Japanese man’s death is a mystery; details scant

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Japanese man’s death is a mystery; details scant

The circumstances surrounding the death and disappearance of a 30-year-old Japanese man last month remain unclear and have continued to mystify authorities in Korea and Japan.

Kyodo News reported on Saturday that the man, a Japanese government employee, was found dead and adrift in waters off the coast of Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, in western Japan.

According to the report, the man worked for the Economic and Social Research Institute, part of Japan’s Cabinet Office, and was studying at the University of Minnesota in the United States. He was granted permission last December to attend an economic seminar held in Korea in early January, though the man had allegedly been unreachable since he arrived here.

The Korean government said it was not notified of his visit, and it could not be confirmed as of press time when or if he had arrived in Korea through Incheon International Airport. The details of his movements in Korea until the time his body was discovered in Japan have so far been limited.

“It is not confirmed whether he attended the meeting or not,” said a Korean government official. “We were never asked for anything concerning his visit, and we have no information about the case.”

The Cabinet Office of Japan said it also cannot reveal whether the man actually entered Korea and added that his known whereabouts were not clear because there was no record of him flying out of Korea or arriving in Japan.

The Japanese Coast Guard was alerted on Jan. 18 to a report of a man who was apparently unconscious and lying in a rubber boat about 3-meters (9.8-feet) long, which was drifting near the Japanese coastal town of Kitakyushu. However, officials were not able to conduct a rescue mission at the time due to poor weather conditions.

Two days later, the boat was found capsized and the body of the man was discovered on a seabed not far from the boat.

Authorities said the man had no visible external injuries and that he was carrying Korean currency notes.

The case took another curious turn after his luggage was found in a hotel in Seoul that was different from the one in which he had stayed. The room where his luggage was found was also registered under another name. The details surrounding those circumstances remain unclear.

The Fuji TV channel reported yesterday that the man bought the boat on Jan. 6 while in Seoul and requested that it be shipped to Busan. He showed up the next day in Busan wearing a cap and a mask, where he purchased an engine for the boat.

The Maritime Safety Agency of Japan is investigating the case and suspect the man may have been involved in an incident or committed suicide.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed his condolences yesterday morning, but he refused to elaborate further on the case because the investigation is ongoing.

“We have not been officially requested by Tokyo to investigate the case,” said a government official here. “We are not currently working on it.”

Japanese authorities hope more details will emerge as the investigation proceeds.

BY KIM BONG-MOON [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]
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