Norio Nagayama was born in 1949 in Abashiri, the northernmost part of Japan that sees harsh winters where temperatures drop to -14C. He was one of eight children, born into extreme poverty. “His father was a gambler who didn’t care for his family, and his mother was left to raise the children,” explains Kyoko Otani, former defence lawyer for Nagayama.
Unable to bear her life, Nagayama’s mother left Abashiri and travelled south, to Aomori, to stay with her parents. She took only her infant children with her and left Nagayama, who was five years old at the time, behind with his older siblings. They subjected him to brutal physical violence.
The children were eventually found by the welfare department in freezing and starving conditions, and taken to live with their mother, but Nagayama continued to suffer neglect and violence at the hands of his family. His father, who had gone missing some time earlier, was later found dead on a roadside in Gifu. In a photo sent to Nagayama’s mother for identification purposes, he was simply “a dead figure drooling in the street”, says Otani – and it affected Nagayama deeply.
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