A story about a man on the run from the law could make for a good read. Throw in his torment and remorse over the crime he’s alleged to have committed, and the story becomes even more compelling.
At least, that’s what Japanese publishing house Gentosha must be hoping with the release Wednesday of the memoirs of Tatsuya Ichihashi, the man charged with the March 2007 rape and murder of Lindsay Ann Hawker, a young British woman. The book’s title can be translated as ‘A record of my two year seven month void before arrest.’
To briefly recap: Hawker’s body was found in a bath on the balcony of Ichihashi’s apartment shortly after he’d slipped past a team of bungling police officers. Speculation was rife as to the whereabouts of the prime suspect, with rumours abounding of suicide, underground contacts, overseas hideaways and plastic surgery (the last one turned out to be true). Media interest (here and in Britain) was intense, and Hawker’s parents became regular visitors to Japan. The fugitive was finally caught in November 2009 as he was boarding a ferry to Okinawa.
According to a Gentosha press release, Ichihashi chronicles his flight over nine chapters, starting with his escape, through his time spent working as a labourer in various locations in Japan, his stay on a remote Okinawan island and finally his arrest. He reportedly doesn’t give any details of the attack or any possible motive, but does talk about how he wanted to bring Hawker back to life.
So why publish the book now? What does Ichihashi hope to achieve by telling his tale like this?
In the book’s introduction, Ichihashi wrote: ‘I wrote this account as one way of expressing my regret over the crime I committed.’ And on his motive for publication, he said through his lawyers: ‘I want any royalties from this account to be given as compensation to the family of the victim.’
Ichihashi’s lawyers are also quoted as saying: ‘While we believe there will be various forms of criticism (regarding the book’s publication), please understand that the defendant is in custody and has no money and is unable to do anything for the victim’s family, so he thought long and hard about (the book) and decided to do it.’
Unsurprisingly, Hawker’s family is outraged. A spokesman quoted in The Sun, a British tabloid, told of their ‘disgust’ that he had been allowed to write a book, and how it ‘has served to cause them more hurt.’
The editor responsible for the book from the Shibuya-based publisher told Tokyo Notes: ‘You have to read the book to understand why we published this. People are entitled to their own opinions. We are just a publishing company and so it’s our job to publish books and it’s not our place to comment.’
But she added: ‘We got in touch with Ichihashi’s lawyer to see if he was interested in publishing his story.’
Whatever the justification, Gentosha’s act of publishing the book, and in doing so providing the suspect with a vehicle to perhaps try to earn public sympathy, is insensitive. It’s also irresponsible given that Ichihashi is expected to be tried later this year under Japan’s new lay judge system, meaning that any citizen selected for jury duty could be influenced by the content of the book.
The Gentosha editor disputed this, saying: ‘He just wanted to relay what happened. I don’t think it’ll have any influence on the case.’
Ichihashi’s lawyers apparently agree. In the press release they stated that: ‘The publication has no direct bearing on Ichihashi’s criminal trial, and as his lawyers we will be making no further comment on the matter.’
Really? Writing in The Japan Times shortly after Ichihashi’s arrest, Stephen Green, an Australian lawyer and Doshisha University professor, expressed his concern about having citizen judges involved in the trial.
‘Ichihashi is likely to be the first person tried under the lay judge system where the circumstances of the crime have been the subject of an extraordinary amount of media scrutiny…Can Ichihashi receive a fair trial under the Japanese criminal justice system, especially considering the intense media coverage this case has generated over the last few years?’
The book’s publication will undoubtedly now prompt even more of these types of questions. And it may also leave the publisher having to eventually seek moral refuge from the consequences of its own selfish act.