Two days ago it was reported that an appeal by former Superfree leader Shinichiro Wada has been rejected, and his previously imposed 14-year sentence for gang rape will be upheld. This case first broke in 2003, while I was in Japan, and was easily one of the most significant news stories of the entire time I was in Japan. As in the media worldwide, there is a certain voyeuristic pleasure taken in reporting horrible crimes, in this case a multi-year campaign of highly organized gang rape carried out by members of a social club named Superfree under the personal direction of their leader Shinichiro Wada, but even for this case received an unusual amount of media attention. There are some interesting reasons why I think this case became such a public spectacle, but before discussing that it is important to summarize the grimly fascinating details of the entire long incident.
Superfree was a very unusual difficult to catagorize organization. In many ways it reminds us of the worst stereotypes of the American college fraternity, and in other ways of both a cult and a pyramid scheme. Its only existence as a legal organization was as a student organization at Waseda University, which was used by Wada as a front for all of his various activities. Superfree began as a Waseda organization, but eventually contained affiliate members at other prestigious universities throughout Japan. Despite this official existence as a Waseda University organization, it was really the personal domain of its leader Shinichiro Wada, who seems to me a classic egomaniac.
Wada first enrolled in Tokyo’s Chuo University in 1993, but aspiring to attend the more prestigious Waseda University, continued to study for that school’s entrance exam for a year while being a Chuo student. He was finally expelled from Waseda after his arrest in 2003. Wada, in his late 20s, was himself only just barely a student at Waseda, nominally enrolled in whatever part time non degree classes required the least amount of effort to keep his Waseda ID and continue to use the school ‘circle’ to recruit new members to the real Superfree club, which was organized outside of the school. When Wada was expelled from university, official recognition of the club was also withdrawn, but by then it had a life of its own.
Superfree’s primary activity was organizing parties in Tokyo nightclubs, particularly in the nightlife heavy Roppongi district. Wada was the primary organizer. He would distribute tickets to his trusted friends and high ranking members, who would pass the tickets on to their own network of lower level cronies and affiliate members, generally much younger university students, who looked upon the older Superfree members with a kind of stupid awe. The tickets were ultimately sold to the public, primarily other university students. With a long history of throwing such parties behind them, demand for Superfree entrance was high and they had no trouble making a significant profit on their events, the bulk of which filtered back up to Wada. He was reported to have made 10 million yen (currently the equivalent of about US$100,000) per year, easily enough to support a very comfortable single lifestyle, even in Tokyo.
Profit was not the only goal however; while money was key, the other goal was to attract as many attractive, young, and most importantly impressionable and naive, women as possible to the parties. This was hardly a difficult feat. Many young women in Japan, particularly those who were only able to attend lesser quality universities, are easily impressed by the name of a a top-rank university such as Waseda. The tenuous, yet official connection to Waseda was key to their ability to recruit vulnerable girls.
A Japan Times article from April of last year explained the Super Free system in these words.
Judge Sugiyama said that when Wada, a Waseda University student, became Super Free leader in 1995, a hierarchy was established that classified members as “first string,” “reserves” or “boys.” Each level was allotted quotas for selling tickets to parties organized by the group.
Wada is believed to have made more than 10 million yen a year from ticket sales. The parties sometimes drew more than 1,000 people.
Judge Sugiyama said it was under this power structure that group members began to routinely gang-rape young women attending their parties. The judge alleged that Wada encouraged members to rape with comments such as “gang rape creates solidarity among members” and “those who do not participate in gang rapes are not members.”
At the Superfree events the club members would scout out likely targets, and invite them to more private after-parties, usually held at a kind of Japanese pub known as an izakaya. As the organizers of the event, they were able to easily find someone willing to join them later on. At the afterparty they would give the girls alcoholic drinks until they “were no longer able to resist” and then have sex with them, sometimes individually, sometimes in a group. There were reports of Superfree gangrapes taking place inside izakaya, outdoors on stairwells or alleys, in hotels, and in the home of the group’s leader, Wada-and possibly the homes of other members as well. There were also reports that in some cases where alcohol was not enough, drugs were used to render the girls unconcious.
That’s enough for tonight. Tomorrow or the day after I will write the second half of this piece, summarizing the criminal cases brought against specific members of Superfree, culminating in last week’s final appeal by Shinichiro Wada himself.