Nevada-tan is the name commonly used to describe an 11-year-old Japanese schoolgirl who was charged with murdering her classmate Satomi Mitarai. The murder occurred on June 1, 2004 at an elementary school in Sasebo, Japan and involved the slitting of Mitarai’s throat and arms with a box cutter. It has come to be known as the “Sasebo Slashing”. The un-named killer has since become an Internet meme cartoon character.
The cartoon began to appear on the Internet shortly after images of the suspected murderer were published showing her wearing a pullover hooded sweatshirt with the word “NEVADA” emblazoned across the chest (the “-tan” suffix is a variation on “-chan”, a children’s honorific, while the sweatshirt is commonly worn by fans of the University of Nevada and its sports teams).
Her real name has not been released to the press, as per Japanese legal procedures prohibiting the identification of juvenile offenders, and she is officially referred to as “Girl A” in Japanese legal documentation. However, members of Japanese internet community 2channel made public her real name on June 18, 2004 based on analysis of a picture broadcast on Japanese television; the broadcaster, Fuji Television, may have inadvertently done this as well.
The “Sasebo Slashing”
The 11-year-old schoolgirl murdered her 12-year-old classmate, Satomi Mitarai, in an empty classroom during the lunch hour at Okubo Elementary School in Sasebo. “Girl A” left Mitarai’s body at the murder scene and returned to her own classroom, her clothes covered in blood. The girls’ teacher, who had noticed that both were missing, found the body and called the police.
After being taken into custody, “Girl A” was reported as confessing to the crime, saying “I have done a bad thing” and “I am sorry, I am sorry” to police, though she initially gave no motive for the killing. Shortly afterward, “Girl A” confessed to police that she and Mitarai had fallen out as a result of messages left on the Internet.
On September 15, 2004, a Japanese Family Court ruled to institutionalize “Girl A”, putting aside her young age because of the severity of the crime. “Girl A” was sent to a reformatory in Tochigi prefecture; coincidentally, six months before, the same reformatory had released the (at the time) teenage killer known as Sakakibara.
Analysis of “Girl A”
While news reports state that there were negative comments left on “Girl A”‘s website by Mitarai (specifically that she was “heavy,” i.e. overweight) which may have been the immediate motive for the murder, investigation has shed more light on the issue. A police psychologist stated that “Girl A” was not mentally ill, and already had a history of violent incidents, from punching and kicking other classmates, to an issue with a knife the month before the murder.
There is some public speculation that “Girl A” may be suffering from (and does fit some of the classic symptoms of) hikikomori syndrome, but as of the present, no medical examiners have declared such. “Girl A” was also showing signs of withdrawing from social life, including quitting clubs, although she continued to play physical sports, particularly basketball, until shortly before the incident.
It appears that “Girl A” was heavily influenced by some of the more visceral aspects of Internet culture. An analysis of the case states that she “was a girl fascinated with urban legend, internet subculture, even going as far as guro. From her site she had linked shock flash movies and bizarre ASCII movies that would unnerve even the most hardened internet warriors.” Her website showcased her interests, which included fanfiction about her favourite film, Battle Royale, and strange “recipes” (with names like “Curse of the Purple Skull” and “Demonic Art”). A particularly strong influence was the “Red Room” horror flash video, around which she based the site’s design.
Aftermath of the “Girl A” incident
The murder sparked an ongoing debate in Japan about whether the age of criminal responsibility, shifted from 16 to 14 in 2000 due to the 1997 Sakakibara murders in Kobe, needed to be shifted again. It also raised questions regarding the exposure of young children to the Internet, and the effect of the Internet and hikikomori subculture on youth in Japan.
Members of the Japanese Diet came under heavy criticism for comments made in the wake of the killing, such as then-Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki claiming that the throat cutting was a “manly” crime.
A Battle Royale fansite Battleroyalefilm.net reported that the creators of the sequel postponed the release of the DVD (originally scheduled for June 9, 2004, a week after the killing) to later that year due to “current events.”
In the March 18, 2005 Okubo Elementary graduation, students were given a graduation album with a blank page, should the students decide to place pictures of Mitarai and “Girl A,” or class pictures containing both, on them. The school announced that photos would be made available upon request. The photos were taken securely to the school, and destroyed after prints were made; there was some speculation that this was due to “Girl A”‘s Internet fame as Nevada.
“Girl A”‘s Internet popularity
For reasons not fully determined, the Japanese web communities, primarily Futaba Channel and 2channel, fixated on this story and “adopted” the girl. Her personal website’s popularity suddenly rocketed, and when it was taken down, mirrors were established. Copies of her artwork began circulating around the web, with other artists creating variations on the originals. Fan songs, such as “Cutie NeVaDa” appeared.
In June 2005, the online store that sold the University of Nevada hooded sweatshirt reported it to be their best-selling item in the site’s online statistics; a few weeks later, the University temporarily removed the sweatshirt from their catalog. Cosplayers created “Girl A” costumes. Artists on 2channel soon turned “Girl A” into a cute “chibified” character dubbed “Nevada-tan.”
The Nevada-tan character is often depicted with short brown hair, the trademark pullover, and a crazed, murderous smile. She is rarely seen without a box cutter or other sharp implement nearby. A common representation of Nevada-tan is as ASCII art, similar to Giko, Mona, etc. She is often depicted as slashing idiotic posters on the 2channel boards. Inevitably, this spilled over into 4chan and from there to other English language imageboards, introducing Nevada-tan to the United States and the rest of the world.
It does not appear as though the existence of Nevada-tan or other aspects of the subculture surrounding the “Girl A” incident is intended to condone or lend support to the real girl’s actions; it is simply another meme, albeit one with a basis in real life. It could also simply be an expression of morbid public fascination about a shocking and grisly event, just like the continuing interest in the English Jack the Ripper killings of 1888.
The “Sasebo slashing” (佐世保小6女児同級生殺害事件 Sasebo shōroku joji dōkyūsei satsugai jiken) refers to the murder of a 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirl, Satomi Mitarai (御手洗 怜美 Mitarai Satomi), by an 11-year-old female classmate. The murder occurred on June 1, 2004 at an elementary school in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan, and involved the slitting of Mitarai’s throat and arms with a utility knife.
The killer’s real name has not been released to the press, as per Japanese legal procedures prohibiting the identification of juvenile offenders, and Japanese police referred to her as “Girl A”. The Nagasaki District Legal Affairs Bureau cautioned internet community members against their revealing her photos.
The killer became the subject of an Internet meme on Japanese web communities such as 2channel. Users nicknamed her “Nevada-tan” because a class photograph showed a girl believed to be her wearing a University of Nevada, Reno sweatshirt.
On June 1, 2004, the 11-year-old schoolgirl murdered her 12-year-old classmate, Satomi Mitarai, in an otherwise empty classroom during the lunch hour at Okubo Elementary School in Sasebo. She left Mitarai’s body at the murder scene and returned to her own classroom, her clothes covered in blood. The girls’ teacher, who had noticed that both were missing, found the body and called the police.
After being taken into custody, she was reported as confessing to the crime, saying “I am sorry, I am sorry” to police. She spent the night at the police station, often crying at times, and refused to eat anything. She was offered snacks, but refused to eat them. Eventually, she ate bread and drank juice. However, she initially mentioned no motive. Shortly afterward, she confessed to police that she and Mitarai had fallen out as a result of messages left on the Internet. She claimed that Mitarai slandered her by commenting on her weight and calling her a “goody-goody.”
On September 15, 2004, a Japanese Family Court ruled to institutionalize her, putting aside her young age because of the severity of the crime. She was sent to a reformatory in Tochigi prefecture. The Nagasaki family court in 2004 originally sentenced her to two years of involuntary commitment, but it sentenced her to an additional two years of involuntary commitment in September 2006. On May 29, 2008, local authorities announced that they did not seek her additional sentence.
The murder sparked an ongoing debate in Japan about whether the age of criminal responsibility, shifted from 16 to 14 in 2000 due to the 1997 Kobe child murders, needed to be shifted again. The killer was considered to be normal before the incident, which made the public more anxious.
Members of the Japanese Diet, such as Kiichi Inoue and Sadakazu Tanigaki, came under heavy criticism for comments made in the wake of the killing. Inoue was criticized for referring to Girl A as genki (vigorous, lively) due to the word’s usual positive connotations. Sadakazu Tanigaki was criticized for referring to the method of killing, slitting of the throat, as a “manly” crime.
Akio Mori cited this case in support of his controversial “game brain” theory, which has been criticized as “superstition”. The killer was reported to be a fan of the death-themed flash animation “Red Room”, an assertion used in support of the theory.
At the March 18, 2005 Okubo Elementary graduation, students were given a graduation album with a blank page on which they could place pictures of Mitarai, the killer, or class pictures containing both in honor of Mitarai’s death. Mitarai was posthumously awarded a graduation certificate, which her father accepted on her behalf. The killer was also awarded a certificate, as one is required in Japan in order to enter junior high, and the school believed it would assist in her “reintegration into society”.