Cold Case Japan: The Miyazawa Family Murders

The Wikipedia entry is itself chilling…

Location:  Setagaya, Tokyo

Date:  December 30, 2000

Target: Miyazawa family

Attack type: Mass murder, home invasion

Weapon: Knife

Deaths: 4

Perpetrator:  Unknown


The murders happened during the night of December 30, 2000, inside a house in Setagaya, a Tokyo ward.

Mikio Miyazawa, a businessman, lived there with his wife, Yasuko, who was a teacher, their 5-year-old daughter Nina and six-year-old son, Rei. The time was about 10:45 at night. Mikio was downstairs finishing a work-related matter on his computer. Yasuko and Nina were in the loft room watching TV. Rei was asleep.

The intruder, armed with a sashimi knife he had purchased at a hardware store earlier in the day, climbed over the back fence and up a tree to a second-floor bathroom window through which he gained access. He went first to Rei’s room, but he didn’t use the knife on the boy; smothering him with his own pillow instead.

Mikio must have heard some suspicious noise. He went up the stairs to investigate and surprised the intruder on the second-floor landing. He attacked Mikio with the sashimi knife – ten stab wounds about the face and neck that sent him tumbling dead to the bottom of the stairs.

Mother and daughter, coming down the ladder from the loft, watched the attack in horror. The intruder came after them, stabbing and slashing at both in a frenzy.

But suddenly, in the midst of the attack, he pulled back – coming to his senses and appalled by his own blood lust? Afraid the screams would bring people to the house before he could escape? He ran away, down the stairs.

Yasuko and Nina were badly wounded, but at least they were alive. Crawling about through their own blood, they found the family first-aid box and began to treat each other’s injuries as best they could, at least to try to stop the bleeding.

But the intruder has not escaped. He had just gone to the kitchen. The sashimi knife had broken during the attack; he needed a sturdier weapon to finish what he had started. Running back upstairs, he renewed his attack on the mother and her daughter with the cutting knife he had found in the kitchen. Even after they were dead, he continued stabbing at their corpses. The ferocity of the assault was far worse than the one he inflicted on Mikio. Afterwards, he covered their faces.

The family had been butchered; and the intruder paid them a final indignity. He stayed in the house. He stayed for several hours. He made himself at home. He was hungry, so he raided the refrigerator for ice cream. He took a crap, and didn’t flush the toilet. He took a nap on the sofa. He used Mikio’s computer to browse the internet. It was broad daylight when he left.

He had cut himself in the hand during the struggle; the wound might have been deep. He tried to stanch the bleeding with bandages from the first-aid box, so that his own blood was left there with the wife's and daughter's. His was Type-A.

In his roaming around, he left bandages strewn about the kitchen and the living room. When the bandages ran out, he used sanitary pads he found, leaving them sodden with blood in the bathtub. That became the repository for a lot of his trash – the ripped up ice cream cartons, for example.

He hunted out various items of personal identification – bank books and cards, Mikio’s driver’s license – and tried to deduce the PIN numbers. Two empty wallets were found lying around. Police estimate that about one-hundred and fifty thousand yen was missing. About $1,500.

He walked out of the front door sometime mid-morning.

Later that day, at a station a long way from the Setagaya district, a man in his thirties and wearing a black down jacket and jeans came into a medical center attached to the station to get treatment for a deep cut in his hand. He didn’t identify himself, more did he explain his he got the wound. After getting the cut cleaned and bandaged, he walked out of the clinic.

The investigation of the murders has involved 246,000 police officers. More than 12,000 pieces of evidence were collected at the scene. Sixteen thousand tips from the public. A twenty million yen reward. Eighteen years later, there are 37 officers still active in the investigation.

The house remains as it was – cordoned off, the windows boarded up,, police tape coming loose, weeds growing high in the garden. It is a duplex. The Miyazawa family lived on one side, and the mother, sister and brother-in-law of Yasuko on the other. At one time, it was part of an upper-middle class neighborhood that ranged along the edges of a municipal park. 

In the years immediately before the murders, extensive plans were made for the park’s expansion into the neighborhood. Negotiations had already been completed with the other households, compensation paid and they had already moved. Only the Miyazawa family remained, and they planned to move out the following spring.

Some things had happened in the days before the murders. Mikio had gotten into a confrontation with a group of rowdy teenagers in the skateboard arena; or it might have been a gang of bikers. Yasuko mentioned an unfamiliar car parked in front of the house; strangers wandering around.

At about 10:00 thee night of the murders, a passerby reported hearing the sounds of arguing coming from the house. At 11:30, Yasuko’s mother heard a loud banging noise from next door. Sometime after midnight, a cab driver picked up three middle-aged men in the vicinity of the house and dropped them off at a nearby station. They sat grim and silent during the ride, the cabbie remembered. After he dropped them off, he noticed some blood stains on the back seat.

The amount of evidence the murderer left behind was bewildering. Items almost like a deliberately manufactured crime scene, in which some pieces fit very neatly, but others just cause confusion.

The intruder discarded a lot of the clothes he came in and left the house in an old sweater from Mikio’s wardrobe. Police found – a sweatshirt, a pair of gloves, a hat, scarf, a handkerchief, jacket and a fanny bag. And he left his bloody foot and fingerprints all over the house.

A statement sure to have upset the Tokyo skateboarding community: “Thee outfit the perpetrator wore resembled clothes a skateboarder might wear.”

Traces of a cologne or aftershave called Drakkar Noir were found on the handkerchief. Again, another rash statement; “Drakkar Noir is said to be popular with the skateboarding crowd.”

From the footprints, his sneakers were identified at Slazenger’s, but not of a size easily bought in Japan. Size 9 is sold in Korean.

All of the clothes had previously been washed, but in “hard” water. Japan uses “soft” water. Hard water is used in Korea.

DNA analysis revealed that the killer was of mixed race. His father was probably Korean; his mother having her roots in a Mediterranean country.

The fanny bag revealed the most bizarre pieces of evidence. First, a piece of grip-tape that was used in the care and repair of skateboards. Next, traces of zelkova and willow leaves, of which the park behind the house was full. Finally, a grain of sand that was identified to have come from the Mojave Desert, near Edward’s Air Force base.

But as the years passed, and with technological advances, the evidence is constantly reevaluated. Now it is believed that the grain of sand came not from an American desert, but from the Miura peninsula, in Japan.

The motive. What was it? What are possible scenarios?

The most accepted is a psycho skateboarder brooding over the upbraiding in the park he got from Mikio a few nights before. The resentment consuming him until it drove him ballistic. Perhaps he was the American-Korean son of a military officer stationed at one of the US Army bases.

Robbery? A lot of drawers and cupboards had been ransacked. Some cash was missing, but not a great deal. One theory, the subject of a sensational book a couple of years ago, is that the family had recently received a huge amount of compensation in cash from the city for losing their house and land to the park’s expansion. According to the theory, a shady real estate developer with connections to the yakuza had gotten wind that the cash was in the house. He had hired a Korean hit-man to kill the family and then find the money. The Japanese writer of the book claims to have personally interviewed the hit-man. But against the claim is the fact that any financial transaction between the city and the family would have gone through the bank no not involved a cash handover.

One specific piece of evidence snagged my attention. 

Forensic analysis found a red fluorescent agent in the perpetrator’s discarded clothes. This was identified as used in stage property painting and design. Similar trace amounts were identified in the garage. But that was a place the intruder didn’t enter that night. Does this indicate a previous visit to the house? Or at least to the garage?

He accessed websites on Mikio’s computer, twice. The first time was at 1:18 in the morning; the second time, at 10:05, after which he unplugged the computer no finally left the house. Both times, he went into only bookmarked sites. 

One of these was of a popular Japanese theater company. Mikio is believed to have had a passion for the theater, especially for that particular group. The perpetrator made an unsuccessful attempt to buy tickets from that bookmarked site.

Was there a personal relationship between them? Could they have been linked by a shared passion for things theatrical? Could that relationship have been more intimate? Consider the ferocious amount of violence inflicted upon the two female members of the family, even after they were dead. Was he jealous of them? And, in contrast, the way the little boy died – smothered or strangled, almost without pain.

Looked at in this light, the intruder’s long sojourn in the house takes on an even more sinister meaning. The family was dead. He was no longer an intruder. This was his house now. To roam about in; to eat and take a nap in, to crap in. To luxuriate in. He was home.

And at Mikio’s computer, looking with fond memories at the bookmarked theater group site, maybe he thought: Shall we go to a performance together, Mikio-san, one last time? Let’s see if I can buy us two tickets. Nope, I can’t. Too bad.

The brutal murders of the Miyazawa family is one of the most heinous crimes in modern Japanese history. Will it ever be solved? For the thirty-seven detectives still actively working the case nearly twenty years on, the answer must be an affirmative.









David Turri

Although I was born in England, I have lived in Japan for the past forty years. That’s why this country, its people and history, form the backdrop to many of my novels. I have no big ideas to peddle; I consider myself a simple story-teller and work hard at my craft. I spin my stories in such disparate genres as horror, espionage, war, occult - and humor. I live in Osaka with a wife, two grown daughter and two young grand-daughters – the whole catastrophe, as Zorba describes married life.