It was November 13th, 1990 and autumn was giving way to winter as Fusako Sano watched a baseball game at her school. Born in Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture, Japan, Sano was nine years old and in fourth grade. Somewhere between the baseball game and arriving at home, Sano seemingly vanished into thin air.
Alarm bells were raised and a huge police search was organized, but they were unable to find the missing girl. The last time anyone saw 9-year-old Fusako Sano was as she watched a baseball game at school 1. A grade-schooler, she was walking home from school when she seemingly vanished into thin air. And despite a huge police search that was organized to rescue her, she was nowhere to be found.
Hope was running thin that Fusako Sano was still alive.
In January of 1996, a 73-year-old woman called the Kashiwazaki public health center. She was concerned about her son and said that he had been acting violent toward her. It’s uncertain if any action was taken at this time, but what is known was that she called again four years later.
January 12th, 2000, the elderly lady called once more with a follow-up on January 19th where she asked officials to come visit her.
Her 37-year-old son, Nobuyuki Sato, was acting so violent that she feared for her own safety. The officials tried to investigate the house and Sato reacted so terribly, that the police were called.
It was the police being in the house that helped to uncover a staggering crime.
Fusako Sano, 19 years old now, reached out to the officers and told them who she was. According to news reports, she said “I was abducted near the school by a man who forced me into a car. For nine years, I did not take a step out of the house. Today, I went out for the first time.” 2
Fusako Sano had been kept locked up by Nobuyuki Sato for over 9 years. She was locked up upstairs, tied up for several months and threatened with a stun gun. At first, she wanted to escape, but she was too afraid of her captor to attempt it. He used the stun gun on her and threatened her with a knife.
She had to stay quiet, she had to endure beatings, and she could be punished if she didn’t video tape the horse races properly. 3
Nobuyuki Sato cut Fusako Sano’s hair, refused to let her take a bath unless she wouldn’t be caught by his mother who lived downstairs.
Fusako was allowed to listen to the radio, spending eight years without being able to watch television before he finally allowed her to.
Fusako Sano was healthy when she was rescued, but she was thin and her muscles had atrophied from being confined. It was hard for her to walk and she would not have had the strength to fight off her captor if she tried to escape. Trapped in a dark room, Fusako suffered from jaundice and acted like the child she’d been kidnapped as.
Nobuyuki Sato was hospitalized on January 28, 2000 and deemed mentally unstable, but by February he’d been arrested for his part in the kidnapping. 4
The prosecutors were careful with their case, making sure not to damage Fusako Sano’s delicate health further by making her relive the ordeal. They also added as many minor charges to their case to try and get Nobuyuki Sato locked away for as long as possible.
The Defence claimed that their client was unfit to stand trial, but psychiatrists found him mentally fit to face the charges and Nobuyuki Sato pleaded guilty. 5
For kidnapping and holding a child captive for 9 years, Japanese law only allowed him to be jailed for a maximum of 15 years for kidnapping and bodily harm. Nobuyuki Sato was charged for 14. While this was lessened on appeal to 11 due to him being considered to be weak minded at the time of the crime 6, the Japanese supreme court reinstated it for 14 years.7
- Staff CBSNews.com. “Girl Appears After 9 Years.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 29 Jan. 2000, www.cbsnews.com/news/girl-appears-after-9-years/.
- “ASIA-PACIFIC | Japan’s House of Horror Trial Begins.” BBC News, BBC, 24 May 2000, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/761787.stm..
- “Japanese Woman, 19, Found Alive After Being Held Captive 9 Years.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 30 Jan. 2000, articles.latimes.com/2000/jan/30/news/mn-59321.
- “Man Admits Confining Girl Nine Years.” The Japan Times, 24 May 2000, www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2000/05/24/national/man-admits-confining-girl-nine-years/#.XEDQK89KgWo.
- “Kidnapper’s Mind Said to Be Weak at Time of Abduction.” The Japan Times, 26 July 2000, www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2000/07/26/national/kidnappers-mind-said-to-be-weak-at-time-of-abduction/#.XEDQIc9KgWo.
- “Man Who Held Girl for Nine Years to Serve 14, Supreme Court Rules.” The Japan Times, 11 July 2003, www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2003/07/11/national/man-who-held-girl-for-nine-years-to-serve-14-supreme-court-rules/#.XEDQLs9KgWo.