Sunday, December 10, 2017

Police: 3 die after sword attack near famed shrine in Tokyo

December 8, 2017 at 17:30 JST
Though I am not in the habit of posting news stories on this blog, I felt I needed to be a bit more timely with this one. All though the facts are not all known, it is obviously a great tragedy. It has all the more meaning for me as I have featured this important shrine in my book and have spent many hours on the grounds and interviewed one of the negi for the book. I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to the family and parishioners, and encourage any readers of this blog to visit this historic shrine and its magnificent festival. For details, please see Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion
Reporters gather near the Tomioka Hachimangu shrine early on Dec. 8 after a murder-suicide incident occurred there several hours earlier. (Takayuki Kakuno)
A bitter sibling rivalry apparently escalated into rampage involving swords that left three people dead and one injured near a renowned shrine in Tokyo on the night of Dec. 7.
One of those killed was Nagako Tomioka, 58, chief priest at Tomioka Hachimangu shrine in Koto Ward.

She was stabbed in the back of her head as well as chest in an ambush perpetrated by her younger brother, Shigenaga, 56, and a woman, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.
Police later on Dec. 8 confirmed the woman was Shigenaga’s 49-year-old wife, Mariko.
After the attack on Nagako, Shigenaga fatally stabbed his wife in the chest and abdomen and then committed suicide by turning his sword on himself.

His body was found with wounds to the left chest and abdomen.
Police suspect Shigenaga remained bitter about being fired as chief priest of Tomioka Hachimangu in 2001. His older sister later took over the post.

According to investigative sources, Shigenaga was arrested and indicted in January 2006 on charges of threatening his sister with postcards that said, “I will kill you,” among other things.
According to Tokyo police, Nagako was driven to her home within the shrine grounds after a meeting with local police officers.

Police said Shigenaga and his wife were hiding by a nearby building.
After the car parked and Nagako got out, Shigenaga attacked his sister with a sword with a blade about 80 centimeters long, according to security camera footage. The time of the attack was 8:25 p.m.
The 33-year-old chauffeur, who had also gotten out of the vehicle, fled the scene but was chased for about 100 meters by Mariko. She slashed his right arm with a sword with a blade about 45 cm long.
He was listed in serious condition, but his injuries were not life-threatening.

Shigenaga then stabbed his wife in front of Nagako’s home before killing himself, the video footage showed. A sword broken in half was found near Nagako’s body. A shorter sword and two knives were discovered near Shigenaga’s body.

According to people who knew the siblings, they were close as young children and often played together at the shrine, which hosts one of the three largest festivals in Tokyo.
Their father served as chief priest until Shigenaga took over.

However, he was suddenly fired in 2001, and several sources said his financial problems likely led in part to his dismissal. A classmate of Shigenaga recalled that he enjoyed a flashy lifestyle.
The father resumed as chief priest before eventually giving the post to Nagako.
After Shigenaga was fired, Nagako consulted with police the following year and said there were problems within the family about the chief priest position.

Police are now looking into the possibility that other recent problems may have triggered the attack.
A shrine member in his 50s recalled a phone call from Shigenaga in July. Over about 40 minutes, Shigenaga laid out his complaints about his sister and the shrine.
“He occasionally broke out crying or began shouting, and I felt that he was emotionally unstable,” the man said.

A woman in her 70s who is a member of the shrine and knew the siblings said the two had argued over money even before Shigenaga was dismissed as head priest.
From five to 10 years ago, shrine members received anonymous letters that criticized Nagako.
“I was always worried that something like this might occur someday, but it is still a huge shock,” the woman said.

Tomioka Hachimangu shrine was established in the early Edo Period (1603-1867) and grew in popularity under the sponsorship of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The shrine is closely linked with sumo, and several statues erected on the shrine grounds are related to the sport.

Sword-wielding ex-priest warned shrine about his ‘vengeful ghost’

December 10, 2017 at 17:55 JST
A brother who killed his sister with a sword had demanded that officials of a famed shrine in Tokyo dismiss her as chief priest or else he would “haunt” them as a “vengeful ghost.”

The warning came in a letter received by officials and representatives of shrine parishioners on Dec. 9, two days after the brother fatally stabbed his sister and wife before committing suicide at Tomioka Hachimangu shrine in Koto Ward.

The letter, written by Shigenaga Tomioka, 56, described the trouble he had had with his sister, Nagako, 58, over the years and other matters, according to people familiar with the letter.
The letter, written on eight A-4 size pages, bore a signature that is believed to be his, as well as a postmark showing that it had been dropped off in Tokyo’s Ueno district.

Police believe Shigenaga posted the letter before he went on the rampage on the night of Dec. 7.
In the letter, Shigenaga, who had been fired as chief priest of the Shinto shrine in 2001, argued that Nagako’s character was not worthy of the position. He demanded that she be expelled from the shrine and that his son be named chief priest.

“I am going to haunt you by becoming a vengeful ghost after my death if my demands are not met,” the brother warned in his letter.

Shigenaga and his wife, Mariko, 49, ambushed Nagako near her home on the shrine grounds with swords. Mariko also slashed Nagako’s driver, who suffered serious but non-life threatening injuries.
Shigenaga then fatally stabbed his wife and killed himself.

Police suspect the brother continued to harbor resentment over being fired as chief priest of Tomioka Hachimangu, according to investigative sources.

The siblings’ father, Okinaga, was chief priest of the shrine. But Shigenaga began serving as acting chief priest in November 1994, after his father became ill and was admitted to a hospital the previous month, Toshiji Sato, a lawyer representing the shrine, told a news conference on Dec. 9.
Shigenaga was promoted to chief priest in March 1995.

However, Okinaga resumed the role and fired his son as chief priest in May 2001, after his problems with women and money became a big issue within the family since 1999, according to Sato.
When Shigenaga stepped down, he apologized to family members, shrine officials and representatives of shrine parishioners for causing problems. He also promised “not to cause any trouble afterward.”
The family paid him a retirement fee for stepping down and offered financial support.
Both sides agreed that the monetary support would be terminated if he breached his promise not to cause problems.

But Shigenaga was arrested and fined for sending a menacing letter to his father and shrine officials in 2006. Nagako had reported the letter to police, and he started condemning his sister around this time, according to Sato.

Nagako was named chief priest when her father stepped down in October 2010. Okinaga died in July 2012.

With unanimous backing from shrine officials and parishioner representatives, the shrine proposed Nagako’s appointment to the Association of Shinto Shrines, an influential organization of which Tomioka Hachimangu was a member. The association rejected the proposal.

The shrine sought the association’s approval in June 2013, but again the request was not granted.
When Tomioka Hachimangu made its fourth request for approval of Nagako as chief priest in March this year, it came to light that a letter denigrating Nagako had been delivered to the association.
The letter was sent under the name of Shigenaga’s wife.

Sato believed that Shigenaga played a role in the letter. He said he sent a letter dated April 25 to the brother, warning him against such behavior. On May 29, a board of senior officials at Tomioka Hachimangu adopted a resolution to leave the association. Sato said he was entrusted to take care of procedures following Nagako’s decision to withdraw the shrine’s membership.

The lawyer said he also interviewed Nagako about details of how and why she took the post.
In late June, Shigenaga started denouncing senior shrine officials and some representatives of parishioners over the resolution. It was also learned that he made phone calls that slandered his sister.
Sato said he sent another letter to Shigenaga, dated July 10, warning him to end his series of harassment. The brother was living in Fukuoka Prefecture at the time.

The harassment ended, procedures to leave the association were completed, and Nagako and people involved in shrine affairs had developed a sense of relief.

Shigenaga killed his sister on Dec. 7. “We could have taken measures to respond if new harassment had taken place,” Sato said. “I am sorry about the attack.”

Shigenaga also apparently created problems for others after he moved to Fukuoka Prefecture from Tokyo several years ago. Neighbors in the prefecture in Kyushu said disputes erupted between Shigenaga and local residents over his car’s parking space and other issues. “I had not seen his car for several months, so I assumed that he had gone somewhere else,” a woman in the neighborhood said.

Slaying of priest, murder-suicide planned well in advance: police

December 12, 2017 at 15:05 JST

The wife of a murderous former chief priest made arrangements for her death before they carried out a carefully planned sword attack against his sister at Tomioka Hachimangu shrine in Tokyo, police said Dec. 12.
The Dec. 7 attack and murder-suicide at the shrine in Koto Ward left all three dead.
Officers with the Metropolitan Police Department said Shigenaga and Mariko Tomioka used an apartment about 30 meters from the shrine as a base for their plot to murder Nagako Tomioka, 58, the chief priest of Tomioka Hachimangu and older sister of Shigenaga, 56.
A sword with a 66-centimeter-long blade was found in the apartment along with a knife with an 80-cm blade normally used to cut up tuna and binoculars.
Police also found a letter written under Mariko’s name taped to a door frame.
“I, Mariko Tomioka, have decided to murder Nagako Tomioka because of long-standing animosity,” the letter said. “After I kill her, I plan to take responsibility by committing suicide, but if I am unable to do so due to fear, I have asked my husband, Shigenaga, to assist me in that task.”
The letter was dated Dec. 1 and was addressed to the police and media representatives.
Security cameras in the vicinity captured footage of Shigenaga and Mariko leaving the apartment building about an hour before the attack.
After Nagako got out of a vehicle near her home on the shrine grounds, Shigenaga fatally stabbed her with a sword, while Mariko chased and slashed the 33-year-old driver.
Two swords were used in the attack, and shorter knives were also found at the crime scene.
Shigenaga then killed his 49-year-old wife with a sword and committed suicide.
Police said the apartment was on the fifth floor and was rented out on June 30. Roads in the vicinity of the crime scene are clearly visible from the apartment.
Police believe the attack stemmed in part from Shigenaga’s continued bitterness about being fired as chief priest of Tomioka Hachimangu in 2001. His older sister eventually took over the post, and Shigenaga had expressed clear resentment over her promotion.

Shrine ‘cleanses’ murder sites, but worshippers may not return

December 15, 2017 at 18:05 JST

A popular Shinto shrine in Tokyo performed purification rituals at the sites of a double-murder suicide, but parishioners there remain shaken by gruesome assault that involved samurai swords.
At 4 p.m. on Dec. 14, 10 priests gathered in front of the home of Nagako Tomioka, 58, the chief priest of Tomioka Hachimangu shrine who was killed by her sword-wielding brother on Dec. 7.
The priests performed a special “oharae” purification ritual at the front entrance of the house as well as the area where the brother, Shigenaga Tomioka, 56, killed his wife, Mariko, 49, and then committed suicide.
The oharae ritual is usually conducted twice a year--the last day in June and New Year’s Eve.
Police suspect that Shigenaga, who was fired as chief priest of the shrine in Koto Ward 16 years ago, held a grudge against his sister, who had taken over the post. He and Mariko apparently planned the attack against Nagako well in advance.
“They did not hate each other in the past, but the situation somehow ended up with the worst possible ending,” a former employee of the shrine said about the siblings. “I feel terrible for the people who are connected to the shrine and who have worshiped at the shrine for many years.”
The shrine, founded in 1627, is famed for the Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri festival, one of the three major festivals held in the capital. The imperial couple attended the event in 2012.
Over the New Year’s holidays, Japanese customarily visit Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples for the first prayer of the year. Tomioka Hachimangu boasted about 300,000 New Year’s visitors every year.
Officials of the shrine held an emergency meeting on Dec. 9 to decide on an acting chief priest. Some parishioners said their faith in the shrine is unchanged, but others had different feelings.
“Although a shrine is a place where we receive the purification ritual, this horrendous case has rendered the shrine itself in need of the ritual,” said a woman in her 50s, who has made New Year’s prayers at the shrine for more than 30 years.
A 77-year-old man who lives in the neighborhood said the shrine has usually been swarmed with worshipers on the first three days of the new year.
“But I bet the number will greatly drop (in 2018),” he said.
“A letter written by the suspect was found that said he will curse the place,” the man continued. “I will never visit the shrine again. I feel sad because it was the pride of our town, and the liveliness will be gone.”
Shigenaga’s letter, written before he and his wife ambushed Nagako, demanded that his sister be dismissed as chief priest of the shrine and replaced by Shigenaga’s son.
“I am going to haunt you by becoming a vengeful ghost after my death if my demands are not met,” the letter said, according to police.
Tokyo police recently revealed that Shigenaga had, in fact, made 2,800 copies of the letter for delivery to shrines around Japan and parishioners. Each letter was signed and stamped with Shigenaga’s thumbprint.
Shigenaga left the stack of letters with a commercial handyman and gave instructions on Dec. 7, the day of attack, to “post them on the morning of Dec. 8 from anywhere other than in Koto Ward.”
Police confirmed that 1,000 of the letters were received by shrines around Japan. The other 1,800 were delivered to schools attended by children of Tomioka Hachimangu’s parishioners and eating establishments frequented by the parishioners.
(This article was compiled from reports by Yosuke Takashima and Mika Kuniyoshi.)