The Fukuoka Incident and the Campaign for a Retrial

Soon after The Second World War, on May 20th, 1947, two clothes merchants were shot and killed in Fukuoka city, Japan. The police assumed it was a case of robbery and murder involving the black market in military uniforms, and arrested Mr. Takeo Nishi, Mr. Kenjiro Ishii, and five other men. The police contended that the seven men, with Mr. Nishi as the ringleader and Mr. Ishii as the killer, had conspired to murder the two dealers and steal an 80,000 yen deposit.

After being arrested, Mr. Nishi admitted to having received the 80,000 yen deposit, but said that he had received it justly, in the normal course of business. Mr. Ishii readily admitted shooting the two men. He stated, however, that because one of the merchants had drawn a gun, Mr. Ishii had pulled his trigger reflexively, in an act of self-defense, thinking the merchants were going to kill him. Furthermore, both Mr. Nishi and Mr. Ishii asserted that the money Mr. Nishi carried had no connection whatsoever with the killings.

However, Japan had just been defeated in the war with China, among other countries, and one of the men who were killed was Chinese. Pressure by the occupation authorities on the police and the trial therefore resulted in an unjust frame-up, and both Mr. Nishi and Mr. Ishii were sentenced to death. As a matter of fact, the black market transaction in military uniforms and the killing of the two men were separate incidents. It was no more than coincidence that brought them together. If the prison chaplain Rev. Tairyu Furukawa had not set out to find out the truth, the two prisoners would have been executed soon after their sentences had been finalized, and the truth about the Incident would have been buried in darkness forever.

In spite of Rev. Furukawa's efforts for 15 years to free Mr. Nishi and Mr. Ishii, Mr. Nishi was suddenly executed, on June 17th, 1975 after 28 years' incarceration. At the same time, Mr. Ishii's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. No reason was given for either the execution or the additional commutation.

Fourteen years after Mr. Nishi's execution, Mr. Ishii was released on parole after 42 years and 7 months' imprisonment on December 8th, 1989. It was the longest prison term in Japan's history. He lived with Rev. Furukawa and his family for several years and later moved into a nursing home. (Mr. Ishii was eagerly anticipating the start of the retrial, keeping Mr. Nishi's last words "fight till the end" in his heart, but he passed away at 91 years old in 2009.)

After Rev. Furukawa first met Mr. Nishi's bereaved family in 1995, he decided to try to obtain a posthumous retrial and made this a formal announcement. Furthermore, he was approached by professional people who wanted to help make the retrial a reality. While he was preparing in anticipation for the start of the retrial, his health suddenly declined and he passed away in Summer 2000. His long cherished wishes and work, however, are being carried on by his family.