Odajima Tetsuo

Death row inmate's tell-all blog opens debate




A death row inmate's blog is drawing hundreds of hits daily, but not only for its unique perspective into prison life and the mind of a convicted man. The site is also turning into a venue where readers debate capital punishment.

The mounting interest comes as the country prepares to launch its new citizen judge system in May. Under that system, ordinary people will sit alongside judges to decide the fate of people facing murder and other serious charges.

Titled "A blog by a death row inmate behind bars," the site posts commentary by Tetsuo Odajima, 65, who is incarcerated in the Tokyo Detention Center.

He was arrested in 2005 and later convicted of killing four people in three cases in 2002.

In the most high-profile case, Odajima and another man entered the Chiba Prefecture home of Takaichi Mabuchi, the chairman of Mabuchi Motor Co., and strangled Mabuchi's wife, Etsuko, 66, and Yuka, a 40-year-old daughter.

The pair then stole hundreds of thousands of yen in cash and articles worth 9.66 million yen before dousing the house with gasoline and torching it to destroy evidence.

Odajima's death sentence was finalized in November 2007 after he withdrew an appeal of a lower court ruling.

Michinori Saito, a 67-year-old journalist, places Odajima's letters on the blog with Odajima's consent. Saito set up the site, at , in October 2007.

The two began corresponding after Saito wrote Odajima before his sentence was finalized to ask how he felt about his life.

Death row inmates may write to their family members and lawyers, but usually not to others. The exceptions are a handful of people who prison authorities believe "contribute to the prisoner's mental stability."

The prison staff has the right to censor each letter.

After the two had exchanged a few letters, Saito wondered why Odajima, who struck him as someone who "can think properly," had ended up committing such heinous crimes.

Saito then obtained Odajima's permission to put the letters online, with the aim of sparking a public debate. He knew it would probably cause a backlash.

While books by and about death row inmates have appeared in the past, a blog is a novel undertaking in Japan. Official reactions have been low key.

"(The blog) should not undermine the inmate's mental stability and consideration must be made for the feelings of the victims' bereaved families," a Justice Ministry official said in reference to the blog.

When Saito started the blog, it only got a dozen or so hits in the initial months. However, readership of the blog started to rise around February 2008 when a series of executions authorized by Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama caused a stir.

Now the blog gets, on average, more than 500 hits a day, with an accumulated total of about 150,000 hits.

Odajima has posted more than 200 entries. In the Jan. 29 installment, he wrote:

"Four death row convicts were executed this morning. A convict is hanged after he or she repents and becomes spiritually awakened. That is nothing more than a criminal's complacency. Members of the bereaved family, I am afraid, may find that disgusting. I want to die an evil person, feeling my remorse."

Here is an excerpt from the Feb. 1 blog entry:

"I woke up, desperate to escape from a terrible dream, and got up to urinate. It was already bright outside. Now I find myself at the end of my life. Even if it occurred to me that 'I could have lived in a way a lot different from the one I chose,' it is impossible to relive the time I have had."

Odajima used to write often and extensively about the books he was reading and the meals he was served. In recent months, he has begun disclosing more about his inner feelings.

In December, he hinted at his fear of execution when he wrote about influenza vaccinations.

"I do not want to get a flu shot because I would rather die of illness than be hanged," he wrote.

Reader reactions vary.

Many of the comments offer little sympathy for the convicted man. But some readers have revealed a shift in the way they view him.

"I have gradually begun looking forward to reading about him mend his ways," read one comment.

Others urged calm responses to the convicted man's blog.

"We have to read his diary with a level viewpoint because we will be in a position to judge criminals as citizen judges," another said.

After the shift in Odajima's state of mind, the comments began to revolve around themes such as whether a criminal can ever be truly reformed.

Others wondered, what is it the public, soon to take part in trials, needs to know about capital punishment and death row inmates.

"With Odajima's real words sent out straight, I hope that (the blog) will push its readers to think seriously about the death penalty and the citizen judge system," Saito said.

Meanwhile, the head of the secretariat for a group including victims' families in the Mabuchi case that cooperated with the investigation into Odajima's case said the group was unaware of the blog.

"I would be angry if the blog contains anything that is an attempt to gain sympathy for him," the official said. "But if it shows he is taking a hard look at his crimes, it would help readers to think about how to prevent a recurrence of similar crimes. I hope the blog will be seen in this context."(IHT/Asahi: April 6,2009)


Mabuchi Motor murderer drops appeal of death sentence
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

TOKYO — A man convicted in the killings of four people, including the wife and daughter of the chairman of Mabuchi Motor Co., and who was appealing the death sentence he received in March has dropped the appeal and thus became a death row inmate, his lawyer said Monday.

According to the lawyer, 64-year-old Tetsuo Odajima wrote a letter to the lawyer last Thursday in which he said, "I have no means to apologize for the victims. I can only pay for my crimes with my own life. I deeply reflect on everything in my life." (Kyodo News)


Codefendant also sentenced to hang for 2002 Mabuchi robbery-murders
Friday, March 23, 2007

CHIBA (Kyodo) The Chiba District Court sentenced a second man to death Thursday for the murders of the wife and daughter of the chairman of Mabuchi Motor Co. and two others in 2002, following the same verdict handed to his codefendant in December.

Presiding Judge Wataru Nemoto found Tetsuo Odajima, 63, guilty of all counts of murder, robbery, arson and trespassing involving the three separate robbery-murder cases.

On Dec. 19, Odajima's accomplice, Katsumi Morita, 56, was also sentenced to hang by the same court. He has appealed the sentence to the Tokyo High Court.

While pleading guilty, Odajima had sought leniency.

Prosecutors had demanded the gallows.

Odajima and Morita conspired to break into the home of then Mabuchi Motor President Takaichi Mabuchi in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, on Aug. 5, 2002, and strangled Mabuchi's wife, Etsuko, 66, and daughter, Yuka, 40, before stealing hundreds of thousands of yen in cash and jewelry worth about 9.7 million yen and setting fire to the house, the court said.

Odajima also conspired with Morita in the killing of dentist Fumio Aoyagi, 71, in Tokyo on Sept. 24, 2002, and Kimie Oshima, 65, wife of a discount-ticket shop owner in Chiba Prefecture on Nov. 21 the same year for money and jewelry, according to the court.