The Sasebo Incident
The tragedy occurred in 2004 in the city of Sasebo, in Japan’s Nagasaki Prefecture, at the public Okubo Elementary School. The entry for the incident on Wikipedia JP goes into detail about what happened the day before. It also covers the day of the incident in a minute-by-minute recreation.
The trouble began in May 2004 with a diary exchange between a group of sixth-grade friends. The assailant, Tsuji Natsumi, who was 11 at the time, took umbrage with someone in her friend group using similar expressions and phrasings to the ones she used. The victim, who seemed to think this was silly, took to mocking the assailant on an Internet message board.
To say that Tsuji didn’t take this well is an understatement. She ratcheted up her own bullying campaign, breaking into and defacing the victim’s Web site repeatedly. She later confessed to police that she thought about killing the victim around this time.
On June 1st, 2004, the victim passed a note along to her group saying she wanted to leave the diary exchange. Around lunchtime, the assailant called the victim into a study room. There, she made her sit in a chair and slashed at her neck and wrists with a box cutter. The victim bolted up and fought back. But it was no use.
When the victim’s teacher noticed she was missing, they went out to the hallway. There, they found Tsuji Natsumi, standing silently and covered in blood.
The Rise of a Cult Figure
Officially, the murder is known in Japanese by the cumbersome name 佐世保小6女児同級生殺害事件 (sasebo shou roku shoji doukyuusei satsukai jiken, The Murder in a Sasebo by a 6th Grade Girl of Her Classsmate). However, the Internet will be the Internet. And thanks to the power of memes, the story took on a life of its own.
At the time of the murder, Tsuji wore a sweatshirt with the word “NEVADA” emblazoned across the front. Pictures of Tsuji wearing the shirt eventually made their way onto the Internet. Soon, artists took to drawing pics of the girl who became known as “Nevada-tan”. (“Tan” is a variation on “-chan”, a name suffix generally used for young girls or as a term of endearment.) Some are just cute pics of Tsuji. Others are fantasy recreations of her at the time of the murder.
I won’t link the pictures here as I find them in questionable taste. The morbidly curious can find them in the links in our Sources section or through a cursory Internet search. Suffice it to say that something about “Nevada-tan” captured people’s imaginations.
The Victim’s Family Speaks
Nevada-tan’s popularity as a meme seems to have peaked around 2015. In a piece he wrote around this time, writer Nakagawa Junichro pondered what the meme’s popularity said about Japanese society.
Nakagawa isn’t just a casual bystander to the incident, however. When the incident occurred, he worked for the father of the victim, Mitarashi Satomi, at the Sasebo branch of Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shinbun. Nakagawa interviewed her father about his feelings.
Mitarashi’s father seemed rather sanguine about Nevada-tan’s popularity. At the time of the incident, some called for tighter laws regarding juvenile crime. (Experts and citizens made the same appeals after Furuta Junko’s murder as well.) “I don’t know if that would prevent an incident like this, though,” he said. And Satomi’s brother added:
There’s no point in hating [Tsuji Natsumi]. I don’t know, really, I’m just tired. Dad doesn’t talk idly about revenge or anything either. In the end, I want her and me to live in the same community. I want to say, straighten up and live where I live.
Stigmatization of Asperger’s?
One unfortunate aspect of the case is that multiple news reports said that school counselors had diagnosed Tsuji with Asperger’s. Such reports likely did nothing to help the treatment of people on the autism spectrum in Japan. As it is, stigmas surrounding mental health in Japan often make it difficult for people to get the treatment they need.
Whither Tsuji’s Family?
Tsuji Natsumi only spent about two years in a psychiatric facility. She was released in 2008 and rejoined society. She has presumably changed her name; no one currently knows her whereabouts.
Okubo Elementary turned the room where Tsuji attacked her victim into a “place of rest.” According to news reports, the school’s principal says a prayer there every day.
Murderers don’t often have large fan followings in Japan. In fact, the opposite is true. When a family member is convicted – or even accused – of murder, the remaining members often find themselves hounded by an angry public. Popular opinion holds that, if one apple is rotten, then there must be something wrong with the tree.
The plight of people related to accused murderers is such a phenomenon that it’s a recurring plot point in novels and TV dramas. Perhaps one of the most famous recent examples is Ship of Theseus (テセウスの船). The original manga (and eventually TV drama) tells the tale of a young man whose father is (it turns out, wrongly) convicted of poisoning schoolchildren. The protagonist, his son, gets a chance to go back in time and prove his father’s innocence.
Of course, there’s no doubt of Tsuji Natsumi’s guilt. And sure enough, her family didn’t escape unscathed. The family eventually dissolved and scattered. While Tsuji’s father reportedly continued to live in Sasebo for a while, no one has seen him in years.
 佐世保小6女児同級生殺害事件. Wikipedia JP
 佐世保事件の加害者・辻菜摘の現在！結婚や家族情報～ネバダたんと言われる理由や殺害の動機など総まとめ. Matomedia
 当事者を茶化すマネは本当にやめたほうがいい 小6同級生殺害犯・ネバダたん人気の意味. Biz Journal
 佐世保高１同級生殺害事件 元少女（２３）の医療少年院での収容継続確定. Yahoo! News JP
 子どもの事件語るべきか 佐世保・小6殺害から15年. Nishi Nippon