Japanese tabloid defies privacy laws to expose identity of man who carried out the 'Kobe child murders' at age 14

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 September, 2015, 8:45pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 September, 2015, 8:45pm

A Japanese tabloid has defied laws designed to protect the rights of minors by printing the real name and a photo of a man who was just 14 when he killed two children in Kobe in 1997.

The feature published in the most recent edition of the Shukan Post magazine confirms that the man who has assumed a cover identity of Seito Sakakibara is actually Shinichiro Azuma.

Now 32, he lives in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo. The magazine also printed a photo of the man as a teenager and reports that he now works as a welder on construction sites.

The magazine justified its decision to identify the man in the story, which includes analysis by experts on his present state of mind, by saying that it is "a matter of public concern."

Azuma caused widespread anger among the relatives of the two children killed in 1997, as well as three other children who survived his attacks, when he published a book about his crimes and his time in prison in June. One of the families demanded that the publisher withdraw the book, which sold out its entire 100,000 initial run in just three weeks, earning the author an estimated Y10 million.

Titled "Zekka," which can be translated as "A song of desperation," the 294-page memoir reveals the boy’s actions and thoughts in the days and weeks before he went on his spree of violence in the spring of 1997. He also looks back at the crimes from the perspective of an adult who served around seven years in a juvenile reformatory.

Azuma also apparently wrote to the editors of all of Japan’s weekly news magazines shortly before the book was published asking them to print a letter in which he explained his reasons for writing the memoir. He also set up a web page and posted messages about the book, along with some of his drawings.

"I predicted there would be repercussions from the publishing of the book and this looks as if it may be the opening gambit," said Mark Schreiber, a Tokyo-based media commentator and writer on social trends.

Schreiber says the crime was so shocking to Japanese society in 1997 that another tabloid also printed a photo of the boy as a child at the time, but the publication of "Zekka" - and the royalties it is earning Azuma - has triggered a new backlash.

"You have to remember the terror and fear there was on the streets of Kobe at the time," he said. "He killed an 11-year-old boy, decapitated him and stuffed a note in his mouth that taunted the police to catch him," Schreiber said.

"Nobody knew where the killer would strike next and the case really shook the public."

The advanced language used in the note convinced investigators they were searching for an educated adult, but it was later learned that Azuma had used a word processor to correct his grammar.

As well as killing Jun Hase and putting his head on the gates of a school in the city, Azuma also killed 10-year-old Ayaka Yamashita