Murder of Yasuko Watanabe

Yasuko Watanabe (渡邉 泰子, Watanabe Yasuko, June 7, 1957 – March 8, 1997) was a 39-year-old Japanese woman, a senior economic researcher at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) moonlighting as a prostitute on the streets by night. She fell victim to murder by strangulation[1] by an unknown assailant, and after being reported missing from home by her mother, with whom she lived, her body was discovered on March 19, 1997[1] in a vacant apartment in the Maruyamachō neighborhood of Shibuya, Tokyo,[2] where she engaged in her nightly activity. During the investigation it was discovered that she had kept a detailed journal of her many clients, including dates, times and fees.[3]


Govinda Prasad Mainali (ゴビンダ・プラサド・マイナリ), one of several Nepalese roommates sharing an apartment unit in the adjoining building, soon became targeted by the Japanese authorities as the prime suspect. Although he was acquitted in the first trial from lack of conclusive evidence, he was subsequently convicted on appeal by the Tokyo High Court[4] and given an indefinite prison sentence on December 22, 2000. Mainali went on to spend fifteen years in prison, until exculpatory sets of DNA evidence emerged linking an unidentified third man who had sexual and violent contact with the victim in the immediate hours before her death. Mainali was released in June 2012, and deported back to his native country, pending the retrial.

More than the murder case itself, the victim's lifestyle was sensationalized as the downfall of an elite careerist from a well-to-do family. Watanabe was an economics graduate of the prestigious Keio University, earning nearly US$100,000[note 1][3] from her regular job at the major utility firm. Her Tokyo University[5] graduate father also worked for TEPCO as an engineer, until he died during her attendance at college.

In June 2012, the retrial was ordered by the Tokyo High Court in the face of new evidence that emerged the previous year. Swabs of semen recovered from inside the victim's body, which the prosecution claimed were too small a sample to analyze using existing technologies at the time, finally underwent DNA testing in July 2011, and ruled out Mainali as its owner. The semen's DNA matched a piece of body hair (pubic hair) from the crime scene already established to be from an individual other than Mainali. The DNA was further matched to the blood stain on the Burberry coat the victim was wearing, and the saliva found on the victim's chest.[6][7] The saliva on her breast was already known to be of O type blood (Mainali is type B), and the prosecution knew it did not match Mainali, but did not present the evidence at trial,[8] and withheld it from the defense attorneys until September 2011.[9] Japan does not have an equivalent of Brady disclosure rules as in the US, which would have made failure to disclose salient evidence to the defense censurable as prosecutorial misconduct. In 2005, the Supreme Prosecutor's Office revised its Code of Criminal Procedure requiring prosecutors to present a list of evidence gathered. But the revised code carries no penalties for violations thus offering little deterrent to prosecutors who may choose to withhold evidence.[10]

Mainali was released shortly after a retrial was granted, but was quickly deported to Nepal by Japanese immigration authorities for his previous visa violation.[8][11][12][13] In November 2012, he was formally acquitted of the crime.[14]

In 2013 Mainali was awarded ¥68 million as compensation for his wrongful imprisonment for fifteen years.[15]


Noted nonfiction writer Shinichi Sano [ja] wrote a bestselling book, Tokyo Electric Power Co. Office Lady Murder Case (pub. 2000) following this case[3] social phenomenon. An appreciable segment of women in the workplace in Japan evidently identify with the victim's self-destructive urge to "sell their bodies" as a reaction to whatever psychological issues, dubbed "Yasuko syndrome",[3] or Tōden OL shōkogun(i.e. TEPCO Office lady syndrome), the title of Sano's sequel (2001).

External linksEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ 10 million yen converted to less than $100,000 using the exchange rate at the time (120 yen to the dollar)


  1. ^ a b No byline (March 20, 1997). "Missing Tepco woman found slain". Japan Times.
  2. ^ Sano, Shinichi (March 26 – April 1, 2004). "Something that he Never Did" (pdf). Nepali Times. pp. 13-.
  3. ^ a b c d Reitman, Valerie (March 19, 2001). "Japan's Case of the Unlikely Streetwalker". Los Angeles Times.
  4. ^ Dixit, Kund (April 20–26, 2004). "Govinda" (pdf). Nepali Times. pp. 4-.
  5. ^ Sano, Shinichi (佐野眞一) (2000). 東電OL殺人事件 (snippet). 新潮社.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link), p.22, 60
  6. ^ Editorial (June 12, 2012). "Don't delay justice any longer". Japan Times.
  7. ^ No byline (June 7, 2012). "「第三者が殺害の疑い」 刑の執行停止も認める". msn 産経ニュース. Archived from the original on June 9, 2012. Retrieved June 19, 2012.
  8. ^ a b Matsutani, Minoru (June 7, 2012). "Mainali granted retrial, is let out of prison". Japan Times.
  9. ^ Kyodo release (Sep 5, 2011). "New DNA tests eyed in '97 Tepco slaying as Nepal man seeks retrial". Japan Times.
  10. ^ Matsutani, Minoru (June 14, 2012). "Mainali case exposes flaws, bias in judicial system". Japan Times.
  11. ^ Tuladhar, Pratibha (June 16, 2012). "BRIEF: Nepalese man acquitted of murder in Japan returns home". NY Daily News. New York. Archived from the original on January 30, 2013. Retrieved June 17, 2012.
  12. ^ Pokharel, Satosh P (June 16, 2012). "An emotional return home for 'Mainali". The Himalayan.
  13. ^ Kyodo (Kathmandu) (June 17, 2012). "Freed Mainali returns to Nepal for first time in 18 years". Japan Times.
  14. ^ "Nepal man cleared of Japan murder after 15 years in jail". BBC News. November 7, 2012.
  15. ^ "¥68 million redress eyed for Mainali". The Japan Times. 25 May 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  16. ^ a b Ozaki, Eiko (尾崎英子) (February 7, 2011). "『追悼者』折原一著 思い込ませて罠にはめる". Fukuishimbun online. Archived from the original on April 6, 2013. Retrieved June 19, 2012. (book review of Orihara's mystery novel Tsuitōsha)