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Il Ven. Tairyu Furokawa:
Una storia esemplare di amicizia con due condannati a morte



Rev. Tairyu Furukawa was born into a religious family in Saga prefecture, as the oldest of eight children in 1920. He spent his childhood in extremely poor circumstances.

He was sent to China as a soldier in 1940, where he was wounded and hospitalized for a year and then he was returned to Japan.

He went to the Koyasan Senshu Institute in Wakayama to study Buddhism and became the head priest of a temple in his hometown in 1945. After the War, he devoted himself to helping the poor, the sick and the war bereaved.

Later he became the editor of the religious review called “ Cosmos ”. Due to poverty, he could not afford to print the magazines at a regular printing office. So he asked a prison in Fukuoka to print them for him instead. Some prisoners took copies of the magazines to their cells to read his articles in secret and they were greatly moved and touched by his words. Although taking any papers into one’s cell was not permitted, the head of the prison understood their wishes and invited Rev. Furukawa to give his lectures directly to the prisoners. In this exceptional way, he was appointed to be the prison chaplain in 1952, especially to care for those who had been condemned to death. Then he encountered two prisoners on death row who had been imprisoned under false charges ; Mr. Nishi and Mr. Ishii. It took nine years for the Supreme Court to finalize their sentences and both prisoners were given the death penalty.

During this time, Rev. Furukawa had been considering the possibility that the two prisoners could actually be innocent. When the sentences were finalized and he saw the reaction of both men, he became utterly convinced of their innocence. At that time he was, on the one hand, a responsible head of a family of eight struggling with the problems of poverty and, on the other hand, entirely taken up by his personal quest for religious truth. Yet he decided to launch a campaign to obtain a retrial and the reversal of the death sentence for the two prisoners. He had no knowledge of judicial matters and no funds for the campaign. In the face of these difficulties, he set out on a stormy sea with his family in 1961.

One year later, by the order of the Ministry of Justice, he was barred from working any more as a prison chaplain, because he had started his campaign to free the two prisoners which he was told a chaplain should not do. Yet he did not stop the campaign !

In order to raise funds for the campaign, he sold all his property including his wife’s and begged for alms throughout the country. Only his family and several friends joined him and went out on the street to collect signatures and funds from passers-by.

Whenever the Minister of Justice changed, he went to lodge an appeal against the pending executions, carrying “ Factual Investigation Report ”, containing more than 2000 Japanese manuscript pages. He worked 12 hours a day, every day, for about 5 months in order to complete this book.

During 40 years of the campaign, there were several unique episodes that happened to him.

On New Year’s day in 1964, a wanted criminal called Nishiguchi, who had committed five murders and had been fleeing across the country, came to visit Rev. Furukawa’s home. Nishiguchi introduced himself as a lawyer who supported his campaign. However Rev. Furukawa noticed Nishiguchi’s resemblance to a photo on a wanted person’s poster and the actual identity of the criminal was realized and then his arrest was made possible. The arrest after a 79 day escape drew the attention of the whole country. This publicity helped Rev. Furukawa’s campaign to free the two prisoners to gather momentum, attracting many supporters from all over Japan.

One day in 1969 while begging for alms on the street in Kobe, he met by chance the late Mr. Tadashi Mukai, the head of the Dr. Albert Schweitzer Association of Kobe. Mr. Mukai was deeply moved by his selfless actions to save men’s lives, and highly esteemed him as a man who put “ reverence for life ” into practice. A precious relic of Dr. Schweitzer, a lock of hair, was given to him symbolizing a crossing of sectarian boundaries. This gave him great inspiration and to honor the relic he established a new religious institution called The Seimeizan ( the mountain of universal life ) Schweitzer Temple in 1973. The birth of the temple can be seen as a by-product of his campaign to obtain a retrial for the unjustly condemned.

The movement had some surprising developments, but the door to a retrial was not opened. In 1975 at the peak of the campaign, he was in Tokyo trying to obtain amnesty for the two prisoners. On June 17, on the one hand Mr. Ishii was granted an amnesty, getting an unlimited commutation of his sentence, whereas on the other hand, Mr. Nishi was suddenly executed. Even though the death sentence had already been finalized by the Supreme Court, Rev. Furukawa succeeded in obtaining the reversal of the death sentence for Mr. Ishii. It was the first such instance in the history of Japanese law. Mr. Nishi, however, who was not even at the scene of the killing, was executed on the same day. The reason why the Ministry of Justice had Mr. Nishi executed and had Mr. Ishii’ sentence reduced still remains a mystery to this day.

In accordance with Mr. Nishi’s last wish, all his belongings and remains were given to Rev. Furukawa and were enshrined in the temple. This sudden execution, after the desperate efforts of 15years to save his life, came as an enormous shock to Rev. Furukawa and it took him a long time to get over it. The campaign, however, did not come to an end. Every year, in June, on the anniversary of the execution, a memorial service was held, remembering Mr. Nishi’ wish; “ I do not want anybody to lead such a hard life as I did. I should be the last one. ” While thinking of the deceased, preparations were made for a posthumous retrial.   

Rev. Furukawa wanted to work as a prison chaplain again, but the wall of the Ministry of Justice was too thick to penetrate and his wish did not come true. Yet he started to practice “ Reverence for life ” in different ways.

In 1981 he was invited to give his lectures on Thanatology ( the study of death ) at the  University of Industrial Medicine. Since then his lectures on the deep meaning of life and death were regularly given to medical students, nurses and doctors across the nation in order to convey the dignity of life.

Furthermore, he shed tears for the people who died brutal deaths during the second World War, especially for the Chinese people. In 1984 he built a monument in Kumamoto to remember hundreds of Chinese forced laborers who died in the coal mines of Arao during the War, inscribing his words ; “ Grief transcending national boundaries ”. In 1985 he took people to China for the first pilgrimage of reconciliation and peace, commemorating the victims of the Nanjing massacre perpetrated by the Japanese army in 1937. In order to make people aware of what had been done in the past and to help establish peace, yearly pilgrimages have been conducted since then.

 In the same year, he met Fr. Franco Sottocornola, a Xaverian Missionary Father in Japan. After first meeting him, Fr. Franco immediately decided to come down to Kumamoto to work with him. In 1986 they established “ the Center for Inter-religious Dialogue ”, the first instance in Japan of a Buddhist and Christian activity united in one single religious institution.

After Rev. Furukawa began working with the Catholic priests and nuns, his working place was not only in Asia, but also extended into Europe. In 1989 with Fr. Franco he went to Europe giving their lectures on Inter-religious Dialogue during a 40 day stay in Italy and England. He was very honored to have the first encounter with Pope John PaulⅡin the Vatican and there he appealed for World Peace.

He was also invited to the International Peace Conference in Warsaw, Poland for the first time. Since then, he continuously attended the Peace Conferences held by the community of St.Egidio, giving his talk on World Peace.  

At the end of 1989, after he returned to Japan, there was another important and surprising piece of news awaiting him. Mr. Ishii, one of the innocent prisoners was released on parole after 42 years and 7 months’ imprisonment. He came back to society as an old man already beyond 70 years of age and lived with the Furukawa family at the temple. He is now 86 years old and still has desires to clear the name of Mr.Nishi.

Rev. Furukawa’s childhood dream to be an artist was not realized because of the poverty he had to endure, but his artistic talent still vividly remained and was acknowledged not only in Japan but also in Italy. In cooperation with the Xaverian Missionaries, an exhibition of the works of his calligraphy was held in five different cities in Italy in 1994.

At the end of his long stay in Europe, by chance, thanks to divine providence, he had a wonderful opportunity to encounter Mother Teresa in Warsaw, Poland. Since for a long time he had a great respect for her, deep spiritual joy and appreciation filled his heart and encouraged his activities.

In 1998, another great chance arose. This was the encounter with Sr. Helen Prejean in Bucharest, Romania. Together with her he made an appeal to everybody that there should be no more death penalty in the 21st century. His thoughts about the matriarchal principle called ; coexistence and coprosperity, were all the more confirmed by these encounters.

After Rev. Furukawa first met Mr. Nishi’s bereaved family in 1995, he decided to try to obtain a posthumous retrial and made this a formal announcement. His New Year’s message of 1999 showed us his strong will as follows, “ The truth about the unjust condemnation of Takeo Nishi has not yet been brought to light. Grinding my teeth in chagrin, I have been trying to win him a posthumous retrial and just last year, I was approached by some professional people who will try to make the retrial a reality. As a culmination of my life of 80 years, I hope to stake the last years of my life on the achievement of this earnest wish. From the depth of my soul, my heart is burning in hope of realizing my long cherished wish--- the abolition of the death penalty. As an English author, Smiles, wrote over 100 years ago, ‘ The life of a single man is more sacred than Earth itself ’.”

When he was 79 years old, together with his wife, he got the records of the trial containing 5000 pages and carefully copied the cryptogram-like documents page after page. He was deeply grateful to the group of professional people that regularly held a meeting on the posthumous retrial. In 2000, as he was preparing in anticipation for the start of the retrial, his health suddenly declined. However, he was still very determined to be present at the retrial. All his family surrounded his bed and swore to him that they would succeed in the campaign to obtain a retrial and carry on conveying to people the dignity of life. Sadly he passed away on August 25th, 2000. His own life, devoted to the dignity of and respect for life, has ended but his spirit lives on within us and our work.

The retrial has been postponed, but hopefully it will start soon in 2004.     

Un errore capitale. L’incidente di Fukuoka.

Un processo che continua.


The Fukuoka Incident and the Campaign for a Retrial


 Soon after Word War, on May 20th, 1947, two black market dealers were shot and killed in Fukuoka city, Japan. The police assumed it was a case of robbery and murder involving the black market in military uniforms, and arrested Mr. Takeo Nishi, Mr. Kenjiro Ishii, and five other men. The police contended that the seven men, with Mr. Nishi as the ringleader and Mr. Ishii as the killer, had conspired to murder the two dealers and steal an 80,000 yen deposit.

 After being arrested, Mr. Nishi admitted to having received the 80,000 yen deposit, but said that he had received it justly, in the normal course of business. Mr. Ishii readily admitted shooting the two men. He stated, however, that because one of the dealers had drawn a gun, Mr. Ishii had pulled his trigger reflexively, in an act of self-defense, thinking the dealers were going to kill him. Furthermore, both Mr. Nishi and Mr. Ishii asserted that the money Mr. Nishi carried had no connection whatsoever with the killings.

 However, Japan had just been defeated in the war with China, among other countries, and one of the men who was killed was Chinese. Pressure by the occupation authorities on the police and the trial therefore resulted in an unjust frame-up, and both Mr. Nishi and Mr. Ishii were sentenced to death.   As a matter of fact, the black market transaction in military uniforms and the killing of the two men were separate incidents. It was no more than coincidence that brought them together.

 If the prison chaplain Rev. Tairyu Furukawa had not set out to find out the truth, the two prisoners would have been executed, and the truth about the Incident would have been buried in darkness forever.      ( This first part was written by Mr. Shin Aochi, a reviewer, in 1965 )

 In spite of Rev. Furukawa’s efforts for 15 years to free Mr. Nishi and Mr. Ishii, Mr. Nishi was suddenly executed, on June 17, 1975 after 28 years’ incarceration. At the same time, Mr. Ishii’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. No reason was given for either the execution or the additional sentence. Fourteen years after Mr. Nishi’s execution, Mr. Ishii was released on parole after 42 years and 7 months’ imprisonment on Dec.8th, 1989.  It was the longest prison term in Japan’s history. He lived with Rev. Furukawa and his family for several years and has now moved into a nursing home.  After Rev. Furukawa first met Mr. Nishi’s bereaved family in 1995, he decided to try to obtain a posthumous retrial and made this a formal announcement. Furthermore, he was approached by professional people who wanted to help make the retrial a reality. While he was preparing in anticipation for the start of the retrial, his health suddenly declined and he passed away in Summer 2000. His long cherished wishes and work, however, are being carried on by his family.


The  still  ongoing  campaign -  Dead  Man  Walking  No  More  2003    

Asking  your  support  for  realizing  the  retrial  of  the  Fukuoka  Incident.  “ I’ve wanted to scream so piercingly loud I’d crack the frigid full moon.” This is a cry from Mr. Nishi’s spirit, who was executed on June 17, 1975, in spite of appealing for his innocence as a falsely accused man. It was such a cruel execution after his 28 years of imprisonment. This exclamation, however, was not only his own but also Rev. Furukawa’s, whose life was devoted to the campaign to help release the innocent prisoners. And then their cries have become ours and they have now been succeeded by the campaign “ Dead Man Walking No More ”, which was proposed by Sr. Helen Prejean. Rev. Furukawa met her at the Peace Conference held in Romania in 1998. In spring 2002, we had a campaign with her throughout Japan, holding 13 meetings in 9 cities over 12 days.   Even though 56 years have passed since the Incident took place, we are still going to take on the challenge of mounting the edifice of gaining a posthumous retrial. The time for filing a petition is near at hand, but it is said that it will be very difficult to reach the opening of the retrial. So a further arousing of public opinion is indispensable. In order not to bury the truth of the Incident in the dark and not repeat such wretched brutality, we have resolved to persistently carry on our campaign, until our earnest wish – the abolition of the death penalty – is realized. We hope to obtain the understanding of people as much as possible. We humbly ask you for your further support. Thank you.                                                         

                                 Seimeizan Schweitzer Temple

 hope you will join me in supporting this campaign that the Furukawa family continues to conduct in the spirit of their father.                  Nov.3rd, 2002 

Sister Helen Prejean