A Haiku-Writing Serial Killer Might Be Terrorizing a Japanese Village

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Roughly one third of the inhabitants of a tiny, rural Japanese village in the Yamaguchi Prefecture have been killed—five bodies have been found, three of them in two separate fires. And, in a literary bent, the main suspect is a 63-year-old villager who just so happened to attach this suspicious-sounding haiku on his window before disappearing: "Setting on fire, smoke gives delight, to a country fellow."

Yes, we know the actual haiku format is 5-7-5 syllables. The original haiku in Japanese goes a little something like this (according to The Japan Times): "Tsukebishite kemuri yorokobu inakamono." And considering the haiku's references to fire and, on top of that, the fact that three bodies were found in two burned down houses in the same neighborhood on Sunday, you can see why police are searching for the vanished sexagenerian, who may be mentally unstable. The other two victims were beaten to death, according to Japan Today. All five victims are reportedly in their 70s and 80s.

If the haiku's author is indeed the killer of the villagers, he will inevitably be compared to Hannibal Lecter, the Silence of the Lambs villain with an artistic bent. And then, in real life, there was Israel Keyes, the Alaska serial killer who penned poetry before committing suicide in a prison cell. Creepy, right?

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Because the village only had 10 households, this marks a major crime in the Japanese countryside. The yet-unnamed suspect, moreover, may have been a "troublemaker," according to Japan Today. In fact, one of victims actually had a run-in with the potential killer, as The Independent's Tim Walker reports:

One of the victims, Satoko Kawamura, had reportedly complained about the man’s dog. Once, after she flinched from the pet in fear, the man supposedly shouted: “Are you going to batter him to death?”

Sky News adds that the man  "once boasted to neighbours that he would escape prosecution if he killed people because he is on medication."

His posting of a haiku is especially strange, since the poetical form is supposed to encourage reflection, known in Buddhist tradition as satori. It is hard to think of any other instances in which haiku was used to gloat over an act of murder.

Photo by:  Oliver Hoffmann via Shutterstock

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.