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Woman’s Murder Trial Leaves Japan Mesmerized

Date Posted: 2000-03-10

Ms. Mitsuko Yamada, 36, pleaded guilty on Monday, March 7th, to killing baby Haruna Wakayama last November after taking the little girl from a nursery school playground in central Tokyo. The woman told the court during a trial, that held the whole nation of Japan spellbound, that she hated Haruna's mother whom she blamed for intentionally avoiding her ostracizing her own 5-year-old son.

According to several mainland Japanese media reports and analyses, Mitsuko Yamada felt under social pressure to be on good terms with the other mothers in her circle, even the woman who apparently infuriated her by treating her so coldly. According to one analyst, “Yamada’s silent hatred grew so great that she strangled the woman’s 2-year-old daughter with a scarf in a public restroom.”

The woman’s trial has divided Japan, and raised disturbing questions about Japan’s male-dominated society, where many housewives trapped in mundane routines become overly preoccupied with the achievements of their children. With husbands working long hours, many Japanese wives lead cloistered lives at home, focused on their children and measuring their own worth by their children's achievements.

Media reports initially attributed Haruna’s murder to Yamada’s obsession with her children’s education, speculating that she was jealous because the little girl had been accepted by a prestigious kindergarten while her own daughter was turned down. Competitive entrance exams have long been the key to academic and social success in Japan. Children take entrance exams every step up the educational ladder, starting at kindergarten.

The pressure to conform makes keeping up with one's neighbors an obsession, particularly in districts of Tokyo where top schools - and hopeful parents - are clustered. Yamada later denied that was the motive for the slaying.

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