The Sasebo Slashing — Japan’s Youngest Killer

Tuesday, June 1, 2004, at Okubo Elementary School in Sasebo, Nagasaki, Japan would be unlike any other before it. At lunchtime that day, 11-year-old Natsumi Tsuji invited her classmate and friend, 12-year-old Satomi Mitarai, into an empty classroom where she promised to show her a new game.

Under the guise of walking her through how the game was to be played, Natsumi guided her to a chair, where she sat down and allowed Natsumi to remove her glasses and place them nearby. Satomi was told she was going to die, but she wasn’t bothered by this. Natsumi was known as a bit of a horror buff and so it was just assumed to be a part of whatever game she had in mind.

Natsumi told Satomi not to look and offered her a towel to go over her eyes, but Satomi declined. Instead, Natsumi covered Satomi’s eyes with one hand and pulled a box cutter out of her pocket with the other. She plunged the middle into Satomi’s neck and slit her throat, leaving her friend voiceless and unable to call for help. Next, Natsumi slit both of Satomi’s wrists. The girl fell to the floor to suffer in silence as she bled out on the floor below her.

Afterward, Natsumi walked out of the classroom and made her way down a nearby staircase, her clothes covered in Satomi’s blood. One student took out her cell phone and snapped a photo. The original photo was seized by police and people who might have others were warned against posting them due to the protection of the minor’s identity. Still, it didn’t stop someone from recreating the image and circulating it far and wide as if it were the original. The girl in the photo below, however, is not wearing the same Nevada sweatshirt as Tsuji was on that day. This is merely the copycat version of what someone said they saw as she came down the stairs.

Recreation of Natsumi descending school steps (Photo Credit: Reddit)
Upon entering the classroom, students were horrified by her appearance, but none so much as her teacher. She had already noticed that the two girls were missing during lunch and rushed out in a panic to find Satomi. Natsumi was right behind her, tearfully telling her that she had done something wrong.
It was already too late for Satomi. The massive blood loss from her injuries resulted in heart failure before an ambulance could be brought to the scene.
The question on everyone’s mind was what possessed such a young girl to do something like this to her friend?
To all that knew her, Natsumi Tsuji seemed like a fairly well-adjusted little girl. She played basketball on the school team and had an excessively high IQ for her age. She tested at about 140, an IQ held by only about 0.5% of the population.

At home, she enjoyed playing with her cats and watching movies, but a change in her routine seems to have taken her down a dark path. Her mother pulled her off the basketball team because she felt the extracurricular sport was affecting Natsumi’s grades. They had shown a slight drop and her mother had insisted that she give up the sport until her grades showed improvement.
Natsumi seemed to resent this and turned to the internet for entertainment when not studying. She spent much of her time alone watching anime and manga but also enjoyed a number of horror movies. One film, in particular, that she found of interest was the film adaptation of “Battle Royale.” The storyline centers around a group of students who are sent to a remote location where they must kill one another to survive. Natsumi became infatuated with the extreme violence she saw on her screen.

However, there are a lot of children and adults who enjoy these types of films who don’t develop homicidal tendencies, so it can hardly be blamed for her actions. Initially, it seemed to have cultivated her creativity instead. She decided to create a website of her own horror animations and was quite successful with it. She was quickly making herself known in the circles that make up the gore genre.
Then, she had an argument with Satomi. The spat seems to have started with Satomi told her that she was more popular and posted a message on Natsumi’s growing horror site calling her “fat” and “pretentious.” When Natsumi demanded that she apologize, Satomi refused and dismissed her anger over it.

What she didn’t count on was the rage that Natsumi felt over being insulted by someone who, up until that point, she had considered one of her best friends.
Though her mother had already allowed her to return to her beloved basketball, it was now Natsumi who gave up the sport. Her grades began to drop even without the sports and her entire demeanor began to change. She wrote in her diary that she didn’t really like playing with her friends. She became more openly hostile toward them and her family. She lashed out at classmates, kicking boys at her school or shoving them against walls in the hallways.

During all of this, she continued to work on her horror site, rapidly becoming a prominent name in the genre. She also developed an obsession with a TV series called Monday Mystery Theater which routinely featured people being killed with box cutters or small knives. She even starred in a violent episode where she threatened a classmate with a box cutter.
On the day of Satomi’s murder, her entire class posed for an annual school photo in the schoolyard. Both girls can be seen holding their fingers up in a “V” and smiling for the camera. No one could have known what would happen shortly after what seemed like a typical school morning activity.

School photo taken the day of the murder with Natsumi (L) and Satomi (R) (Photo Credit: NPA)
After Natsumi murdered Satomi and police were called to the scene, she made no attempt to conceal her misdeed. She confessed everything and told them she had been planning the murder for days. At the station, during interviews with police, she cried and said:

“I did something wrong, didn’t I? I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
It was obvious that she was apologetic for her actions as she cried and refused to eat while she spent the night at the police station. Her only explanation to the officers investigating the case as to why she had killed her friend was that she had been angry over the comments Satomi made about her on the internet.
Since Japanese law forbids the publication of a minors’ name in situations such as this, Natsumi was originally known as “Girl A” but as the story circulated, she became known as “Nevada Tan” on the internet. The name stems from the Nevada shirt she is wearing in the school photo with the addition of “Tan” which means “little” in Japanese.

It wasn’t until a Japanese TV Fuji news anchor showed some of her school drawings on-air and mistakenly mentioned her name that the world became aware that the girl’s name was Natsumi Tsuji.
Because of the magnitude of her crime, a family court determined that she should be institutionalized. On September 15, 2004, she was ordered into the care of a Tochigi prefecture reform school for two years.
Psychologists and psychiatrists there conducted a battery of tests and ultimately determined that Natsumi suffered from Hikikomori Syndrome. People with this ailment isolate themselves and don’t want to leave their homes or mingle with other people. It was further believed that she might also suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome due to her communication problems and obsessive nature.

Still, neither of these diagnoses explained what would drive her to kill her friend, and the truth behind how she could have become so enraged as to commit such a crime may never be truly understood.
On March 18, 2005, the classmates of the two girls graduated from primary school and were given a gift album with an extra blank page in honor of Satomi. They were told they could put photos of their own in the blank space — photos of Satomi, Natsumi, or both. Satomi’s father accepted his daughter’s certificate on her behalf. Satomi’s portrait sat in an empty chair amid the female students.
Though it wasn’t handed out during the ceremony, Natsumi was also issued a certificate of completion for such a time when she might re-enter society and return to secondary school. The certificate would be required to continue her education.

However, Natsumi wouldn’t return as soon as might have been expected. After her initial two-year sentence in the reformatory, her sentence was extended for two more years to facilitate further psychological evaluation.
On May 29, 2008, Natsumi was finally released from custody and placed on house arrest. Though her doctors and the court felt she had developed the necessary skills to peacefully exist in society, they still wanted to keep an eye on her for the time being.
It would be five more years, at the age of 20, before Natsumi was fully released from all punitive measures. As soon as she regained her freedom, she and her family moved to an undisclosed location. Today, Natsumi would be 29 years old.

In the wake of Natsumi’s crime, she has unfortunately obtained a cult following that creates drawings, animations, memes, etc. dedicated to the young killer. Ghouls located her home address prior to her move and would make pilgrimages there to “honor” her. A German rock band named itself Nevada Tan and another band called Fecal Matter Discorporated dedicated an album to her with the words: “To her and all the little Japanese girls who murder people.”

Search the internet and you’ll find a host of references to her, some displaying a disturbing fondness despite her horrific crime. The University of Nevada confirmed that in the months following the murder, the grey sweatshirt she is wearing in her school photo had become one of their biggest selling items. When they realized why they took it out of their catalog for a while to quell a rash of distasteful cosplays using it as a prop.
The crime also brought about debate in Japan in 2000 as to whether the age where a child could be charged at a more severe level of punishment be dropped from fourteen to eleven. The age had already been dropped after the Kobe child murders in 1997 from sixteen to fourteen and the new debate didn’t get very far.

Today, Natsumi Tsuji lives a quiet life somewhere, likely under a different name. There can be no doubt that she keeps a low profile to keep her internet “fans” at bay and media from dredging up her terrible past.
It is especially hard to condemn someone who commits a crime at such a young age, even one as horrible as murder, and shows remorse for it to a life of exile — but it is equally hard to forgive her crimes when she took the life of an innocent girl who never got the chance to grow up and live the life she deserved.

The misplaced worship of Natsumi by ghouls across the globe is as repugnant as her brutal killing of Satomi Mitarai. Perhaps she does deserve some redemption after all these years, but she most certainly does not warrant the elevation to the likes of folk legend found among many teens and adults alike.

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