Kanae Kijima, the konkatsu killer: a black widow serial killer for the Internet age

konkatsu killer EFBD8AEFBD8A

Some of you may have heard the recent news of a black widow serial killer in Japan. The more I read about this story, the more fascinating and horrifying it gets:

Investigators probing the deaths of two acquaintances of a 34-year-old woman arrested on suspicion of fraud have found that at least four other men linked to the woman died under suspicious circumstances.

All of the men lived in the Kanto district, and in one case investigators initially thought the victim had committed suicide by burning briquettes to release deadly carbon monoxide. Police are continuing to investigate the details surrounding the men’s deaths. The name of the woman, a resident of Tokyo’s Toshima Ward, has been withheld.

Investigative sources identified two of the men who died suspicious deaths as a 70-year-old man from Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, and a 53-year-old man from the Tokyo city of Ome. Unconfirmed details remained over the deaths of other men in the Kanto district.

Her name is Kanae Kijima. Investigators apparently learned of this woman’s possible involvement after reading through one of the victims’ blog posts, which is still online here. You can see from the blog this guy was very into his plastic model kits and thus might not have been all that sophisticated around women. Perhaps understandably, he was blinded by love. Here is what his last post says:

Today I will meet my fiancee’s family. Recently I have been spending most of my time looking for a new place with her and talking about our new life together. Starting tonight, we will go on a three-day, two-night pre-marriage trip.

He was found dead a mere ten hours later.

Kijima was a real piece of work. According to reports, she was a professional con-woman who met lonely men on the Internet and convinced them to ask her hand in marriage. Once “engaged,” she would start asking for money, sometimes pretending to need it for tuition. With the money from her many future husbands she lived an expensive, luxurious lifestyle, complete with the high-end condo, a wine-red Mercedes, and occasional stays at the Ritz-Carlton. She also liked gourmet food such as obscenely expensive green tea (Y2,000 for 100g), a habit that pushed her weight up to a whopping 100kg.

Born in 1974 in Hokkaido the granddaughter of a local politician, Kijima moved to Tokyo at age 18 to attend Toyo University but dropped out after a year without paying her tuition. In 2003 she was arrested for scamming someone in a Yahoo auction.

I was not able to find when her career as a black widow got started, but probably some time around 2006 when she began renting a large two-bedroom apartment in Itabashi-ku. Her scams were apparently so successful she netted a total of Y95 million before getting caught.  So over three years that’s a very comfortable annual income of around 32 million yen (or around $300,000), presumably tax-free.

It’s reported she met around 20 people on the dating site. She apparently didn’t always kill her marks – she was unsuccessful in scamming some and maybe just didn’t feel the need to kill others. The six men identified so far were the unlucky ones.

In addition to her online dating activities, she worked another angle “taking care of” an 80-year-old man who she also met on the Internet, whose house burned down in May under mysterious circumstances with him in it.

Amazingly, she left behind all kinds of evidence on the Internet. First, she gave her real identifying information to the dating site allegedly used for the crimes. Second, she documented much of her activity on her personal blog hosted by recipe site Cookpad (some of it is still available via Google’s cache, and some bloggers have been able to rifle through it). In it she posts pictures and tells stories about all the nice stuff she bought from the men she killed (of course she doesn’t go into that particular detail).

Details of this story underscore just how influential and entrenched the web has become in Japanese society. Not only did the “konkatsu” killer meet all these men on Internet dating sites (including an old man), the cops’ investigation hinges greatly on this woman’s sloppiness and overconfidence in failing to cover her tracks properly.

As juicy as all these details are, it’s important to note that this woman is being given the Noriko Sakai treatment – that is, the Saitama police haven’t officially arrested her for murder, just fraud at this point. The cops will likely hold her for a few weeks as they progress with their investigation, following the standard procedure in Japan. In the meantime, it’s possible the police are trying to get over a lack of damning evidence tying her to these killings by flooding the media with all manner of intimations (and the media is no doubt demanding details on this huge story). That may be why major media outlets have declined to report her real name for fear the character assassination could expose them to future defamation lawsuits, as argued here. Still, with all the reports of new evidence popping up they will probably get their woman.

Buy two teiki and save money, legal and perfect for budget-conscious salarymen

(Updated with note; corrected)

A lot of new stuff going on in my life prevents me from posting much, but I felt I should weigh in with this tip for fellow commuters in Japan:

Business weekly Shukan Diamond President has an article that explains how you could potentially save around 9,000 yen a year by buying two commuter passes  — one that goes most of the way, and another that covers the rest of the ground. Because of the oddities of Japan’s train pricing system, your commuter pass might go up or down if you split your commute into two separate passes.

But it’s not as simple as buying two train passes along the same route. If you do that, generally you’ll have to either get off and on again halfway through your commute, or explain to the station attendant every time you get off the train. Not practical.

But one successful example they give is this: If you live in Omiya and commute to Tokyo Omori station, you could save 9,060 yen a year by buying one pass from Omiya to Ochanomizu, and the second from Ochanomizu to Tokyo Akihabara to Omori. This will let you ride all the way to Tokyo Omori (and let you stop at Ochanomizu at no charge if you want).

As you can see, it can get kind of complicated. To help sort things out, someone has developed an application that determines the most advantageous route for any given individual. Sadly, it’s already gone viral and is thus unavailable.Those who don’t want to wait for them to add server space and Google ads can try experimenting with Yahoo’s train route finder in the meantime (if you’re desperate, try waiting until late late at night when most others are sleeping. If you do, open a mirror site for the rest of us!).

The article states that this practice is hardly new and has been used by train-savvy salarymen for some time now.When some of Tokyo’s planned new routes come online it should create whole new levels of complexity to exploit.

(Diamond article found on Yahoo Japan front page)

Note: This practice is not the same as a train scam known as kiseru in which the rider has a ticket for the beginning and end of the trip but skips out on the rest of the fare.

Amazing expose on internet “pranksters” from The Smoking Gun

I direct all MFT readers to read this amazing, detailed expose from The Smoking Gun identifying and incriminating the the denizens of “Pranknet” an online community of highly destructive and juvenile practical jokers, whose exploits include the following:

Late on the evening of February 10, a call to Room 306 at the Best Western in Shillington, Pennsylvania roused a sleeping traveler. Jonathan Davis at the front desk was calling with scary news: A ruptured gas line was threatening hotel guests, some of whom were already feeling lightheaded and dizzy.

Noting that he was following a “protocol sheet,” Davis instructed the male guest that he needed to quickly unplug all electrical devices and place wet towels at the base of the room’s door to keep carbon monoxide from entering the space. After the guest took those precautions, Davis then directed him to bust out a 5′ x 5′ section of window. The man, who happened to be a glazier, asked, “Are you serious?” When Davis urgently assured him that the drastic measure was required for his safety, the guest replied that he would put on clothes and “bust this fucker.”

Using a chair, the guest then smashed a window. As broken glass cascaded into the room, Davis then advised that the television screen would need to broken since the tube contained an electrical charge that could spark an explosion. Davis suggested the use of the toilet tank cover to disable the television. But when the guest threw the porcelain lid at the TV, it broke. So Davis directed the man to toss the set out the window. Stepping gingerly around glass shards, the guest complied.

At this point, Davis’s supervisor, Jeff Anderson, joined the call and determined that the guests in 306 had co-workers in the adjoining room. Anderson then called Room 304 and advised the man answering the phone to “remain calm.” He told the guest of the gas leak and advised him of the safety measures that had already been followed next door. The man in 304 also unplugged electrical devices, placed wet towels at the door, smashed a window, and tossed the television to the sidewalk below. Anderson then directed the guest to pull the fire alarm. As a siren wailed, the guest asked Anderson, “Can we get out of this motel? Why can’t we just leave the building?” He had previously remarked, “I hope this ain’t some kind of joke.”

This is a really impressive investigation. The author writes with a well-deserved satisfied tone and seems to almost taunt the Pranknet members with his ability to expose them. Do yourself a favor and spend the next half hour reading through it and listening to some of the calls. You’ll see what a public service it is to hopefully stop these people.

Renting in Japan vs America – Part 2

Last week I began this series with a post detailing my experience, and what I know about the system of renting a place to live in the US, mainly focusing on details that are of particular note for a comparison with Japan. I then followed up with an interlude on anecdotes of racial discrimination in the American housing market, as discrimination in apartment rental is widely discussed in Japan. I had intended to continue sooner, but we’ve had so much active discussion on the blog over the past week that I decided to hold off for a bit longer. In this post, I will describe what I know about the process of renting a residence in Japan, explaining the peculiarities of the fee structure and the search process, but not getting much into the actual laws or regulations. I decided to keep these separate as I believe it is important to first discuss the reality of the system before trying to analyze how it compares with the letter of the law. In the next post I will describe my own experiences in searching for and renting here in Kyoto, as well as providing the details of my current contract as a case study.

In Japan, the vast majority of rentals go through real estate agents, and direct rentals from a landlord are quite rare without a personal connection of some kind. A typical rental process goes as follows:

You go to a real estate agent, tell them what you’re looking for, they show you information on some potential rentals, you pick ones you want to see. This process may begin online, and there are plenty of websites for browsing real estate, but once you indicate your interest and head over to the office, things are pretty much the same.

The agent will first call the party responsible for the property, be it the actual landlord, management company, or another real estate firm to check availability, verify conditions, and arrange a viewing time. As rental units are often cross-listed with multiple agencies, they need to coordinate schedules to make sure prospective renters don’t run into one another, and that the key is available. Once one or more viewings have been arranged, the agent will then drive you around in the company car to view the properties. They will show you as many as you like without complaint, and without expecting any charge, as these services are all provided for by the introduction fee paid upon completion of a rental lease.

Once you pick one you like, they sit you down, read and explain the contract clause by clause (apparently a legal requirement) and then you sign/stamp it, pay them, they hand over the key and documents related to required disaster insurance or activation of utilities, and get to move in. After moving in, you never have any dealings with the real estate agent again, but instead usually deal with a management company (管理会社), who actually accepts rent on behalf of the owner, and fields any questions you have regarding repairs etc.

When moving in, one usually has to pay first months rent, key-money, security deposit, real estate agent fee, and an insurance fee. The monthly bill may include a ‘common maintenance fee’ (共益費) to cover costs relating to the common areas of the building, usually a few thousand yen a month (compared with a typical rent of tens of thousands yen). In the US, condo or coop residents pay a similar maintenance fee, but for rental units it is subsumed into the general rental fee. As far as I can tell, there is no logical reason for this separate fee, except to make the advertised rent look smaller than it really is.

The term ‘key money’ is the standard translation of the Japanese term reikin (礼金), which literally means something like money given in thanks, or as an obligation.  According to Wikipedia, reikin actually started as a gift given to the landlord by the family of a young student or single worker who moved from the country to the city, in exchange for the landlord watching after the naive new arrival. This gradually became institutionalized, and over the decades shifted from being a payment intended to cement a two-way social obligation (as the word implies) to a simple up-front fee paid to the owner when renting a place to live. Today, reikin equal to 1, 2 or even 3+ months rent is ubiquitous, although apparently common in some regions than others.  Unlike a security deposit, reikin is never returned, regardless of how long one stays in the place, and the amount is also unrelated to how long one intends to stay. The legal status of  has always been ambiguous, generally assumed to be technically illegal, but with no clear guidelines or alternative to paying it.

Key money does exist in the US, but is both explicitly illegal and quite rare. The only place I am aware of it being common is Manhattan, where building superintendents are known for requiring a cash bribe in exchange for leasing a desirable apartment, particularly those with rent-controlled below market-rate rent, although it probably exists in other markets as well. The two big differences are that reikin in Japan is both clearly advertised, and grudgingly tolerated, while key money in Manhattan is always an under the table cash, due to its status as a clearly illegal bribe, and that in Japan reikin always goes to the landlord, while in Manhattan it often goes to the super instead. In recent years, there has been an increasing trend to offer reikin-free apartments in exchange for a slightly higher monthly rent, which is obviously superior for anyone who isn’t completely sure they will be staying in the same place for many years, or who lacks enough savings to easily spare the hundreds or thousands of dollars (equivalent) that one has to piss away on reikin.

Security deposits (shikikin – 敷金) are also standard in Japan, and usually equal one or two months rents, as in other countries. Supposedly, landlords in Japan are far more likely to con you out of your security deposit than in most other countries, but I am told that if you press hard enough you can usually get most of it back. A good contract will specify that certain accouterments, such as the tatami mats, wallpaper, fusuma (wooden/paper screens) are “disposable” items, damage to which shall not be charged from the deposit.

Sometimes, the reikin and security deposit are combined into a somewhat bizarre ‘guaranty money’ (hoshoukin – 保証金), in which one pays a certain large amount, from which a certain smaller amount may be returned at the conclusion of the lease. This is functionally identical in every way to having a separate reikin and deposit, except that by using a different fee structure the real estate agent can disingenuously advertise the unit as ‘no reikin!!!’ while in reality being just as bad. Hoshoukin is usually 2-4 months rent, or equal to the amount that reikin and security deposit would be combined.

As I mentioned earlier, there is also a fee paid to the real estate agent, usually equal to one month rent, but sometimes companies will offer a fee equal to 1/2 month rent. Disaster insurance is also mandatory, at least when renting a house (I don’t recall for apartments), but is not particularly expensive, perhaps in the range of ¥10,000-20,000 per year.

The last fee that needs mentioning is the ‘renewal fee’ (更新料). Most apartment leases in Japan are for one or two years, after which one generally has to pay a renewal fee, usually equal to one month rent per year of lease. In Japan, one can generally cancel a lease with no penalty by giving only one month notice, which is actually one of the reasons that landlords had been hiking up the reikin for so many years-to compensate for the possible loss of income due to a very short-notice vacancy. (And also just because they can get away with it.)  The renewal fee is essentially interim reikin, discouraging tenants from making an unscheduled move in the middle of their lease, and helping to prevent loss of long-term rental income to the landlord.

While not a fee exactly, I can’t end this post without discussing the guarantor system. When renting a place in North America, ones credit worthiness is based on the credit score, which is ultimately derived from one’s entire financial history. The landlord checks the customer’s credit score, perhaps also looking a recent tax statement for proof of current earnings, and then allows them to rent if they seem sufficiently trustworthy. Generally, a co-signer or personal guarantor is only needed in cases where the renter hs no credit history or income, such as the case of the college student I mentioned in the first post. In Japan, there is no personal credit score, with personal guarantors required for and and all rentals. The guarantor (hoshounin – 保証人) the guarantor co-signs the lease with the renter, and is therefore legally on the hook should the renter skip out on rent, or refuse to pay for damages in excess of the security deposit. The guarantor’s creditworthiness is generally based on proof of income, and can be anyone that makes enough money. Foreigners can actually serve as guarantors, although permanent residency may be required. For renters who don’t have a relative, boss, teacher, or well-off close friend to serve as a guarantor there are also companies that provide guarantor services-essentially rent insurance-for around ¥50,000.

So, there you have a general overview of some of the unique properties of Japanese rental arrangements. I’ll move on to my personal experience in the next part, but I’m sure everyone will bring some corrections/additions/information on local variance to the comment thread below.

Roppongi still a seething cauldron of poison

Just got this warning from the US embassy:

July 10, 2009

Warden Message – Roppongi Security Notice:  Drink Spiking

The U.S. Embassy continues to recommend that American citizens avoid frequenting bars and clubs in the Roppongi area of Tokyo due to drink-spiking incidents.

The U.S. Embassy continues to receive reliable reports of U.S. citizens being drugged in Roppongi-area bars.  Most reports indicate that the victim unknowingly drinks a beverage that has been secretly mixed with a drug that renders the victim unconscious or stuporous for several hours, during which time large charges are fraudulently billed to the victim, sums of money are charged to the victim’s credit card, or the card is stolen.  Victims sometimes regain consciousness in the bar or club, while at other times the victim awakens on the street.  Assaults on Americans have also been reported in connection with drink-spiking.

Sign up for updates here.

It’s official – Roppongi is a pit of vipers

A warning came today from the US Embassy:

Date: March 17, 2009

This is to inform the American community that the U.S. Embassy has recommended that the embassy community avoid frequenting Roppongi bars and clubs in Tokyo due to a significant increase in reported drink-spiking incidents.  American citizens may choose to avoid frequenting drinking establishments in this area as well.

The number of reports of U.S. citizens being drugged in bars has increased significantly in recent weeks.  Typically, the victim unknowingly drinks a beverage that has been secretly mixed with a drug that renders the victim unconscious for several hours, during which time large sums of money are charged to the victim’s credit card or the card is stolen outright.  Victims sometimes regain consciousness in the bar or club, while at other times the victim awakens on the street.

Because this type of crime is already widespread in Roppongi bars and is on the rise, the U.S. Embassy has recommended that members of the embassy community avoid frequenting drinking establishments in this area.  American citizens may consider this recommendation as it applies to their own behavior.  If you, nevertheless, choose to participate in Roppongi night life, we urge you to remain extra vigilant of your surroundings and maintain a high level of situational awareness.  Establishments in the area of Roppongi Intersection (Roppongi Dori and Gaienhigashi-dori) have had the highest level of reported incidents.

Need I say more?

Reverse alchemy in action

UPDATE: Nevermind, this is apparently something to do with the real World of Warcraft!

I thought this ad for a bottom-feeding gold buyer had an interesting Heavy Metal theme to it. I guess they want people to think of their “service” as medieval-style alchemy, only in reverse:


Or maybe the WOW is supposed to stand for “World of Warcraft.” Are they expecting unemployed lardasses to pawn their mom’s jewelry so they can keep playing?

But let’s be serious — NEVER sell your gold to a random site on the Internet — they won’t pay good prices!!! Here is a good debunking of the scam:

A little online sleuthing finds that I’m not the only one who figures that if Cash4Gold has this much money to spend on TV ads, someone’s getting the short end of the stick, and it’s probably the people sending in their family heirlooms to be melted into ingots. The folks at Cockeyed.com put Cash4Gold to the test, rounding up a bunch of old rings, necklaces, and earrings, and taking them to a regular pawn shop to be appraised. The offer: $198 for the lot. They then sent the items to Cash4Gold and waited for a check in the mail. It arrived within a few days as promised… in the amount of 60 bucks. (You don’t have to accept the check; the deal isn’t done until you cash it.)

That price alone is practically criminal, but that’s where the truly slimy part of the operation begins. First, if you call Cash4Gold and ask for your stuff back, you abruptly get a better offer: In the case of the above experiment, the offer was a whopping $178. That’s a better deal, but still not market rate, though the caller was told that Cash4Gold could “manipulate the numbers on their end” to make it appear that more product was sent than was in reality. Bizarre, but it’s really the only way Cash4Gold can cover its behind to convince you the original offer wasn’t a wholesale ripoff.

One arm of the JET program possibly misappropriating funds

Very interesting post at Japan Probe on possible quasi-corruption at CLAIR, the affiliate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in charge of its share of the JET program:

The Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), the governmental organization responsible for the JET Program, could be in trouble. Popular Osaka governor Toru Hashimoto has started questioning CLAIR’s use of funds and has announced that the Osaka government may reduce its financial backing to CLAIR next year (90% of CLAIR’s financial backing comes from money paid by local governments, and Osaka pays a big slice).

The JET program is one of those rare Japanese government programs in which overlapping ministries successfully cooperate – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in charge of most of the administrative details of selecting applicants, the education ministry places them in schools, and the internal affairs ministry coordinates with local governments. Well, it looks like part of the compromise reached between the ministries was that at least the internal affairs side gets to set up a swank suite of perks for retired bureaucrats.

As I have done before, I am cross-posting my comment at Japan Probe to encourage discussion of the issue on my comments section. I began in response to earlier commenters who apparently take any mention of the JET program to debate on the JET program’s merits and the usefulness of eikaiwa teachers in general (of course I would never do that):

Did you notice that this issue has NOTHING to do with the merits of the JET program itself? The problem is that the bureaucrats have turned parts of the program into their own slush fund, which enriches their post-retirement accounts and improves their golf scores at the expense of the Japanese taxpayers and maybe even people who didn’t get accepted to the JET program (since part of the acceptance cutoff is no doubt due to budget constraints). It’s so laughable for them to have overseas offices since they don’t even process the applications – that is the foreign ministry’s job.

This misappropriation issue isn’t any reason to end the JET program. In fact, considering all the extra money they are raking in it looks like they could be accepting even more JETs. I have argued elsewhere that it may have outlived whatever functionality it had as an English teaching program, but as Yomiuri documented around its 20th anniversary the program itself has by and large been extremely beneficial to the teachers who come and have a once in a lifetime experience (or get a foothold for a life in Japan), the schools who want foreign English teachers, and Japan’s soft power as the program generates massive goodwill and a niche workforce of Japan-savvy English speakers.

But if one of the organizations involved is being exploited for no real reason but to provide an excuse for internal affairs bureaucrats to get post-retirement salaries and live the Japanese dream of endless enkai and golf with their coworkers, then Hashimoto is right to use his spending authority to try and put an end to it. As much of a showboat as he can be, that’s an example of real leadership and sticking up for what’s right.

I understand the motivation for post-retirement income, but what I will never get is why these oyaji seem to love drinking in their work suits and basically never leaving the damn office. If you are going to misappropriate funds, at least do what American politicians do and get sweet renovations to your house!

They have 12.7 billion yen a year in unused funding! I propose using that money to send free cookies to every woman who gets pregnant. It will help alleviate the low birth rate AND I’ll only overcharge the government 50 billion yen 5 billion yen a year — big savings!

Tokyo-based scammers targeting gullible UK investors in Nigerian-style scam

This is pretty shady, but I wonder if they are really even in Tokyo?

Phil, a Financial Mail on Sunday reader from Berkshire, was contacted by Calderton Capital Partners, a Tokyo firm that offers investment advice as well as acting as middlemen in mergers and acquisitions.

Calderton had some good news for Phil. It wanted to buy his holding of shares in a small American company called TBXR, and it was willing to pay $130,000 (about £90,000). This priced his holding of just over 31,000 shares at more than $4 apiece – even though the last time Phil had checked the shares were closer to five cents (less than 4p). Still, it was certainly a generous offer. In fact, it topped the almost equally generous offer made to another reader, John from Cheshire, who was also contacted from Tokyo.

This time the contact came from a firm called Cook Capital Partners, and the caller told a curious story. John held shares in an American company called Accupoll that had filed for bankruptcy in 2006. But the caller said Accupoll had been taken over by a different company, Rudy Nutrition, and he represented a bidder who was willing to pay over $98,000 (about £68,000) for John’s shares.

Cook Capital Partners certainly seems to be a busy firm. At the same time as contacting John, it was also in touch with another Financial Mail on Sunday reader, Roger, wanting to buy his shares in yet another company, Genmed Holding Corporation.

And this was the biggest offer of them all – a mouthwatering $240,000 (£166,000) for shares that Roger had every reason to believe were actually worthless!

Now for the snags. Roger, John and Phil were all told that the shares they held carried a legal restriction that stopped the deal going through. But the good news was this restriction could be removed, if they paid legal fees up front.

The up-front fees were not quite the only snags though. According to investigators at Japan’s watchdog Financial Services Agency, Cook Capital Partners is a scam. It is not registered with the FSA or licensed to carry out shares deals. There is even doubt that it is actually at its Tokyo address and telephone number.