Sakigake Watanabe – 1890

By | November 12, 2016

His woman was a geisha and he became a criminal to fund her lifestyle


Like many men, Sakigake Watanabe was in thrall to a woman. His woman was a geisha and he became a criminal to fund her lifestyle. He began to steal money from his employer and in 1880 he was caught and sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour. Sakigake attempted to escape and, as a further punishment, he was sent to the Miike coalmine, a desolate place from which few ever returned.

Two years later, he managed to escape after hiding in a lavatory. Sakigake’s father was a petit fonctionnaire in the government and he helped his son to arrange a new identity. Using the new name and credentials, Sakigake joined the civil service. He then applied for a job as a tax official and then a judicial clerk. In 1887 he had shown himself to be so proficient at the job that he was offered an assistant judgeship. The problem was that the job was in Nagasaki district, the very area where he had been sentenced. Throwing caution to the wind, Sakigake took the job. Again, he was excellent in the position and in 1890 was made up to be a full judge. He heard criminal cases and that became his downfall.

On 19 February 1891 he was recognized by the prosecuting counsel who had handled his embezzlement trial. Sakigake claimed that he was his own younger brother but, after five days of interrogation, he broke down and confessed.


Fukue, Japan




Sakigake’s father was sentenced to 18 months in jail for forgery and Sakigake was sent back to the Miike coalmine. The public rallied to 33 year-old Sakigake and he received a pardon late in 1892.

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