In Episode 4 of "Lost in Tokyo: Joji Obara," the story takes a dark turn as the police close in on their suspect, Joji Obara. They discover a web of evidence, including Lucie Blackman's presence in Obara's apartment and a disturbing cache of drugs and tools. The detectives intensify their efforts to get Obara to confess, but he remains silent. As the investigation deepens, the mystery of Lucie's fate becomes more urgent. Meanwhile, shocking discoveries about Obara's past shed light on the enigmatic figure at the center of the case.
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Start of Part 4 – Joji Obara
Lost in Tokyo: a story in 6 parts: this is part four: Joji Obara
Nestled on the Japanese coastline, Zushi Marina exudes an air of alluring secrecy, its craggy cliffs and serene waters concealing untold mysteries beneath their surface.
[Theme Music Start]
We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the Secret Sits in the middle and knows.
[Theme Music Play Out]
[Under Score Music]
As Katie Vickers stared at the Zushi Marina apartments, she knew that this was the place Koji had taken her. After this trip, the police took several more woman out to the apartments; Christa, Clara and Isobel all identified this as the place they had been drugged and assaulted. But none of the girls could remember an apartment number or even which of the buildings the apartment had been located in. The task of going door to door was out of the question and instead the police ran criminal records checks on every apartment owner in the complex. And out of all the apartment owners only one had a criminal record for sexually based offences.
Done Done Law and Order SVU
The owner of apartment 4314 had two arrests on his record. In October of 1998, just two years prior, he had faced apprehension for engaging in voyeurism, caught in the act of filming a woman within the confines of a ladies' restroom using a handheld camera—this marked the second instance of his involvement in such an unsettling predicament. Within the man's criminal dossier resided his mug shot, an image that proved instrumental in tracing back to his driver's license photo, thereby confirming his identity. Subsequently, the astute detectives embarked on identifying every vehicle registered under his name, and their inquiries unveiled a complex network. The man emerged as the president of multiple companies, a fact woven into the fabric of various properties scattered across the expanse of Japan, each bearing his name.
Detectives created a photo line up containing the man’s photo and they had each of the victimized women take their turn looking at the line up. Each one of the women picked the same suspect without hesitation.
Detectives began tracking one of the man’s vehicles, a white Mercedes-Benz SUV, using the intricate network of surveillance cameras that monitor Japan’s highway systems. They were able to confirm that he had traveled from Tokyo to Zushi on the day Lucie Blackman disappeared. In the days after Lucie’s disappearance the man made several trips back and forth to the city. The police Superintendent Udo decided to keep the man under strict surveillance and he had 10 police officers at a time keep a tail on the man. To avoid suspicion the police were undercover and they used different modes of transportation, one officer would follow the man in a car and then several blocks later the next officer would pick up the tail, but he would be on a bike, it was very Charlie’s angels. What was not very Charlie’s angels was the amount of time the police officers lost the man while following him. And so, as fate would have it, the inevitable occurred on a fateful day while the man was leisurely cruising the streets of Chiba—slipping through the police's grasp. The next day a letter arrived at the Azabu Police Station, post marked from Chiba, it was incensed and written with copious amounts of foul language, all punctuated by the audacious signature, "Lucie Blackman."
Superintendent Udo was confidant that they had the correct suspect and so, they began tracing his background and his movements over the past few weeks. He owned properties all over the country, many were investment properties with renters who lived in them, but many of them were his personal residents, including 3 homes in the central Tokyo alone. He owned a 2-story house with a pool and a home in the village of Moroiso on the Miura Peninsula, located just 16 miles south of Zushi. The coast of Moroiso graces the Miura Peninsula with a striking fusion of rugged allure and tranquil beauty. Rocky outcroppings punctuate the shoreline, their weathered forms standing in contrast to stretches of soft sandy beaches. The cerulean waves of Sagami Bay tenderly meet the land, their rhythmic dance painting a serene backdrop against the craggy terrain. The suspect owned an apartment in a building named Blue Sea Aburatsubo.
Maybe one standout difference between the United States Police and the Japanese Police is how well they cooperate between departments, here in the US, it is almost none existent, in Japan, it is no big deal and because of this, when the Tokyo Police contacted the Misaki police, they were faced with a story, no one was ready to hear.
The Misaki police received a complaint on July 6th from the caretaker, Ms. Abe, at Blue Sea Aburatsubo and so, they dispatched three officers to the location. Ms. Abe told the officers that just that morning a strange man had shown up and entered apartment 401, an apartment which had been unused for several years. This man did not have a key to open the door to the apartment, so he called a locksmith, who came and opened the door. The man left his two-seater Mercedes parked alongside the building. Ms. Abe’s partner, Mr. Hirokawa stated that the sports car was filled with lumpy objects covered with white sheets. Ms. Abe told the officers that the man was still in apartment 401 and they had heard some unusual noises emanating from the apartment all day.
As the officers approached the apartment door, they too could hear the repetitive thumping coming from inside of the dwelling, they knocked at the door…
There was no reply.
The officers pushed the electronic door bell and they spoke into the intercom, identifying themselves as police officers. The door groaned as it opened and there, in the doorway stood a short, middle-aged man, with thinning hair, clothed in nothing but a pair of pajama bottoms. The man’s face and chest were flush and he was sweating profusely. The man told the officers that he was going to change cloths and he shut the door. The officers heard more of the banging noises from within and then the door opened again, this time the man was more presentable, but in his hand, he held some sort of tool. One of the policemen stepped into the apartment, from the genkan, the officer noticed several strange things around the apartment, however; this man refused to allow the officers entry to inspect his home, he kept insisting that he was simply retiling the bathroom.
Just like in the United States, the police in Japan cannot randomly search through your home without a legal warrant and so with no right to enter the man’s home, they left and walked back down the stairs. Now, you may be asking yourself, why this story was so shocking and that is because, this is when it gets really weird.
As the officers were walking back down the stairs and away from apartment 401, suddenly the man emerged from the apartment once again and he called for the officers to come back up the stairs. The officers obliged and as they ascended the stairs, they could see that the man was now holding something wrapped in some newspaper. As the police stood in front of the man, he held the bundle of newspapers like a baby cradled in his arms, as he unwrapped the top of the papers, they could see something, strange. The man was holding the frozen body of a dog.
The man explained, “My beloved dog died. I thought you’d think it strange if you saw this body, so I didn’t want to let you in.” The Misaki police never followed up on this man with his mysterious dead dog and just a few days later, when reports began circulating about a missing girl who had been driven out to the seaside, the Misaki police also made no connections.
As the search for Lucie Blackman intensified letters began showing up at the Azabu Police Station. Between July and October, six letters were received, and these letters only served to add to the mystery surrounding this case. Two of the letters were scribed in perfect English and each of these letters were signed with the same forged Lucie Blackman signature of the previous letter received by the police. One of the letters was written in Japanese and this letter was 8 pages long, it was supposedly written by an acquaintance of Lucie’s and in this letter the author explains that Lucie suffered from schizophrenia and that she had multiple personalities. The writer of this letter also goes on to explain that Lucie was drowning in debt and so she had turned to prostitution in an effort to pay off these debts. At the beginning of October, the police received an envelope, which contained 1,187,000 yen, or around $1,200 USD. A letter accompanying this money and signed, once again by Lucie, explained that this money was to be used to pay off all of Lucie’s debts. The letter explained that the money was to be given to Lucie’s sister Sophie and Sophie would oversee paying off all of Lucie’s outstanding debts.
Even with detectives tailing their chief suspect in this case, they were never able to observe him sending these letters, nor had they observed him pulling so much cash from his bank. One thing the police did learn was that on October 1st, this man bought a boat. The man had purchased a 20-foot Yamaha fishing boat for $33,000 dollars and had it delivered to the Seabornia Marina, this marina was just a few hundred yards from Blue Sea Aburatsubo. The man traveled to a fishing store and purchased an anchor and a lot of rope, he told the shop owner that he needed to be able to anchor the boat in very deep water. Just ten minutes after the man left the shop, the police entered the store and asked the shop owner to tell them everything that had just happened.
Now Superintendent Udo had something to seriously consider, why had this man purchased a boat and why did he need so much rope to anchor the vessel? Udo’s educated guess was that the man intended to dispose of Lucie’s body out at sea. The suspect was still being followed by the police detectives and the evening of October 11th; he spent the night in one of his homes located just a 10-minute walk from Roppongi Crossing. That evening Superintendent Udo laid down for bed knowing that the following morning, his officers were going to arrest this man and they would finally be able to solve the case of the girl who was Lost in Tokyo.
Superintendent Udo was awakened by his phone ringing at 3:00 in the morning, when he answered he was a bit taken aback by who was on the other end of the line, it was a journalist from The Yomiuri Shimbun, the world’s best-selling newspaper. This journalist informed Udo that they were planning on running a front-page story the following morning about the imminent arrest of a suspect in the Lucie Blackman case. Udo knew that his officers needed to react before the morning papers hit the convenience store shelves.
At 6:00 AM, the officers who had been conducting surveillance on the suspect's apartment observed the man stepping out and making his way to the nearby corner convenience store. After a brief period, he emerged from the store carrying a stack of newspapers. In that moment, law enforcement swiftly moved in and apprehended the individual. He was taken into custody under suspicion of being involved in the abduction and assault case of Clara Mendez, dated back to March 31st, 1996.
During the arrest, the officers also noticed the headline on one of the newspapers, which announced the apprehension of a 48-year-old businessman and company president named Joji Obara.
Joji Obara, finally a name to the suspect that police have been tailing and have now arrested, but who is Joji Obara? There are almost no photographs that exist of Joji Obara as he looks in the year 2000 or after, in fact, the only photos that anyone could find of this man were from his youth, when Obara still thought of himself as an attractive man.
Joji Obara's birth took place on August 10, 1952, to Zainichi Korean parents in Osaka, Japan. "Zainichi Korean" refers to people who are ethnically Koreans but who live in Japan, particularly those who have been residing in Japan for generations but are not Japanese citizens. The term "Zainichi" literally translates to "residing in Japan," and it is often used to describe various ethnic groups living in Japan. In this context, "Zainichi Korean" specifically refers to people of Korean ethnicity who have been living in Japan for an extended period, sometimes spanning multiple generations. These individuals often have a distinct cultural identity and can face unique social and legal challenges due to their status as non-citizens in Japan.
In his early years, Obara's father transitioned from being a scrap collector to becoming a notably affluent proprietor of multiple properties and pachinko parlors. Pachinko parlors are very prominent entertainment establishments in Japan where players engage in a game that combines pinball and slot machine elements. These parlors, which vary in sizes from small local shops to sprawling complexes, house rows upon rows of pachinko machines, creating visually and audibly stimulating environments. These establishments also typically reek of cigarette smoke. Pachinko parlors operate in a legal gray area in Japan due to restrictions on gambling for cash prizes; instead, players receive tokens or prizes that can be exchanged for cash nearby. They are culturally significant as pachinko parlors have been an iconic part of Japanese urban life, though they have also faced scrutiny for potential gambling addiction concerns and discussions about potential industry reforms persist even today.
Obara received his education in esteemed private schools in Tokyo, supplemented by daily tutoring across a range of subjects. At the age of 15, he enrolled in a respected preparatory school associated with Keio University, essentially ensuring his admission to the university.
Following his father's death in Hong Kong when he was just 17, Obara inherited properties in both Osaka and Tokyo. After extensive travels and the completion of his studies at Keio University with degrees in politics and law, he took the step of becoming a naturalized Japanese citizen and formally changed his name. Obara directed substantial investments into real estate projects, accumulating assets that were estimated to be as high as $38 million.
The economic downturn of the 1990s led to Obara’s financial downfall, resulting in the loss of his wealth and his business during the recession. This prompted pursuits from his creditors, and there were reports suggesting that Obara was using his businesses as a cover for money laundering activities connected to the yakuza syndicate Sumiyoshi-kai.
Superintendent Udo did not have his officers take Obara to the Azabu Police Station, instead they took the man to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police headquarters in Kasumigaseki. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police building in Kasumigaseki is an imposing building that marries modernity and tradition, its glass and steel façade reflecting the city's energy. Towering spires evoke vigilance, while within, wood-paneled chambers house a blend of history and functionality. Just hours after his arrest, hundreds of Tokyo police officers were dispatched out to 20 of Obara’s properties all over Japan. They began searching the apartment in Zushi Marina, the property at Blue Sea Aburatsubo, where they had encountered Obara clutching his beloved dead dog, Obara’s home in Roppongi where he was arrested and his large house in Den-en Chofu, where he had a private pool just to name a few. Local Japanese new stations had sent their news helicopters to capture live images of the police performing their work. Japanese citizens sat in their homes and watched footage of police officers scouring through Obara’s properties on their local news stations.
All told the police recovered over 15,000 pieces of evidence and Superintendent Udo planned on supervising the logging of every piece of evidence himself. Obara would be held in a solitary cell in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police headquarters, awaiting what would come next.
In Japan a suspect with an arrest warrant can be held for 3 days, this period can be extended by a judge for 10 days and this can happen twice, keeping the suspect in holding for 23 days. After this time, a person can be incarcerated incommunicado, meaning that they would have no access to lawyers, family, or friends without any charges being brought against them. Japanese criminologist Setsuo Miyazawa writes, “The whole system is designed and implemented in such a way that the suspect will offer apparently voluntary confessions to his captors.” And this is how detectives and prosecutors work in Japan, under pressure to obtain a confession, in Japan “Confession is King”, even hard-hitting physical evidence is considered secondary to a suspect confessing.
To elicit these confessions, in the first 23 day holding period, detectives will hold a suspect in an interrogation room and simply ask the exact same questions over and over again, the suspect will stay in the room and the officers will just rotate out, so there is always a fresh officer to continue asking the questions. This interrogation technique was exactly what detectives used against Joji Obara after he was arrested on October 12th, 2000.
As I said, in Japan, confession is king, and that required a suspect’s cooperation. The problem the police were having was that Joji Obara, refused to cooperate, what so ever. As he was brought in for processing, Obara gave his fingerprints when asked, but he refused to look at the camara for a mug shot. As he stood for the photo, he would only look down at the ground, the police could not physically force Obara to look at the camara, or the photo could look as if he was being tortured by the police. So once again, there are no usable, current photos of Joji Obara. Another thing I want you to remember is that Obara does have a law degree and he understands the law and his rights extremely well, and he is about to prove both of those things to the police.
Obara was under arrest for the obduction and assault of Clara Mendez, and according to law the police have to keep their questioning to that topic alone. The true nature of Obara’s arrest was to try and find out what happened to Lucie Blackman, was he holding her somewhere, was she still alive, or had she been killed, but the police could not ask him these questions. Outside of the formal police questions, some of the officers would attempt to have side chats with Obara in which they would bring up Lucie Blackman, however; aside from confirming his name to the detectives, Obara never said a word and spent every moment he was held in the interrogation room invoking his right to remain silent. And this is how things went for two weeks, now the extended holding period was about to expire, Obara would still be held at a detention center while his case was going through the courts, however; they would not be able to continue this style of questioning if they lost Obara to the detention center. So, the detectives came up with a plan, they charged Joji Obara with the rape of Clara Mendez and then they immediately rearrested him for the assault on Katie Vickers and now they could start the entire process of questioning Obara again, for another 23 days.
The month ticked by, each day Obara was questioned by a rotating staff of detectives and each day Obara sat in silence, giving up nothing to those detectives. While this took place thousands of pieces of evidence were being picked through and cataloged in another part of the building. Detectives had to hope they could build a case on evidence if this suspect were to never confess to his crimes. And let me tell you, that evidence for this case was beginning to build quickly.
[Music Change – the evidence]
Detectives had collected a lot of hairs from Obara’s Zushi Marina apartment, those hairs were tested against DNA samples collected from Jane and Tim Blackman, the results came back and confirmed that some of the hairs belonged to Lucie Blackman, so they could confirm that Lucie had been in Obara’s apartment. Amid their investigation, detectives also stumbled upon a cache of undeveloped film rolls within the apartment. Within this treasure trove, they uncovered a poignant revelation: the final snapshots ever taken of Lucie Blackman. In two of these photographs, Lucie stands poised on the apartment's balcony, the vast expanse of the sea stretching behind her. Across the bay, the town's buildings punctuate the landscape. Lucie is clad in a short black dress, a heart-shaped pendant necklace gracing her neckline. A pair of sunglasses perches atop her head, and in her right hand, she clasps a beer. From this frozen moment, an illusion of normality prevails.
Police analyzed these photos and through some detailed recreation techniques they determined that this photo had been taken on July 1, 2000, the day that Lucie Blackman disappeared. The next item of interest was a man purse, which are a very common accessory for Japanese men. This bag contained two items of interest, one was a gas bill, scribbled on this gas bill was the phone number of the burner phone used to call Louise and Scott, remember those phone calls Louise received about Lucie joining a cult? They came from the phone number on this receipt. Also in the bag was a baggie of a mysterious white powder, after testing the detectives learned that this was a drug commonly known as Rohypnol, which is also known as the date rape drug. Detectives also found a cache of GHB and 13 bottles of chloroform.
Next the police discovered receipts from several shopping trips Obara took on the days following Lucie’s disappearance. 20 pounds of dry ice, a large packing box, three two-man tents, a folding table, a 7-gallon cooler, three bags of cement, a chisel, a hammer, gloves, plastic bags, an axe, a handsaw and a chainsaw. And then they found the notebooks.
Police now have Joji Obara in custody, but where is Lucie Blackman? Will she ever be found dead or alive? Join us next week on The Secret Sits as we continue our harrowing story, until then, we dance round in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows.
To preserve the confidentiality of those affected, certain names and nationalities have been modified.
All descriptions of Tokyo, Japan, observations about Japanese culture, and impressions of the warmth of the Japanese people stem from my extensive travel experiences in Japan and are reflective of my personal insights. – John W. Dodson
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Koreans in Japan. (2023, October 6). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koreans_in_Japan
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