Joji Obara (織原 城二 Obara Jōji, born 1952) is a Korean-Japanese man who has been convicted of committing multiple rapes in Japan. Most notoriously, he was tried for raping and murdering Australian national Carita Ridgway in 1992 and British national Lucie Blackman in 2000.
Joji Obara was born Kim Sung Jong (Hangul: 김성종; hanja: 金聖鐘) in 1952 to poor Zainichi Korean parents in Osaka, Japan. During his youth, his father worked his way from scrap collector to taxi driver to immensely wealthy owner of a string of pachinko parlours. Obara was educated at prestigious private schools as well as having daily tutoring in a variety of subjects such as languages and musical instruments. At age 15, he enrolled in a prestigious prep school affiliated with Keio University. At graduation, students are virtually guaranteed entrance to highly selective Keio University. Two years later, upon his father's death, he inherited property in Osaka and Tokyo. After graduating from Keio University with degrees in politics and law, he became a naturalized Japanese citizen and legally changed his name to Joji Obara.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Obara invested heavily in real estate speculation and became extremely wealthy, having assets estimated at as much as 38 million dollars. After losing his fortune when the bubble burst and his firm collapsed, he reportedly used his business as a money laundering front for the yakuza syndicate, Sumiyoshi-kai.
Obara was a drug user, who was reported to have an fixation with Western women. He developed a pattern of criminal behavior, beginning with unlawfully administering drugs to render his victim unconscious, and proceeding to abduct and rape them. Obara victimized both Japanese and Western women. He recorded his attacks on videotape, 4,000 to 5,000 of which were recovered by police, leading police to believe that Obara may have raped anywhere from 150 to 400 women. Police found extensive journals in which Obara made reference to "conquer play", a euphemism describing his sexual assaults on women who he wrote were "only good for sex" and on whom he sought "revenge on the world" drugging them with chloroform.
Lucie Blackman (September 1, 1978 – July 1, 2000) was an English woman from Sevenoaks, Kent who worked as a hostess in Roppongi in Minato, Tokyo. Common in East Asian nations, "hostess" in this sense describes young women at bars who are paid to engage in conversation with men, light their cigarettes, sing karaoke -- with a strict policy against men touching the hostesses or making sexual propositions. Blackman had previously worked as a flight attendant for British Airways and had come to Japan to see the world and earn money to pay off her debts. At the time of her disappearance, she had been working as a hostess at Casablanca, a night club in Roppongi, later called Greengrass. She was 21 years old at the time of her death.
Blackman's mysterious death and disappearance, as well as Obara's trial, received high press coverage in Japan and internationally, especially in the British media. As a result of the publicity surrounding the case, three foreign women came forward to describe waking up, sore and sick, in Obara’s bed, with no memory of the night before. (See drug-facilitated sexual assault.) Several of them, it turned out, had reported him to the Roppongi police but had been ignored.
On July 1, Blackman went on a douhan (a paid date) with a customer from Casablanca. Other than a few calls to a friend during the date, no one heard from her again. The Blackman family, wanting to find her, flew to Tokyo and took the opportunity to start a high-profile direct media campaign, including approaching British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who was in Tokyo at that time. Newspapers started publicising Blackman's disappearance on July 13, when British Prime Minister Tony Blair made mention of the case during an official visit to Japan, where he met with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. An information hotline was staffed by British expats, and an anonymous businessman funded a reward of £100,000.
On February 9, 2001, Blackman's dismembered body was found, buried in a shallow grave under a bathtub in a seaside cave at Miura, Kanagawa, about 30 miles south of Tokyo, just a few hundred metres from Obara's apartment. The body had been cut into eight pieces. Her head had been shaved and encased in concrete. The body was too decomposed to discover cause of death.
Tim Blackman, Lucie Blackman's father, accepted £450,000 in mimaikin (condolence money) from a friend of Joji Obara's. Blackman's other family members were opposed to accepting the money.
In October 2000, Obara was arrested and charged with drugging, raping, and killing Lucie Blackman and another hostess, 21-year-old Australian model Carita Ridgway, who was drugged by Obara and died of a chloroform overdose on February 29, 1992. Obara was also charged with raping six other women. According to the indictment, he made Lucie a drink containing a drug before raping her at a condominium in Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture, and she subsequently died.
Obara has maintained his innocence, claiming the drugs that caused her to die were self-administered.
Trial and verdict
On April 24, 2007, Obara was jailed for life on multiple rape charges and one manslaughter, but he was acquitted of Blackman's rape and murder.
Evidence supporting his guilt of rape included the approximately 400 videos he took, which showed him engaged in date rape activities. For the charge of manslaughter of Carita Ridgway, the prosecutor produced an autopsy report showing traces of chloroform in Ridgway's liver and a paper trail showing that the accused accompanied Ridgway to the hospital before she died. In Blackman's case, however, the prosecutor could not produce any forensic evidence linking the accused to her death. Even her cause of death could not be determined.
The judge stated that in deciding on the sentence he did not attach much importance to Obara’s payment of “consolation money” to a number of his victims.
The Japanese judicial system has received some criticism for its handling of the case. It is believed that the police did not take this missing person case seriously "because Lucie was working illegally in a job from which women often flee without notice". As a result, the discovery of the body came too late to determine the cause of the death. The verdict by a panel of three judges cited the lack of forensic evidence as a reason for acquittal. Some foreign media from common law countries also criticised the police for having leaked information in the case to the press that could cause a mistrial. However, as the Japanese civil law system did not, at that time, use juries, this could not be grounds for a mistrial.
Former prosecutor Takeshi Tsuchimoto, now a professor of criminal procedure law at Hakuoh University Law School, criticised the decision to acquit Obara for the murder of Lucie Blackman by pointing to the conviction of Masumi Hayashi due to circumstantial evidence.
The public prosecutor appealed the Blackman-related verdicts, as crucial forensic evidence had not been heard at the original trial, and on March 25, 2008, an appeal trial commenced in the Tokyo High Court. Tokyo's High Court found Obara guilty on the counts of abduction, dismemberment and disposal of Blackman's body on December 16, 2008.
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Born Kim Sung Jong in 1952 to poor Korean parents in Osaka,...
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