Japan’s Most Famous Cannibal

Not every celebrity is a movie star or a singer. Sometimes fame comes from more unexpected places.

In Issei Sagawa’s case, he became famous from eating another person. Yes, you read that right — Sagawa is a cannibal, and openly admits to it.

And yet, he lives a free life in Japan, and has even been interviewed on TV programs and has published a few minorly successful books.

How did this happen? How is Sagawa not behind bars?!

The Crime

Sagawa has said that he’s had the urge to eat somebody since he was young — not your typical childhood. But it wasn’t until he was attending graduate school in France that he go to fulfill his twisted fantasy.

While in France, he invited one of his classmates over to his apartment to study. While she was there, Sagawa shot and killed her, and over the following days, slowly ate her body. After a while, he decided to try and get rid of (what remained of) the body. He was caught, and arrested by the police.

How He Got Away With It

The law becomes a bit murky once it crosses international boundaries. In France, authorities found Sagawa to be medically insane, meaning that he couldn’t stand trial there. So Sagawa returned back to Japan where Japanese officials attempted to try him for murder.

But the French refused to give up any evidence for the case, saying that the case was closed as far as they were concerned. Even more bizarre, Japan’s own psychologists somehow found Sagawa sane.

Through this series of unexpected twists and turns, Sagawa ended up scot-free. Nobody (including Sagawa himself) could deny that he had killed and eaten another human being but legally, there was nothing to do about it.

The Most Famous Cannibal

As Sagawa returned to Japan, he found that he had become a minor celebrity in Japan. For years following his return, he wrote books about his crime, was a popular interview subject and even restaurant critic.

Maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising. I mean, people became incredibly fascinated with OJ Simpson after he was accused of killing his wife. I can only imagine that a killer like Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer would receive an enormous amount of attention is they were out of jail.

In recent years though, it seems that Sagawa’s past has caught up with him in a big way. After his blip of fame right after the initial killing, people lost interest with the free cannibal and began to treat him more like a criminal.

Sagawa says that after his spurt of fame in the 80s and 90s, he’s had problems finding work and holding down a job. His infamy has been working against him, as Sagawa’s name alone is often enough to get him disqualified from a job.

It’s not very surprising that people are beginning to shun Sagawa considering, y’know, the guy ate somebody, and to this day admits to cannibalistic fantasies. I still get queasy just reading about Sagawa, even though I’ve been aware of him for years.

But with every passing year, his crime fades into memory and he falls further into obscurity and I take some comfort in knowing that while he wasn’t legally punished, the social pressures are enforcing at least one type of justice. As he said in his Vice interview:

if you’re out in society, you have to somehow make a living and find a place to stay. What harsher punishment can there be? It’s brutal.


Read more: Who’s Hungry? An Interview with Issei Sagawa, Cannibal

  • ZXNova

    So a guy who ate somebody is a restaurant critic. I wonder what his recommendations are.

  • WhiteRice

    Thats creepy. I can’t believe someone can get away with eating a person after murdering them. It’s truly unsettling. His face also creeps me out.

  • vivianlostinseoul

    Most disturbing documentary I have ever seen….
    http://www.vice.com/en_uk/vice-meets/issei-sagawa-part-1

  • http://twitter.com/JACKTHEDANIELS ジャック (Jack)

    This guy did an interview and I watched it on youtube a while ago..it was pretty messed up. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BosZxa1bYcE

  • Kamizushi Akinari

    I’m surprised he didn’t get persecuted in Japan, considering he admitted his own crime. The Japan has the reputation of rarely letting crime suspects they catch get away. Rarely are those being tied found not guilty.

  • Madbeanman

    This is unpleasant at best……

  • Stroopwafel

    This creepy dude confirms my prejudices on people who regularly wear turtleneck sweaters…

  • http://www.facebook.com/RUSFASHION Ruslan Bagauov

    That’s disgusting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AbigailCamarillo Cam Abi

    I was queasy reading this whole article… gross… I don’t think jail would be enough for that crime though

  • pandacup

    he looks quite insane… and f***ing creepy

  • http://www.myjapanesegreentea.com/ Ricardo Caicedo

    Shame on the French, the victim deserved justice.

  • http://twitter.com/onetimeko maybe more

    I’m surprised they needed the hard evidence from France if he admitted to the crime. I don’t know how Japan’s legal system works but I would assume a confession and circumstantial evidence would be enough… Anyone familiar with the laws want to explain?

  • Tora.Silver

    Not going anywhere he rates above 3 stars… D:

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    I’m guessing these restaurants later hired arsonists as building safety inspectors.

  • conpanbear

    Just a couple of typos:
    go -> got: “But it wasn’t until he was attending graduate school in France that he *go* to fulfill his twisted fantasy.”
    is -> if “I can only imagine that a killer like Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer
    would receive an enormous amount of attention *is* they were out of jail.”

    I can understand why no one would hire him; imagine if he ate you’re employees!! Even if it wasn’t found unlawful in court, he still murdered someone. I feel sorry for him, but he also deserves these difficulties in his life :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003410150338 Nicole Yamagawa

    Maybe he should apply for work at Sagawa… (the delivery service)

    I read a while back that he is apparently planning on murdering and eating another woman, so that he would get famous again. Whether it’s true or not, I guess only time will tell..

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    My guess is he didn’t officially admit to it until after the case was over. Once the case is closed the “innocent/not-innocent” status is forever, at least I think that’s how it works in the US, so I’m just guessing it’s the same in Japan. Like, OJ could tell everyone he killed his wife now and there’s nothing anyone could do. I guess that’s why they got him on some other crimes later…

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    That’s messed up :/

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I have a feeling his rating system uses fingers… “This is a five finger restaurant!”

  • ジョサイア

    So I’m not the only one that gets cheeped out by his face…

  • ジョサイア

    Just wait till the girl mother shows up at his door with a smg and interrogation kit…

  • ジョサイア

    (‘O.o) That guy is extremely messed up…

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    I guess someone who likes to burn places down would know the best ways to prevent it from happening.
    Reminds me of a show from a few years back called ‘It Takes a Thief’ where these ex-burglars got people’s permission to break into their houses at a random time to show how poor their security was. Then the people got a few thousand dollars worth of security equipment and better doors/windows.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    They probably ran away with the excuse that he was insane once they heard the word ‘cannibal’.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Ironic thing is that the mother would end up in jail for that and he wouldn’t (though, from the sounds of it, the smg would make him dead too).

  • Emi

    I feel sick, though I’ve never been more glad that I don’t eat meat.

  • ジョサイア

    Not if she does it in France! ;D

  • ジョサイア

    What about Steve jobs?

  • http://twitter.com/charmoyl charmoyl

    It’s scary, but I am kinda curious about the types of meals he regularly prepares and enjoys. Has he thrown any dinner parties after the incident? Cos, I would attend if I’d gotten an invite. Would not want to be the first one to arrive though.

  • Mescale

    I think he’s been dead too long to be tasty.

  • ジョサイア

    I was saying that not everyone that regularly wears turtlenecks are creepy…

    I know someone that would get so mad at you for saying that!!

  • HokkaidoKuma

    The difference between Sagawa and OJ is that Sagawa admitted to his crime. If OJ came out came out and told everyone that he murdered his wife, there’s nothing anyone could do about that, but he could be convicted of perjury.

  • HokkaidoKuma

    After watching the Vice Interview, watching him try to live out the rest of the days of his life in society is far worse then living the rest of his life in a maximum secure prison. At least in prison, he’s around people who’ve committed just as heinous crimes. In society, he’ll be forever isolated.

  • Zakuro Jenny

    Aren’t any of you curious to know what people taste like?

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    NOPE

  • joonjune

    A confession alone will not warrant guilt. Japan didn’t have any evidence to try him on. This is so because we don’t want innocent people confessing to crimes that they didn’t commit.

  • joonjune

    In America, it is called “Double Jeopardy”. Even if OJ admit to killing his wife, he can’t be tried for murder… but maybe manslaughter.

  • joonjune

    Well, if you READ the article, Japan didn’t have evidence to try him on because France refused to hand them over.

  • MyBoobItches

    Am I the only one who’s curious…. >.> ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/PeterStanton Peter Andrew Stanton

    To try another, rarely utilised meat? Certainly not.
    And I hope I’m not the only that dislikes the way people are more disturbed by the cannibalism than the murder. He frickin’ murdered someone and may never have learnt to not do so! Whether the remaining flesh decomposes after being consumed by him or worms seems trivial after the sudden (at least in the article it gave me the feeling of cold blooded crime)

  • http://www.facebook.com/PeterStanton Peter Andrew Stanton

    Woah! You can affect change with Tofugu editing! I must get back to commenting on every (seriously) article with “there’s =/= there’re”.

  • stee-jo

    i dunno, i think stee-jo is pretty creepy

  • Constantine

    What a pile of scum! This putred scum should have been expired long ago. This thing has no remorse for murder and his deplorable acts upon a person who’s Life was snuffed out short. This thing should be thrown into an incinerator alive! and burned down to dust! and his dust be thrown into an active sewage line. By the way’, everyone leaving post’s, the subject matter is Issei Sagawa; not O.J. Simpson!!!

  • Random person

    This is one of those moments where I wish Dexter Morgan was real. He’d set this guy strait, and he’d be an easy target.

  • guest

    I read from articles that the reason he could get away was because his wealthy father hired one of the best lawyers in France and led him to persuade French government to toss him to Japan and close the case and never reveal the documents to Japanese police. The lawyer made it so that revealing the case to Japanese would only make things complicated for the French. Money is power isn’t it