Kunio Tojima: Investigating Serial Killings, Hotel Fires, Plane Crashes, Insurance Murders
PHOTO: Having a meal with Thai police co-workers (photo provided by Kunio Tojima)
(Third of Five Parts)
This is a continuation 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.
Part 1: Interview with Kunio Tojima, Japanese Investigator Who Trains Thai Police
Part 2: Veteran Investigator Kunio Tojima on Solving Crimes Through Fingerprints, Footprints
I understand you came from a large family. Did your family background influence the path you chose to become a police investigator?
Perhaps there was some family influence. I was raised as the third son in a family of seven children. My father was in the landscape gardening business in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, so we knew what it was to work hard. But I became devoted to judo, which may have been a bigger influence on my decision to join the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and, later, the police.
I was a mischievous child, so the local police made sure I was made to work hard during judo practice. I now hold a 6th degree black belt rank from the Kodokan.
There is a humorous story from the time I took 10 judo outfits to Thailand and gave lessons to the Asian Games athletes on tatami mats spread outside on the concrete. I wore a red-and-white belt, which is what judo players of the 6th-to-8th-degree rank are entitled to wear. It was misunderstood by Thai police leaders, who said, “Even though you’re so strong, you still don’t have a black belt?” They didn’t realize my rank was higher than the 1st-to-5th-degree players whose belts could only be black.
When I was young, a judo teacher of mine, who was a police officer, recommended that I join the Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces. I underwent heavy mortar training at the Beppu military camp in Oita Prefecture, but the collective behavior didn’t appeal to me.
That was when I heard about Japan’s only paratroopers, the Narashino 1st Airborne Brigade of the JSDF, based in Chiba Prefecture. I applied and somehow managed to pass the rigorous test. In the 24th intake, the most elite gathered from around the country, regardless of rank or age. Simulating falling into the ocean while parachuting, we swam in pools in mid-winter and walked from Mt. Fuji back to Narashino. Even today there are reunions with fellow soldiers from that brigade.
I graduated from a university night-course and worked towards the goal of becoming a police officer while in the JSDF. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (TMPD) riot police had come to undergo ranger training with the JSDF, and I liked the idea of a job protecting the security of the people. I passed the tests for both the Chiba and Kanagawa prefectural police, but in the end, I went to the TMPD, where the salary was the highest.
Is that where you became interested in criminal identifications?
Initially I thought I would become a detective. However, after attending lectures by medical examiners at the police academy, I realized that what really impacts criminal investigations is criminal identification—and that became my field of interest.
My first choice was to work at the local police station in Kamata, with its numerous incidents and accidents, and fortunately I received an assignment there. When I finished that assignment, I was invited to move to the Tokyo headquarters’ riot police division because of my paratrooper experience and physical fitness. Nevertheless, I requested to remain in criminal identification.
The Yukio Mishima hara-kiri incident that took place in November 1970 was my first major crime scene after moving to the Criminal Identification section. When I arrived at the Camp Ichigaya, where the incident took place, the head of the JSDF service squadron yelled at me, “What the hell are you doing here?” He was from the airborne division and had been a fellow paratrooper of mine. He didn’t know that I’d changed jobs and gone to the police.
From that time on, except for my first two-year assignment in Thailand, I remained at the Criminal Identification section of the Criminal Investigation Bureau of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. Typically, officers are posted at local police stations for some parts of their careers—my case was an exception.
Were you on the scene of other major incidents during the Showa Era?
Yes, I was fortunate in that regard. My team in the Criminal Identification section was on the night shift the night of the Hotel New Japan fire in Tokyo that killed 33 people on February 8, 1982. From the roof of the TMPD building, it looked like the Prime Minister’s Residence near the National Diet building was on fire, but the scene of the fire was beyond that.
The next day, as we were inspecting the scene, the shopkeepers of businesses at the hotel were pressing the detectives to re-open as soon as possible. So, I threatened the security guard, “No one is to go into the scene of the fire or ghosts will appear.” Then I headed for Haneda airport for another case—on February 9th, a Japan Airlines plane had crashed just offshore of Haneda. A few days later, a rumor that ghosts had appeared at the site of the hotel fire was reported in a weekly magazine, and I got an angry call from my boss.
I also handled many other major incidents, including the Kazuyoshi Miura incident (1981), the crash of Japan Airlines flight 123 (1985), the aconite insurance money murder, and the Tsutomu Miyazaki serial kidnapping and murders of young girls (1988-1989). I didn’t waste my life.
The rich experiences I’ve had and work methods I’ve mastered—these are what I am now sharing with young investigators in Thailand.
(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.
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