(First of Five Parts)
Veteran investigator Kunio Tojima, police colonel of the Royal Thai Police, sat down with Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward reporter Hideki Yoshimura recently.
Colonel Tojima had been with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (TMPD) for 36 years, working in the criminal identification section of the criminal investigations department, when he was sent to Bangkok in 1995. Because of his extensive experience, he was asked to train Thai police as part of Japan’s international cooperation with Thailand.
He had intended to stay for only two years, but was twice requested by the government of Thailand to extend his stay. Today, he resides in Bangkok and continues to train and develop the next generation of Thai criminal investigators.
Colonel Tojima, thank you for letting us interview you today. Could you please tell us how it happened that you went to Thailand in 1995 as an international advisor to the Thai Royal Police?
It seems unusual, doesn’t it? I had worked on criminal investigations in Tokyo for 36 years when the suggestion came up. It was just after the investigations in the Aum Shinrikyo incidents settled down that my boss came to me to talk about it, then ordered me to apply for a two-year overseas posting. I was 54 years old and my English was terrible, so I was sure I wouldn’t get it, but, somehow, I was selected. So, quickly I began attending English classes, alongside the children in my neighborhood. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it—I got pretty fired up. So, I put chrysanthemums on my wife’s altar and headed to Thailand.
As I was preparing for my new assignment, my predecessor in Bangkok advised me: “Don’t go to crime scenes—they’re too dangerous. You only have to do seminars once in a while.” In the beginning I followed his advice.
But seminar attendees couldn’t understand my English—they always fell asleep. So, a few months after taking the post and without permission, I needed to change my method of teaching and headed to the scene of a fire. When my photo was published in the next day’s newspaper, the top brass at the Thai Royal Police were upset, but I defiantly responded, “How can I instruct anyone if I’m not on the scene?”
This is what I knew—I needed to be standing next to my students, seeing things from the same perspective.
I withdrew some savings and used the money to buy necessary items for crime scene investigation work. Many were surprised when I left my private office and showed up in the large room for criminal investigations, where there wasn’t even air-conditioning. But after a while, as I joined them in uncomfortable conditions and eating from street stalls, repeatedly upsetting my stomach, they began to accept me as one of their own.
I understand The Royal Thai Police headquarters is located in the country’s capital, Bangkok. Its 2,700 officers command the 250,000 police officers across the country, and you are the only Japanese officer providing training. Can you describe what it was like to try to teach criminal investigation techniques to such a large force in a foreign environment?
When I started my assignment, crime scenes were chaotic. To begin with, volunteer “funeral troupes” would arrive before the police, search the body and take away evidence. Reporters would straddle the body to take photos. I had to constantly persuade the Thai investigators to prohibit anyone from entering the crime scene until the body was inspected by the police.
Soon after, I began to accompany young investigators—my students—to crime scenes daily, working with them to take photos and collect fingerprints. As I myself had devised to do in Japan, I began putting up tape to control entrance to the crime scenes, and I introduced rubber gloves that I’d had sent over from the TMPD. The veterans complained, but once we started producing results, the head of the Royal Thai Police officially ordered me to instruct crime scene staff all over the country on the basics.
I understand you are responsible for creating the first-ever criminal investigations textbook to be written in the Thai language, which is now in the National Library of Thailand and is still used today. How did you come to do this?
It started as a teaching tool for my own use. Each day, at about 9 am, I climbed into the criminal investigations car with young investigators and made the rounds to crime scenes until about 8 pm. I listened to their conversations in the car and wrote down the terminology in katakana. Then, at night, I’d use my dictionary to look up the Thai words. I learned many words through this self-study, like “suicide,” “murder,” and “burglar.” I did this for a year—learning the language was hard.
Then, in the second year of my assignment, I wanted to make a record of my teachings in the Thai language. With the help of a Thai student who was studying Japanese, I spent about six months creating this training document. As a thank-you to that student, I helped him with his part-time job translating Japanese manga into Thai.
Once the head of the Royal Thai Police found out about my project, he ordered me to make it into an official textbook, so my stay was extended another year, and the textbook was completed.
(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.