“My parents were arrested on the morning of my elementary school’s field day. Shortly after, we had to go to an orphanage. I still remember leaving the house in a hurry and looking into the kitchen to find my mother’s ready-made lunch box. I wish I had eaten my mother’s home-cooked food back then. ……
Koji (34, pseudonym), the eldest son of Masumi Hayashi, 60, was in fifth grade at the time. He was in the fifth grade at the time and was looking forward to showing his mother his performance in the relay at the field day.
On July 25, 1998, at a summer festival in Wakayama City, four people died and 63 others were acutely poisoned by arsenic in the Wakayama Curry Incident. In December of the same year, death row inmate Masumi Hayashi was arrested on suspicion of murder and attempted murder. On June 9 this year, 23 years after the incident, her 37-year-old daughter and her 4-year-old daughter threw themselves off a bridge at Kansai Airport.
Gazing at the river at night in a residential area of Wakayama City, Koji began to talk quietly.
He said, “Immediately after the incident on July 25, I was still living a peaceful life. I would invite reporters who came to ask questions at houses in the area to my house and we would sit around the dinner table, and the reporters would ask me if I was doing my homework. My father was very friendly with them.
It was only when a month after the incident, a newspaper reported on my parents’ alleged insurance fraud that things started to go wrong. I think this made them think that they could pursue me mercilessly. They climbed up the ladder and peeked into our house, opened the garbage when we took it out and looked at the contents, and even looked at the letters in the mailbox without permission. Every day, there would be about 200 media people sitting in front of our house day and night.
After the summer vacation, my friends stopped playing with me, my sister and father started questioning my mother and arguing with her, and even our good neighbors started leaking to the media that the house had always been strange.
On the morning of October 4, 1998, when his parents were arrested on suspicion of insurance fraud, Koji woke up to the sound of his sister shouting his name. His parents had already been taken away by the police, and Koji and his family were told to pack their belongings.
When they tried to take their favorite fishing rod with them, a female police officer told them, “Don’t take that. When I tried to take my favorite fishing rod, a female police officer told me, ‘Don’t take that, you’ll never be able to fish again. From the day I was placed in the orphanage, I was surrounded by the children who were there before me and was beaten and kicked for about an hour every day. I was even shot in the face with an air gun and hit in the head with an iron array. I was also at school with them, so there was no way to escape.
In junior high school, I was sexually assaulted by a female staff member of the facility. It’s a memory I don’t want to remember. When I became a high school student, I went to a school a little farther away. I had a good time at first, but soon my true identity was discovered and I lost my place. Even after I got a job, it became difficult for me to stay at work when my identity was exposed, so I kept changing jobs. When I was a child, I thought we would all be able to live in that house again someday, but my parents’ house was burned down in an arson attack in ’00.
After I entered the workforce, I thought about getting married, but every time I told my partner’s parents that I was the son of a death row inmate, they would break it off. There was even a time when a parent who had been kind to me threw salt at me, shouting, ‘I can’t give my daughter to the son of a death row inmate,’ as soon as I told them.
Memories of happy family reunions
Even in the midst of these painful experiences, Koji could not feel hatred toward his parents. This is because the eleven years before his arrest were filled with happy memories.
I enjoyed having dinner with my family,” he said. Even the day before my arrest, my mother would give me a thumbs-up and smile, saying, ‘I’ll make you a super-fancy lunch box for tomorrow’s field day. She was a very kind person. Even now, when I go to visit her, she asks me, “Have you found a girlfriend? Even now, when I visit her, she asks me if I have found a girlfriend, and tells me to be careful with my corona.
In the end, there is no one else besides my mother who would say such things to me. I was aware that my two older sisters and my younger sister had been treated badly in the orphanage, but I persevered by sending letters to my father and mother, telling them that we were all enjoying our lives and updating them on what was going on with my siblings. Now each of us is leading a different life, but we are not on bad terms.
The eldest daughter, who committed suicide in June, had even changed her name without telling anyone in the family. In order to live as a normal person, she had to hide the fact that she was a member of the Hayashi family.
“I think the confirmation of my mother’s death sentence came as quite a shock to my sister. I think the confirmation of my mother’s death sentence came as quite a shock to my sister, and it became clear to her that the world would not believe her even if she said that my mother did not do it. The court did not accept our testimony and treated us as liars. But if I didn’t cut ties with my parents, I wouldn’t be able to lead a normal life. I think my sister was torn between wanting to save her mother and wanting to get away from her.
Koji describes his current state of mind after living in the public eye for 23 years.
“I think I have no choice but to accept this life. It’s not a life where you can walk in the middle of the road. (I have to live my life with discernment. I think that our family’s heart has died once. However, I feel much better when I talk about myself to reporters like this. It’s comforting to know that I don’t have to lie to hide my identity.
Even after 23 years, I still feel this anxiety. Every summer, the story hits the Internet and people remember our family. I hope it will end soon, but we still have a long way to go.”
He says that the reason he has not moved to other prefectures and continues to live in Wakayama, where he still has painful memories, is because of his father, Kenji, 76.
I love my father,” she said. He’s from the Showa era, and he’s an idiot. When I went to the supermarket after I was released, I saw a tomato for 300 yen. I would put it back on the shelf and say, ‘That’s too expensive. He would put the tomato back on the shelf, saying, ‘Oh, come on, someone who committed 800 million yen in insurance fraud is going to put a 300 yen tomato back on the shelf?
I used to be rough with my money. My sense of money has returned to normal. I want to see my mother’s final days. If I cut ties with my parents, I might be able to live a free life. But I don’t want to do that. When I get married and start a family, I will definitely regret it when the news of my mother’s execution breaks.
Koji frequents the Osaka Detention Center where his mother is kept. He still believes in his mother, even though he thinks it is inevitable that she would be executed for her crime. With his second request for a retrial accepted in May this year, and his sister’s suicide, his life moves forward with many scars and a ray of hope.
From the September 3, 2021 issue of FRIDAY
Photography： Kei Kato, Yutaka Asai