Yanaka Five-Storied Pagoda Double-Suicide Arson Case

The was the burning by arson in 1957 of a five-storied pagoda in the Yanaka Cemetery, Taitō, Tokyo. The pagoda was set on fire by two lovers who committed suicide together.

The Five-Storied Pagoda

Originally part of Tennō-ji, the five-storied pagoda was built in 1644. It burned down in 1771 and was rebuilt 19 years later. This last version, built in 1791 in Japanese zelkova wood, was at almost 35 meters the tallest of its kind in the Kantō area.
The five-storied pagoda had been donated in 1908 by Tennō-ji to the city of Tokyo and had been the model for Kōda Rohan's novel The Five-Storied Pagoda. It was a famous city landmark and the very symbol of the Yanaka Cemetery, but it was completely destroyed by fire at around 3 AM of July 6, 1957.

The Arson Case

The pagoda burned to the ground at around 3 AM on July 6, 1957. Next to the middle pillar of the pagoda, among the ruins, were found the two charred bodies of a man and a woman. The bodies were too badly burned for a positive identification to be possible, but their identities were established with almost certainty thanks to a thimble found among the ruins.
A seamstress in her twenties working in a sewing shop in Tokyo and her middle-aged (and married) lover had gone missing. Witnesses testified that the two had wanted to burn themselves to atone for their adulterous relationship, and therefore the two bodies were likely to be theirs. The destruction of the cultural asset was nonetheless universally and severely criticized. It was decided not to rebuild it and leave only the five foundation stones.

In 2007, researchers at the Tokyo University of Arts and Music claimed to have found blueprints of the pagoda drawn in 1970, and a movement to rebuild it was born. The estimated cost is around a billion yen, but nonetheless even the University's President Hirayama Kunio approves of the project.


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