The Seto Taishō Murder

The Seto Taishō Murder

A Yokai Child By Peppeneppe, sourced from Adobe Stock. This image is not related to the story except that’s it is a yokai.

Editorial note– Japanese names preserve surname first order despite the uncustomary use of the first name in addressing people.

I’m Hitarashi Reizo, a retired beat reporter from the Japan Times. I covered local crimes during a time when murder had a statute of limitation of 15 years. Many times, the local police would turn a blind eye for murders by the Japanese Mafia. So, people would go missing or found dead with no clear killer.

The E-JSD is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Of course, now the laws for murder have changed since my retirement in 2000. In 2006, they extended the statute of limitations for 25 years, and only recently in 2010 did they abolish the statute of limitations.

Except the situation remains unchanged for pre-existing cases. So, the police do not give resources to older unsolved cases past the older statute of limitations.

But now 83, I feel it’s time to put down one of the strangest cases I worked on that went unsolved and is still unsolved today. It’s like this YouTuber’s video on the Kirizumi Onsen Incident, except it took place in the woman’s apartment.

It happened in the Sangenjaya, or Sancha to some, in the Setagaya district of Tokyo back in the spring of 1985.

Originally, Sangenjaya was known for its temples in the mid-Edo period, and over time became a destination filled with coffee shops, bakeries, bars, and restaurants. A place where time is supposed to slow down but also has affordable living outside the principal city.

This is where Muraoka Chiho lived. A 27-year-old woman commuted by mass transit to work as a secretary during the day. At night, she worked at a local escort service that had a bar as a front to help pay the rent.

Born in Osaka, her parents owned a ramen shop there. She attended school there but failed the exams to place for college. Based on her childhood diary, she felt ashamed for letting her family down and left one night for Tokyo. That was the last time her parents saw her until a week later when they got a phone call from her saying she was fine and living in Tokyo. Her parents pleaded with her to return, but she refused.

It wouldn’t be until nine years later that her parents would find out the fate of their daughter.

Chiho lived in a small one-room apartment next to the bar where she would pimp herself out. At least this was the testimony the bar owner and pimp said to the police.

The problem is they found her dead in her apartment after her day employer reported her missing. Chiho had several deep gash wounds across her body, including in the palms of her hands. Which suggested that she attempted to defend herself from the knife wielder during the attack. The attack was brutal, and the local examiner noted some wounds were post death, such as the ones to the eyes. But there was no evidence of sexual assault.

Originally, the police concentrated on the bar scene and questioned as many of the staff that were there that night, and as many patrons as they could locate. While they saw her with a man, the police could not locate that man and they saw him leaving the bar by himself. So, the police dismissed him as a suspect. I still think this was an initial mistake by the police detectives.

The records showed the police interviewed the employees at her day job to see if there were any connections. Nothing suspicious turned up, and many of the workers lived in the opposite direction of Chiho.

Police dismissed the idea of knife-wielding killers in Setagaya when questioned by news reporters.

Of course, this didn’t stop some of the more sensational papers from running stories of a new knife wielding terror running loose in Sangenjaya.

With no leads, the police kept the case open for the statue of limits but discontinued any additional investigations.

Her parents would bury her body in the family plot in Osaka.

Normally, this would be the end of things. And when I originally published my story, that was pretty much it, another unsolved murder.

But during the 20th anniversary of Muraoka Chiho’s death, I got a call from her younger sister, Aneka. Although I was retired, I was working part time with bloggers on mysterious stories. She knew this and wanted to get her sister’s story out on the new YouTube. I said sure, and we got together at her sister’s original apartment.

Nothing had changed in the last 20 years. But to my surprise, she had brought with her an Itako, a blind woman who acts as a spiritual medium. Along with a couple of men with video equipment.

My purpose was to take notes and act as an impartial witness on camera. Except I never was into this spiritual mumbo jumbo. I know lots of Japanese who are into Shinto are into trying to talk to the dead or clean areas from yokai, but even as a kid I was always skeptical of such nonsense. I always wanted hard proof of something. I still held her sister’s killer, was more than likely the man who left the bar the police didn’t bother with. A man who held a grudge against women, or her specifically, let his anger get the better of him. In my career on reporting of such crimes, they either were Japanese Mafia, or a sicko pushed over the edge. Kitsune possession or some other yokai didn’t need to explain this.

Chiho’s sister got the key from the landlord, who said he’s had a hard time trying to rent it out all these years because of the murder, and we entered the one-room apartment. Clearly, the landlord had tried over the years to fix the place up, adding a microwave and mini fridge. He even redid the floors to get rid of the bloodstains. The apartment’s air had this musty smell to it. Like no one had been in it for a long while.

The medium walked around in a circle with her arms outstretched, and then she convulsed. She then pointed to what was in the water closet, uttering, “There!” The video crew focused on the water closet and slowly opened the small door. But inside were water pipes, and an updated electric hot water heater. Reviewing the video only showed some static glitching which could have been from the videotape itself.

After we left, the medium said she couldn’t feel Chiho, but she felt someone else was there. Someone who died way before Chiho where the water closet was. Aneka didn’t bother to put up a video of her sister’s unsolved murder and wasted her savings on a wild goose chase.

But being the reporter I am, I was curious about this possible older death theory. Not that what a medium was saying was accurate, or I believed in her mumbo jumbo. But I couldn’t help myself checking it out. A part of me wanted to disprove her wrong by doing a thorough search that turned up nothing.

My investigation found that the small apartment was part of a restaurant’s kitchen in the late 1950s. Then, in the 1970s, the bottom level was converted into retail shops and small apartments. Digging further, I discovered that sometime around the early 1960s, there was an unsolved murder in the restaurant’s kitchen. They found repeatedly stabbed to death a young chef, including in his eyes. Sounded eerily like Chiho’s death, but in the old newspaper, it was reported that next to the person’s body was a broken plate. The reporter hinted in his story that the chef’s death was a failed break-in since it occurred at night.

But I couldn’t shake this odd detail from my brain, so I reviewed my notes again from the police transcripts with Chiho’s case. And like this older case, there it was… a broken plate by her body. What an odd piece of evidence for two cases to have. Was I dealing with a copycat serial killer or did this old one come back to his old haunt? One whose calling card is a broken plate? Could the man who was with Chiho that night be connected? It didn’t matter who the killer was because both cases were too old for the police now.

I wanted to pay my respects to both murder victims, so I went back to the small apartment, got the key from the supervisor, and entered it. I stood in the middle of the room, clapped twice, and offered some prayers.

It was at that moment when the event took place.

A puff of smoke appeared from the water closet, and a small man appeared. He was a mere 10 centimeters tall (about 4 inches), appeared to be made from broken plates arranged like a suit of samurai armor with spoons for feet. Smoke swirled about him, and he had an onion for his head. In his hands, he wielded a large butcher’s knife.

He flew straight at me, but I ducked. The beast was an angry son of a bitch. Clearly, my prayers had offended it.

This was my first time dealing with a yokai, so I wasn’t sure what to do at first. My mind whirled with the ideas of how to capture the thing so I could go on T.V. and become famous. After I had seen Ghostbusters when it was released in 1984, so I figured all I need to do was put it into a yokai proof container. But what? It was small, and there was this electric tea pot that was about the right size for it. So, ducking more of its attack, I grabbed the teapot and when it dove at me again; I let it fly right into the teapot, sealing it in.

I had done it. I had captured a yokai. I was going to be famous. I was so proud of myself as a journalist. I had proof positive of the existence of yokai inside of this teapot.

I left the apartment with the teapot and returned to my apartment. I sat there in my kitchen staring at the electric tea pot sitting motionless on the counter trying to figure out what to do next. Suddenly, a thought dawned on me. The teapot was completely motionless all the way to my apartment. Even when I was holding it, the little beast didn’t bother to rattle it from inside. Could it have calmed down once I captured it? Was this how things worked with this yokai?

Curiosity got the better of me, and I opened the teapot to look inside.

Clearly, I would not be famous after all. There was nothing in the teapot.

They say death, even if people are not even close to you, can make you see things. The situation particularly concerns, especially with the occurrence of terrible murders. And in Japan we have a rich culture of spirits. Taken together, no doubt my mind played tricks on me, and now I have a new electric tea pot to show for it.

Seto Taishō– A small but highly aggressive yokai that runs around the kitchen on tiny spoons, wielding knives or chopsticks as swords or spears. Its body is composed of broken bits of dishware and has an onion for its head. It’s known for chasing kitchen staff off who break dishes, or it’s rumored that one forms a seto taishō when kitchen staff accidentally drop and break dishes.

Pre-Order the Otomata 2023

The E-JSD is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Subscribe now

Read The E-JSD in the Substack app

Available for iOS and Android

Get the app

Click Here To Go To E-JSD.