An Odyssey of Murder, Sorrow, and Peril

On March 24, 2007, 22-year-old Lindsay Hawker went to a cafe with a man she had met only days earlier, Tatsuya Ichihashi, then 28. Ichihashi had approached her on the train and then followed Hawker home, asking her for a drink of water. She acquiesced.

While Hawker got him a glass of water, Ichihashi drew a portrait of her, including his name, telephone number, and email address. They agreed to meet for an English lesson, but four days later, Hawker was dead.

Ichihashi is now on trial for Hawker's murder, after a manhunt that led Japanese police on a wild goose chase across the country. Japanese netizens are glibly comparing Ichihashi's appearance to the promotional art for role-playing game Lost Odyssey or something out of Death Note. "He looks too stylish," wrote one netizen. "He looks scary," wrote another.

This isn't Lost Odyssey or Death Note, it's something far sadder. A young woman taken in the prime of her life. After the English lesson, Ichihashi apparently said he didn't have money to pay Hawker, and persuaded her to take a taxi back to his apartment.

Hawker was brutally beaten, her mouth gagged, and her hands tied. She was discovered in a bathtub on Ichihashi's balcony filled with sand, compost, and chemicals used to decompose. Ichihashi apparently dragged his bathtub out onto the balcony. Her head had been shaved.

He cut moles off his face, scissored off part of his lower lip, and sewed a thread through his nose to alter its shape.

After missing work at her English school, the police were called on March 26, and they appeared at Ichihashi's apartment later that evening. Ichihashi escaped, and went on the lam for two years. Police found wigs in his apartment, leading to additional photos of Ichihashi to be released of him dressed in drag. There was suspicion that he was into cross dressing. Gay men reported that Ichihashi spent time with them while he eluded police. Police thought that Ichihashi might have escaped to the Philippines, a seemingly favorite destination of Japanese criminals hoping to get out of the country, or committed suicide, a seemingly favorite conclusion of Japanese police when they don't know what else to say.

During his time on the run, Ichihashi lived in net cafes and worked construction jobs in Osaka. He also lived on a remote island in a concrete bunker. He used his salary to pay for extensive plastic surgery to alter his appearance. He also tried to change his appearance though self-mutilation. He cut moles off his face, scissored off part of his lower lip, and sewed a thread through his nose to alter its shape. Ichihashi's face was plastered on posters across Japan which offered substantial rewards for any info that led to his capture.

In November 2009, Ichihashi was finally captured in Osaka as he tried to board a boat for Okinawa. Ichihashi was charged with abandoning a body. He is now on trial for her rape and murder.

While in court, Ichihashi said, "I did not intend to kill her, but I am responsible for her death—I am very sorry for what I did." He got down on his hands and knees and bowed to Hawker's parents. Ichihashi's published a book about his experiences on the run and wants to donate the royalties to Hawker's parents.

There has been commentary on how the British press have sensationalized the story, saying that the British coverage of the Hawker case paints Japanese men as depraved and a modern Yellow Peril. The Sun is quick to point out that Ichihashi had "obscene manga comic books in his flat containing graphic cartoon images of sex and violence". So...he had manga?

Whenever a citizen of any country is killed abroad, the press have a tendency to paint with broad brush strokes. This isn't unique to the UK, and not all British writers have been demonizing Japanese men—as evident below.

"I have lived in Japan for nine years, I have a Japanese husband and son, and I can honestly say that the most striking thing about people here is how downright normal they are," wrote the Guardian's Jenny Holt, in a piece titled "Japanese Men Are No 'Peril'", adding that Ichihashi is viewed as a "freak". He is. He's troubled person who is on trial for a terrible thing. After his arrest, there were very small groups of women commenting about how handsome Ichihashi was—but people falling in love with criminals isn't exclusive to Japan. Just look at all the fan mail Charles Manson still gets.

Others, such as blogger Aerynn, think the truth is somewhere in the middle. "If you are visiting Japan, don't be afraid of Japanese men, but be as cautious as you would anywhere else," wrote Aerynn. "Don't believe the 'yellow peril' hype, because Japan is not full of murderous psychopaths as Daily Mail writer Clare Campbell might have you believe, but that's not to say that it's full of women's rights campaigners, either."

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(Top photo: FNN)