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The Abe Sada Incident (Part Two)

Posted Oct 02 2008 6:15pm

Continued from Part One

During the eight-session interrogation of Sada Abe, police found her strangely compelling as she talked about killing Kichizo Ishida. Sada was emphatic in saying that "I loved him so much, I wanted him all to myself. But since we were not husband and wife, as long as he lived he could be embraced by other women. I knew that if I killed him no other woman could ever touch him again, so I killed him.....". Asked why cut off his genitals, she replied ""Because I couldn't take his head or body with me. I wanted to take the part of him that brought back to me the most vivid memories." The public was fascinated with the case. While murders due to jealousy were hardly uncommon, the strange story of the geisha-turned-harlot who killed out of love mesmerized Japanese society (and you thought the Lorena Bobbitt case was memorable).

Sada Abe's trial began on November 25th, 1936 and crowds gathered for hours before the courthouse even opened to catch a glimpse of her (she wore a bizarre conical hat when entering and leaving the courtroom to hide her face). Eager reporters relayed as much of her sensational testimony as government censors allowed (even one of the three judges who tried her case later admitted to being sexually aroused by the explicit details). Considering the conservative nature of Japanese society at the time, Sada's testimony (which became a bestseller afterward) was explosive. One leading newspaper described the fascination with the case as "Sada mania" and many of the young women who watched the case were called "Sada fans".

The media furour didn't focus on Sada alone. Goro Omiya had been investigated by the police for his possible involvement in the murder but was finally released. He resigned from his political and academic posts and disappeared from public view. Kichizo Ishida's wife was devastated by her husband's death (although she could hardly have been unaware of his womanizing) but managed to keep the restaurant going. Ironically, the Yoshidaya restaurant flourished thanks to the publicity of the case. Even the inn where the murder had taken place attracted eager customers (many couples specifically asked for the room where Ishida had died).

Any hope for a lengthy trial was squashed when Sada Abe simply pled guilty to the charges against her. Despite her plea, numerous witnesses were called (including Sada's sister) and Ishida's severed genitals were presented as evidence. There was no question of the verdict, only the sentence that she would receive. Sada had been hoping for the death penalty so that she could join Ishida while the prosecution asked for a ten-year sentence. The six-year sentence that she received came as a surprise to everyone in the courtroom. In handing down the sentence, the judge explained his decision by stressing the role that Ishida had played in the events leading up to his death. He also discussed Sada's mental state at the time (despite Sada's objections, her lawyer insisted that she had been insane at the time of the murder). The judge concluded that the sentence would be enough time for Sada to rehabilitate herself in prison and start a new life upon release. Since she never committed another crime, he was probably right.

Sada's time in prison would represent the most stable period in her life. She would later describe the prison staff as "loving and caring people" and actually felt herself part of a community. Despite setbacks (especially on the first anniversary of Ishida's death), she was able to function and even studied Buddhist philosophy while in prison. Due to her being a model prisoner, her sentence was later commuted and she was released on November 10, 1940. Unfortunately, her notoriety kept her in the public eye for the rest of her life.

Even living under an alias, Sada found that public fascination with her case made starting a new life impossible. Since she left prison without any real income, she lived with her sister and brother-in-law for a time but wartime rationing forced her to support herself. Under the name "Yoshii Masako" she went to work as a maid but was fired when her employers learned her true identity. A "serious man" then asked her to become his mistress and she reluctantly accepted. This relationship ended after several years when his family learned who she really was.

Although Sada realized that her name had become "poisonous" and was distressed that the public thought of her as a "sex pervert", this would change over time as postwar attitudes concerning sexuality became more liberalized. Still, there were few occupations that were open to her as a notorious woman living alone and the stigma of her past continued to haunt her. She sued the author of a scandalous book based on supposed interviews with her (this was settled out of court) and even published her own autobiography in 1948. After years of living in semi-anonymity and working in pubs and restaurants, Sada finally managed to drop out of sight. Last seen in 1970, nothing else is known about her life. Occasional later rumours of her committing suicide or entering a convent sprang up but nothing was ever confirmed and there is no known death date.

Despite her disappearance, the fascination with Sada's case ever really ended. Her life has been the subject of non-fiction books, novels, psychoanalytic essays, and movies. The 1976 erotic classic, The Realm of the Senses is probably the best-known of the three films made about Sada's life. The film's explicit sex scenes (and its gruesome ending) caused it to be banned or censored in countries around the world but it introduced viewers to a bizarre case that is still largely unknown outside of Japan. Whether Sada Abe is a feminist icon or a notorious murderer (and she has been described as both), her case represents an important test of the changing sexual mores of Japanese culture. Whatever her final fate, Sada Abe will be remembered.

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