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May 21st 1936: Sada Abe incident

On this day in 1936, Sada Abe was arrested for murder after wandering the streets of Tokyo with her dead lover’s severed genitals in her handbag. Abe was born to a successful middle-class Tokyo family, but was sent to work as a geisha after being raped by a family acquaintance aged 15. Abe moved from the geisha house to working as a prostitute. She eventually found work at a restaurant owned by Kichizo Ishida, a married man and notorious womaniser. In April 1936, Abe and Ishida began meeting for prolonged, experimental sexual encounters. When Ishida returned to his wife, Abe grew jealous and began to consider killing him. The lovers met again in mid-May, and during this encounter experimented with erotic asphyxiation. On the night of May 18th, Abe wrapped her sash around Ishida’s neck while he was asleep, strangling him to death. Abe then severed his genitalia, wrote ‘Sada, Kichi together’ on his thigh in blood, and carved the Japanese character for her name into his arm. Abe left the inn, and, once the body was found, a search was mounted to track her down. She was arrested at an inn a few days later, and Abe freely confessed to the crime, claiming she killed him to ensure no other woman could be with him. Abe explained that she severed his genitalia because she “wanted to take the part of him that brought back to me the most vivid memories.” Sada Abe was convicted of murder and mutilation of a corpse, and was sentenced to prison; she was released in 1941 and disappeared from the public eye. The scandalous case sent shockwaves through conservative Japanese society, and made Sada Abe an infamous name.

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