Sugamo child abandonment case
The Sugamo child-abandonment incident (巣鴨子供置き去り事件? Sugamo kodomo okizari jiken) was an incident that took place in Japan in the late 1980s. The incident was covered extensively by both Japanese and international media, and was fictionalized as the 2004 film Nobody Knows.
The incident, in which a mother abandoned her five underage children, took place in 1988 in Tokyo's Toshima Ward. The children's names were never released; they were referred to simply as Children A, B, C, D, and E.
Child A, a boy, was born in 1973; Child B in 1981. Child C died soon after birth in 1984. Children D and E were born in 1985 and 1986 respectively. All of the children had different fathers. Although it is unclear, it appears that besides Child A, several (perhaps all) of the other children were unregistered. None of the children attended school. In Autumn 1987, having met a new boyfriend, the mother placed Child A in charge of the others, leaving him with ¥50,000 (around US$350 at the time) for their living expenses in their Tokyo apartment.
In April 1988, the youngest, Child E, was assaulted by friends of Child A (known only as Friend A and Friend B), and died as a result. On July 17 of the same year, acting on a tip from the landlord, Sugamo officials entered the apartment and discovered the severely malnourished Child A (then 14), Child B (seven), and Child D (three). They also found the body of Child C, but not Child E. The information given by the children was vague. It was determined that the malnourishment was caused in part by the children's diet, which consisted largely of food bought at convenience stores.
As a result of news coverage of the incident, the mother turned herself in on July 23. Her testimony revealed that the children had been alone for about nine months and that the whereabouts of Child E were unknown. On July 25, Child A's testimony revealed that Child E had been killed by Friend B of Child A, and that her body was buried in a wood in Chichibu by Child A and Friend A. Friend A and Friend B were sent to a reform school for their involvement in the death.
In August 1988, the mother was indicted for child abandonment. She received a three-year sentence, suspended for four years. Although Child A was probably not present at the time of his sister's death, he did assist Friend A in burying the body; he was indicted for abandoning a body, but in consideration of the circumstances was remanded to a care facility. After the mother's three-year sentence, she regained custody of the two daughters.
The 2004 film Nobody Knows, directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, presents a fictionalized and generally less grim account of the incident. There is no mention of Child C, whose body the mother kept in the family apartment following the child's death. Similarly, rather than being killed by Child A's friends, Child E in the film dies after an accidental fall. The police do not become involved, and the film ends with the three surviving children, aided by a female friend of Child A, continuing their impoverished, unsupervised life.
- 少年事件を考える｜「女・子供」の視点から (Shōnen Jiken o Kangaeru: "Onna-Kodomo" no Shiten kara, Asahi Shimbun-sha, 1989)
- King, Susan (9 February 2005). "Hidden neglect brought to light". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
- ?, ? (December 2006). "Just viewed "Nobody Knows," a true story of four Japanese children abandoned by their young mother, and raised by their oldest brother. Very tragic story, which was hard to believe would happen in Japan. Whatever happened to them?". Consulate General of Japan at Chicago - Webletter Archived Features. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
- Fukuoka Prefectural Library (Japanese)