Robbery and Murder on the Sanyo Railway Train (山陽鉄道列車強盗殺人事件)

The robbery and murder on the Sanyo Railway train was a robbery and murder case that occurred in the middle of the Meiji period. The Osaka Asahi Newspaper extensively reported it as the first in-car murder case after trains started to run in Japan. Although there is no official record, it should be safe to assume that it was the first in-car murder case in Japan.

Summary of the Case

(The following is the description of the crime that was committed a century ago, and the real names are written)

Exposure of the Incident

In the middle of the night of December 2, 1898, a night train that left national railway Osaka station at 6:24 pm on the day before was running to Mitajiri station (currently Hofu station). When the train stopped at Fukuyama station of the Sanyo Railway (currently JR West Sanyo Honsen) at 2:46 am, Senior Lieutenant Naomi ADACHI (45 years old) who was the commander of the Fukuoka regiment of the 12th division of the Japanese Imperial Army was found murdered in a 2nd grade car (two-axle four-wheel car, No. 197). After receiving medical treatment in his hometown, Tottori Prefecture, he was on his way back to Fukuoka Prefecture where he worked. He got on the train at Kamigori station with a gun and a short sword for self defense purposes. It seems that he was attacked while he was asleep and that he was killed without being able to defend himself using his own weapons. His money remained untouched.

Arrest of the Suspect

In Rokujoin Village in Asakuchi County (currently Satosho town) near Kamogata station in Okayama Prefecture, which is past Fukuyama station, a man visited the Rokujoin police box to ask a policeman to find an accommodation for him. He was soaking wet and had his own clothes in his arms; therefore, the policeman interrogated him thinking that he had caught a train without paying or committed robbery. The man accidently said 'I did not kill him, Motoyoshi did,' and this led to discovery of the in-car murder. Based on the statement made by this man, Tajiro NAKAJIMA (23 years old), the police arrested Motoyoshi IWANAGA (23 years old) who was in the waiting room at Kamogata station. Since the initial report of the murder case came from Fukuyama station immediately after the arrest, both of them were sent to the police station in Fukuyama where the murder took place.

Summary of the Case

These two criminals were both working at a silk spinning company called Okayama Kyoritsu Kenshi Boseki Kaisha in Okayama Prefecture. After getting paid on November 30, they went to have fun in Fukuyama and stayed overnight. They planned to get on an uptown-bound train and rob a passenger of money during the night of December 1, but being unable to execute the plan, they got off the train at Kamogata station. Then, in order to find a target, they bought 3rd grade passenger tickets for a downtown-bound train leaving Kamogata station at 2:01 am. They saw the 2nd grade compartment where Senior Lieutenant Adachi was only the passenger, and got on the train.

Seeing Senior Lieutenant Adachi sound asleep, they thought it was lucky timing and searched for valuable items. Iwanaga then attempted to slit the throat of the Senior Lieutenant with his short sword. Senior Lieutenant Adachi fought hard, but Nakajima joined Iwanaga with his own short sword and stabbed him to death, striking him a countless number of times. Being a coward, Nakajima panicked and jumped off the running train. He did not hurt himself, but he got wet because he landed in the ditch beside the rail track. Being cold in the middle of a winter night, Nakajima went to a police box, and the murder was discovered. Iwanaga also panicked, jumped off the running train, and returned to Kamogata station without stealing any valuable items of Senior Lieutenant Adachi. He was arrested when he was waiting for the next uptown-bound train. It is believed that a chain of the crimes was committed in a car of the running train while it was running the 2.1km stretch from Kamogata station.

Background of the Crime

It was unfortunate of Senior Lieutenant Adachi that he was alone in the middle of the night, but at the same time, it was pointed out that a structural flaw of the 2-axle passenger car was a contributing factor to the background of the crime. A 2-axle passenger car was small, its maximum capacity was 32 passengers, and there were no doors to connect to the other cars.
Therefore, the train master could not monitor these cars, which were essentially 'running closed rooms.'
Also, since there were only a few passengers on the 1st or 2nd grade compartments of a night train, it would not have been possible to ask for help when a crime was committed.

After this crime occurred, many passengers wanted to get on the 3rd grade cars which contained a lot of other passengers, and higher grade cars were completely empty. For this reason, as anti-crime measures, the Sanyo Railway hired bellboys to patrol night trains and manufactured large passenger cars with connecting doors. As a result, customers started to travel in higher grade passenger cars again.

The Criminals after the Event

They were indicted, and the Okayama district court sentenced Iwanaga to capital punishment and Nakajima to life in prison on February 27, 1899. The district attorney appealed and Nakajima's case was therefore tried at the Osaka Court of Appeal (currently Osaka High Court), and as a result, on May 3, the first ruling was overturned and he was sentenced to death as well. Therefore, for the one victim, both criminals were sentenced to death. They were executed at the Osaka Horikawa Prison.

Similar Case

On a 2-axle Sanyo Railway train that left Himeji Station on December 8, a geisha on the 3rd grade car (16 years old) found herself alone with a man who was around 30 years old. The geisha was robbed of her belongings and was thrown out of the car. She luckily fell into mud and did not hurt herself. The criminal could not be identified and the case remained unsolved.


"Kiteki Issei" by the writer Hyakken UCHIDA from Okayama Prefecture included a content that a play, 'Kamogata no Taii Goroshi' (Murder of a Senior Lieutenant in Kamogata) had created based on the case.

[Original Japanese]