By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Sumio Yamada, JPBA
Just prior to the world title bout last Sunday, the new WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman presented an honorary championship belt to “Japanese Hurricane Carter” Iwao Hakamada, a former boxer who had been confined in jail for 48 years but was lately released from detention on March 27. The 78-year-old Hakamada, ex-Japanese #6 ranked featherweight, couldn’t attend the ceremony as he was recovering in hospital due to his diminished capacity caused by the long imprisonment, and his sister Hideko, 81, jubilantly received the belt in the ring instead and said on the microphone, “We really appreciate long and warm supports by boxing people and fans that finally regained my brother’s freedom.” It was a very emotional moment witnessed by 4,800 spectators at the Ota Ward General Gymnasium, Tokyo.
It was on June 30, 1966 that the Beatles performed their very first show in Tokyo, Japan. On the same day, a dreadful murder happened in Shizuoka (one hour from Tokyo by bullet train) with four persons of a family miserably killed and burnt by arson. The victims were a family of a managing director for a soybean processing factory with some young live-in employers staying in a dormitory close to the sufferers’ accommodation.
One of the employees, Hakamada, a 30-year-old retired boxer (after a 16-11-2 career), was arrested and accused of the murder case because of general prejudice against professional boxing at that time. He at first denied the crime but was coerced and tortured into confession by the police.
Hakamada, however, insisted on his innocence from the first court hearing on, although he was once forced to admit to the charges. It was in 1968 that Hakamada was sentenced to death by Shizuoka district court with the verdict upheld by Tokyo high court in 1976 and by the Supreme Court in 1980. The death sentence was therefore confirmed as the highest court turned down a desperate objection of the defendant Hakamada and his attorneys.
Why didn’t they execute Hakamada? There have been continual and persistent moves against an allegedly false accusation, but the Establishment didn’t move at all until new remarkable evidences were presented by the attorneys. It was a result of DNA analysis that proved bloodstains on the perpetrator’s clothes weren’t of Hakamada. The advanced science finally won the freedom of the former boxer under long imprisonment for nearly a half century.
Presiding judge Hiroaki Murayama of the Shizuoka district court said, “Key pieces of evidence against Hakamada are now thought to have been fabricated, and there is no evidence at all connecting him with the crimes. It is intolerable injustice to keep him in confinement any longer.” The court decided to suspend the death sentence and his imprisonment since his 1966 arrest.
It proved to be such a false charge as Dreyfus Affair in 1894 (supported by French novelist Emile Zola), Trial of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1920 (with both executed in 1927) and others. The image of boxing here in 1960′s was still violent, and it misled the wrong arrest of the ex-professional boxer. The Hakamada case was really a tragedy.
Since ex-WBC/WBA 108-pound champ Hideyuki Ohashi became president of Japan Pro Boxing Association (JPBA), the union of club owners, he very positively promoted a campaign at any boxing arena in order to free Hakamada. The Association continued a nationwide signature-obtaining campaign to ask for a retrial of the Hakamada case. Japanese world champions, due to the Association’s request, collected many signatures of general people on the street. Ex-OPBF champ Shosei Nitta, the JPBA secretary general, attended the WBC convention in Bangkok last year and collected many signatures of support from the attendants. WBC flyweight champ Akira Yaegashi, Nitta and other supporters marched in good order to submit the great many collected signatures to the Shizuoka district court. That’s really the fruits of our boxing fraternity’s faithfulness for the senior boxer who previously fought more than five decades ago.
Former world junior middleweight champ Koichi Wajima, 70, emotionally said, “The gong of the fifteenth round sounded. His fight for freedom has been over. We only wait for the final verdict.
Before the ceremony for the WBC to hand the honorary belt to his sister Hideko, another solemn ceremony was held in the same ring to sincerely mourn the sad passing of former president Don Jose Sulaiman. All the audience stood up to have a moment of silence for his great contributions to boxing.
As Don Jose Sulaiman presented the belt to Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in Las Vegas (as shown in the end of a movie “The Hurricane” starring Denzel Washington), his son and new president Mauricio did the same to “Japanese Hurricane Carter” Iwao Hakamada. Congratulations.