Homeless man arrested in Golden Gai blaze was drunk, had previous record

An investigator speaking about the suspect: 'In his drunken state, he stumbled on a fire hose'

Hiroshi Haruna
Hiroshi Haruna

It might not have been an arson attack after all.

Shortly after a fire that broke out last week in the historic Golden Gai district of Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, police arrested a 66-year-old homeless man.

But rather than a deliberate act, reports Nikkan Gendai (April 15), the incident was probably the unfortunate result of a bumbling drunk who was looking to turn a quick buck.

At approximately 12:30 p.m. on April 12, Hiroshi Haruna allegedly entered a building in the district on the ground floor and moved upstairs to a second-floor restaurant which was undergoing remodeling.

“He was seen on a surveillance camera checking for unlocked doors,” an investigator is quoted by the paper. “The suspect seems to have been considerably drunk at the time. As he crept inside, he had a bottle of booze in one hand.”

He departed the building after spending five minutes inside. The fire is believed to have started inside the restaurant one hour later.

Within five hours, about 40 trucks from the Tokyo Fire Department had extinguished the blaze. The fire burned approximately 300 square meters of space over three buildings in the district, which includes narrow rows of approximately 300 bars and eateries.

As the blaze was being extinguished, Haruna did not venture far from the scene. “In his drunken state, he stumbled on a fire hose, falsely complaining to a fireman about being injured,” continues the aforementioned investigator.

Haruna was subsequently questioned and arrested on charges of trespassing. He later told police that he had been in search of cash and valuables.

Police are considering, according to Nikkan Gendai, that he somehow set off the blaze as he clumsily scoured the premises in his boozy state.

This was not Haruna’s first problem with the law. He was arrested in Shiga Prefecture 11 years ago for theft. “It was the same modus operandi,” says aforementioned investigator. “At around noon, he went around to a number of businesses looking for an unlocked door. After finding one, he entered and stole 50,000 yen from a register.”

Haruna was later apprehended inside a pachinko parlor in Osaka.

The revelations regarding Haruna will now likely put to rest rumors that went around on social media soon after the blaze, which postulated that it had been intentionally set as a first stage for redevelopment of the area prior to the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

For Golden Gai businesses impacted by the blaze, the question of the payment of compensation remains. A denizen of the area says that most businesses do not have fire insurance due to the outdated construction, in terms of the Tokyo fire code, of the buildings.

With Haruna’s homeless status eliminating him from consideration, the paper suggests that a carpenter doing the remodeling work, who left the door to the premises unlocked, may be liable.

“The liability for the tradesman is probably low,” a professor emeritus from Nihon University is quoted. (K.N.)

Source: “Shinjuku Golden Gai no kasai hoomuresu otoko no honto no mokuteki to kako,” Nikkan Gendai (April 15)

Note: Brief extracts from Japanese vernacular media in the public domain that appear here were translated and summarized under the principle of “fair use.” Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy of the translations. However, we are not responsible for the veracity of their contents. The activities of individuals described herein should not be construed as “typical” behavior of Japanese people nor reflect the intention to portray the country in a negative manner. Our sole aim is to provide examples of various types of reading matter enjoyed by Japanese.

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