OSAKA (TR) – By the time Osaka police arrested Takahiro Hojo, 42, on suspicion of rape last year, investigators had used photographs seized in his residence in Osaka City to estimate that the number of victims in the case exceeded 100.
During his trial, Hojo said that the actual figure far exceeded 100. “The number of victims was more than 300,” he told the Osaka District Court.
On February 18, the court handed Hojo a 20-year prison term over the drugging and raping of 10 confirmed male victims over a two-year period ending in March 2019, according to the Asahi Shimbun (Feb. 18).
“The crimes trampled on the victims’ character and dignity,” said presiding judge Chiwaki Matsuda. “You left them completely disgusted and humiliated. It’s only natural that they want a harsh punishment.”
According to the ruling, Hojo plied each of the victims — aged in their 20s to 40s — with sleeping pills mixed into their food or drinks at his residence in Sumiyoshi Ward, Osaka City or at a hotel, rendering them unable to fend off the sexual assault.
The ruling, however, failed to answer one question: How was Hojo able to carry out so many crimes — and continue for so long?
The answer lies in the use of sleeping pills and an accomplice, who assisted the defendant in targeting victims met on social media.
Hojo, who taught at a public middle school in Osaka City, had a partner in crime. About 10 years ago, he met 44-year-old Daisuke Yagami, at the time a resident of Saitama Prefecture, on a dating web site.
About two years later, Yagami began suffering from insomnia. After he was prescribed sleeping pills by a doctor, he discovered that he could use them for the purpose of sexual assault, an investigator for the Osaka police told the site for weekly magazine Shukan Asahi.
After Yagami bragged to Hojo about his discovery, Hojo said, “I want to try it myself.” Yagami then informed him that the going rate was 10 tablets for 5,000 yen, according to the investigator.
Before long, Yagami moved to Tokyo and they were working together on social media to pursue victims to their liking: young men in suits.
Hojo used his position as a teacher to establish a sense of trust. “For teaching materials, I am looking to photograph men in suits, perhaps like attendees at a wedding ceremony,” Hojo would write in direct messages. “I can provide 10,000 yen and food and drinks.”
Hojo and Yagami were not involved with one another sexually. Instead, their motive was in taking pleasure in humiliating heterosexual men.
The victims were then lured to Hojo’s residence or to a hotel room. The defendant further gained the assurance of a victim by taking photographs of him opening a door, bowing or walking.
“They would also say they need [photographs] of a meal scene,” says the aforementioned investigator. “So they would take pictures and give the [victim] a drink. During that time, they would spike the drink with a sleeping pill. The sexual assault would commence once the victim lost consciousness.”
Then there were times when the pills weren’t needed. “Dead-drunk male office workers were also brought back [to my residence],” Hojo said during his trial.
The selfie stick
During the investigation, police seized a large quantity of videos and photographs from a computer belonging to Hojo that showed him sexually assaulting the victims.
“These stealthily shot videos showed the identification cards of the victims as they were being sexually assaulted,” the investigator says. “Hojo went to the trouble of filming the assaults with a smartphone attached to a selfie stick.”
Folders were used to compile albums containing the photographs and the names of the victims.
The investigator goes on to say that though the defendants were accused of crimes between 2017 and 2019 the assaults far predated that period.
Victim comes forward
One problem in the case was the reluctance male victims have for coming forward to lodge complaints. However, Kansai Television ran a feature after the trial began that included an interview with one such victim.
“It was about 10 years ago,” he says. “I was drinking after work in the Umeda [area of Osaka City] when everything went blank.”
He wound up asleep on the street. “Then I awoke in the residence of a man I didn’t know,” the victim says.
That man was Hojo.
At first, the victim thought about thanking Hojo for what he thought was assistance the night before. Then Hojo told him what had happened.
“I just froze,” he says.
When asked by the network if he considered going to the police, the victim said that he did not due to “embarrassment.”
“A quiet child”
The son of a signboard maker, Hojo was born in Osaka Prefecture. The eldest of three brothers, he graduated from a university in Nara Prefecture and became a teacher.
“I don’t know what happened to my son after he left the house 20 years ago,” his mother told the site for weekly tabloid Shukan Josei. “I am so sorry.”
Meanwhile, Yagami was born and raised in Hyogo Prefecture. After graduating from a university in Kyoto Prefecture, he joined Universal Studios Japan. He also worked at a call center for a mobile telephone company. He moved to Saitama in March 2019.
“I didn’t know anything about the crimes,” his father said through tears. “He had always been a quiet child, and I thought I’d trained him well…When he was in high school, he even brought his girlfriend back home with him.”
His mother suffers from a cognitive impairment.
“Since his arrest, I have met with him and exchanged letters,” his father continued. “I am really sorry for the victims. I have a feeling that society’s comprehension [of these types of crimes], along with that of the legal system, is too lax.”
Their crimes were first reported in the media on September 3, 2020. On that day, Osaka police announced that the number of victims within their jurisdiction stood at five.
However, Tokyo police had already arrested Hojo and Yagami over three other cases that took place in the capital. In July, the Osaka City government terminated Hojo from his post at the middle school. He worked there through February, around when Tokyo police first arrested him after a victim came forward to lodge a complaint.
The roles of Hojo and Yagami in the crimes were never exactly specified. Though it is believed that Yagami was mainly in charge of filming, he did also partake in the sexual assaults, including pressing the shoes of the victims into their faces before ejaculating.
In breaking it down, Hojo was accused of quasi-coerced intercourse in seven cases. Meanwhile, Yagami faced charges of quasi-indecent assault in three. (It should be noted that “quasi” is used since the victims were rendered incapable of fending off the attack; however, it does not mean that it is a lesser charge.)
“I did it to satisfy my sexual desire”
By the time Hojo’s case went to trial — the status of the case against Yagami has not been disclosed — the number of official victims stood at 10. According to the site for weekly Shukan Bunshun, two victims accepted out-of-court settlements totaling 3 million yen.
Even so, one of those two victims and the remaining eight sought for Hojo to be severely punished by prosecutors, who sought a 24-year prison term.
During the trial proceedings, Hojo said that he started raping men at “around the age of 26.” He then went on to state that the number of his victims surpassed 300.
Regarding his false claim to victims about using the photographs for educational purposes, Hojo told the court, “It is inexcusable, but I did it to satisfy my sexual desire.”
Despite the startling nature of the case, coverage of the handing down of the 20-year sentence last month was limited to the four-paragraph story by the Asahi Shimbun and an equally short report by Asahi Broadcasting.