography from helicopters.
One time, on March 19, 1995, with clear skies, I headed to Kamikuishiki to secretly take aerial photos of the area near the Aum Shinrikyo cult’s property. My pilot was a veteran officer of the TMPD (Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department) air corps, who I’d worked with for many years, particularly on the crash of Japan Airlines near Mount Osutaka. We were the perfect pair. We made repeated low-flying runs until we could distinguish between the faces of the people below, taking 760 photos directly above all the cult’s facilities. We’d hovered so much that we ran out of fuel and had to refuel at a heliport in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Wasn’t the next day, March 20, 1995, the date Aum Shinrikyo released nerve gas in train cars on the Tokyo subway?
That’s right. The sarin gas incident killed 13 people and injured over 6,000.
Two days later, on March 22, the TMPD carried out a search of the cult’s facilities in Kamikuishiki. I participated as part of the inspection squad for the criminal identification effort. Our entourage left Tokyo on the Chuo Expressway. It was such a huge formation of vehicles that, when we reached the Kawaguchiko Interchange in Yamanashi Prefecture, the vehicle bringing up the rear was still at the previous interchange—far behind.
The Yamanashi prefectural police contacted us, asking why a TMPD helicopter had been seen circling there a few days earlier, thereby exposing the fact that I’d been taking aerial photographs the day before the incident. Fortunately, those photos were helpful to the search.
During the search, I asked a follower for the location of the cult’s leader, Shoko Asahara (real name Chizuo Matsumoto), and she replied, “Call him the holy master.” I bluntly told her to stop babbling, making her cry.
That was the same year you were recruited to go to Thailand, wasn’t it?
That’s right. That happened in the autumn, after the Aum Shinrikyo investigation. My boss recommended that I go to Thailand as a JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) volunteer for international cooperation with the Thai Royal Police.
At the time, I was alone and still mourning my wife’s death, so I’m sure everyone was worried about me. My wife had worked so hard to take care of me right up to the end. One regret was that I hadn’t even been able to take her on a hot springs trip after my retirement. Teaching crime scene investigation in Thailand is my wife’s legacy to me—a second chance at life.
My sons have said they’d rather die than have a job like their father’s. However, both joined the Air Self-Defense Forces. I don’t get to see my grandkids very often, but one of them became a police officer. I try not to hand out advice.
(To be continued)
Hideki Yoshimura is the Sankei Shimbun’s Singapore Bureau Chief. The interview for this article took place at Bangkok in December 4 and 5. Click here to read the original article in Japanese.