Tokyo Murder: The Death of Nicola Furlong

First, let me state the obvious: Japan is safe, remarkably safe, for foreigners and visitors alike.  We all  are quite aware of natural disasters in Japan, but rates of crime and domestic violence are very low for this country of 127 million.  Tokyo is no exception.  Our feelings of safety may cloud our judgment about interactions.  When one feels safe, you might think nothing of joining a new acquaintance for dinner or a drink.  If you have a friend with you, even if it’s two women, you might feel even safer.  Safety in numbers, remember.  The U.S. Department of State Travel website says this about crime in Japan:

The general crime rate in Japan is well below the U.S. national average. Crimes against U.S. citizens in Japan usually involve personal disputes, theft, or vandalism. Violent crime is rare but does exist. Sexual assaults do not happen often but do occur, and females may be randomly targeted.

Japan’s safety and polite population hold international appeal for visitors when choosing Japan as a short-term tourist destination or for a lengthier study abroad experience.  It is an expensive destination, but the nation brand of Japan as safe and comfortable for foreigners is why we are here.  So this is why when there is a horrific crime, especially involving an attractive, vivacious young woman from outside Japan, the world takes notice.  We also know that race, age, gender and physical attractiveness play into how quickly mysterious deaths go global.  White women, young women, or pretty women get the most coverage.  It is not right or fair but the reality.

In the early morning hours of Thursday, May 24, a young Irish exchange student named Nicola Furlong lost her life at Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo.  The hotel website pitches its amenities:

The Keio Plaza Hotel is the ideal location to explore the delights of the city of Tokyo. Only minutes away from the most popular shopping and entertainment spots, our luxury hotel provides stunning views over central Tokyo.  A cozy bed, a good meal, friendly faces…. these are just some of the comforts that you seek after stepping inside the hotel door.

Nicola was not staying at Keio Plaza Hotel as a paying guest.  She and an unnamed Irish female friend from Dublin City University met two young American men after a Nicki Minaj concert.  The two women were exchange students at a university located about an hour train ride outside of Tokyo.  It’s not clear how soon after the concert the women met the two Americans, but the chance meeting with the men ended with the asphyxiation death of Nicola in one of the American’s hotel room.  The two Americans are identified as an unnamed 19-year-old musician and international Krumping dancer James “Kingtight” Blackston, age 23. (In a sad irony, you can see Blackston in a 2009 video called “Dancing Against Violence Bonn.”)  The two are now in the custody of Tokyo police.  They are not being held for Nicola’s alleged murder but rather for illegal touching of Nicola’s friend in a taxi en route to the hotel, which was captured on surveillance tape inside the taxi.   Quite another assembly–not of dancers and musicians–but rather diplomats and investigators, is now involved in this criminal case, including the U.S. State Department, U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Irish Embassy in Tokyo, and local police authorities.

I have such a sad feeling about the death of Ms. Furlong.  She was just 21 and due to return to her home country of Ireland in a few weeks.  News media reports say that she and her schoolmate were so inebriated that they could barely walk on their own.  How they got into that condition is not clear.  Were they drugged?  If they had become drunk on their own before meeting the two men, it would be an unwise move that left them vulnerable to becoming crime victims, but being publicly drunk is not a crime in itself.  They might have been plied with very strong drinks.  We will get a much fuller picture in the days and weeks ahead.

I predict that this case will be an international media sensation like the Amanda Knox case in Italy.  The cases aren’t similar in facts, but they do involve foreigners in popular host countries.  Japan in general and Tokyo in particular want foreigners to keep coming–at least to visit or study here–and a crime with this international reach will cause some to question Japan’s reputation for safety.  It’s safe here, but the stillness of one late May morning in Tokyo was forever changed for Nicola Furlong and her family and friends in Ireland.  May justice be served in this case and may Nicola Furlong rest in peace.

20 thoughts on “Tokyo Murder: The Death of Nicola Furlong

  1. As an Irish person living in Japan I am deeply shocked by this news. Thank you very much for presenting such a balanced summary of what is known so far about this tragic event.

  2. Thank you for your kind note. It is always risky to comment too soon about such a tragic event. I share your sense of shock. I did try to be measured in my rhetoric out of respect to Nicola’s family. As a strong advocate for international educational and cultural exchange, both as a practitioner and participant, I felt a greater kinship to Nicola and imagined how exciting her study abroad year was. It is so sad.

  3. Knowing the Irish well, it would not surprise me in the least that these girls drank themselves into a stupor without the assistance of any third party. Placing your personal safety in this condition into the hands of perfect strangers was bound to turn out badly.

  4. Solomon, there were people who reported to police that the two Irish women appeared to have trouble walking and appeared very drunk. This made them completely vulnerable. What we don’t know is when or how they became so intoxicated. Public drunkenness at such a level should have alarmed people who saw it, but it was probably ignored given the time of night and area. It also does not excuse any foul play that followed. My heart breaks for Nicola’s family. This is not how they foresaw their family reunion.

  5. Oh, it certainly is a tragedy. You can only feel desperately sad for the family and for Nicola herself. Let’s hope it raises awareness of remaining responsible even in super-safe Japan.

  6. This story gets worse all the time. Latest reports say that Nicola’s body showed signs of sexual assault after strangulation. Also, her drinks may have been spiked with a drug to incapacitate her. She was due to return to Ireland in July.

  7. I thought this was a huge tragedy and feel very sad about this news. I want to send my deepest sympathy to the family of this Irish student.

    Still I want to express my feelings on Japan(Tokyo) as a place to visit. I believe Japan is a great place for foreigners to visit. I am 100% Japanese but once I have posed to be a tourist only speaking in English with some of my friends. I was curious of how people would change if I was a tourist or foreigner. In fact people changed drastically and were very friendly, even more friendly when I spoke in Japanese at some places. I want people to know that Japan is a great place to visit, with friendly people and I hope more people would come to Japan.

  8. I think Japan is a very safe country and it is good. However, we Japanese sometimes are too unaware of danger hiding in the society. Last February I went to Barcelona, which was my first abroad experience and I was surprised because people there were very cautious not to be stolen or have their pocket picked. For example, they do not often have bags without zip or they always have their belongings in their visibility. On the other hand, in Japan, people often leave their belongings on tables or chairs when they go to a bathroom or they have their bags on their back. After I came back to Japan, I often feel that Japanese people are so careless that they endanger themselves to crimes. Therefore, not only foreign tourists or exchange students but also Japanese people have to keep in mind that there are some terrible crimes, even in Japan.

  9. I am usually not too worried about getting involved in crimes during the day, but after it gets dark, I try not to stay out late, especially alone. Japan is safe for the most part, but because of its safety, I think people are too unaware of the dangers that could happen anytime. I don’t really think places like Shibuya or Shinjuku are safe places to be especially at night. I have experienced numerous times one or two men coming up and trying to talk to me and ask for my number. I am not one to judge by looks, but I would never tell them my number or much less start a conversation with them because I can tell they are not really interested in getting to know me all that much. However, I have friends who have told those kinds of men their number because they did not know how to decline or others who actually meet people whom they met on the internet. My friends are all safe, but I cannot help but feel worried that by continuing to do these things, they will end up in a situation they will regret forever.

  10. It is certainly shocking to hear these kinds of news, and I just hope that nothing like this will happen in the near future. Crimes involving foreigners are not often on the news, and I do believe that Japan is quite safe when it comes to crimes. I often feel this way when people are asleep on trains. Some people are deeply asleep at times, but usually no one steals their belongings. I think these behaviors of Japanese citizens builds trusting relationships between each other and as a result, appeals to foreigners. Therefore it is very disappointing to hear this tragedy when Japan is well known to be a safe country. We may still not know what had happened to the girls before they arrived at the hotel, but however safe it may seem, it is important for everyone to be aware of the risks of meeting strangers. This can be a lesson for any Japanese citizen, and especially for those foreign people in Japan who think that Japan is a safe country.

  11. I pray that may God rest Miss Nicolas’s soul in peace.

    I believe Japan is a very safe country to visit, stay, or to live. I guarantee this by the differences in the experiences I felt when I lived in the USA and after I came back to Japan.

    I was very surprised to know that I could leave my bag with my wallets and keys and cards inside of it to keep the place or that I could keep my eyes off of it just to go to the lady’s room in Japan. But not in the US. It is most likely or should I say obviously, if in the same situation, that that bag will be taken away even if you take your eyes off of it for only five five minutes.

    Hopefully, as one Japanese, I wouldn’t have to see such tragedies.

  12. Chihiro, maybe the police in Tokyo are not experienced with every day murders such as strangulation. It’s hard to understand why someone brings a girl to a high class hotel to strangle her. Maybe to one’s home but not a hotel where he is registered.

    It’s possible she could have died from too much alcohol consumption or some type of drugs. Personally, I don’t like being around girls who are drunk. And one of my rules is never have sex with a drunk girl. Having said that, it’s not uncommon for a girl in the West to go to some guy’s home or maybe hotel she just met and have sex. Maybe shocking in Japan but not for some parts of the states.

    So, I won’t jump to conclusions to say this was murder since I read the charges are not even for murder. Unless they have been upgraded.

  13. You might want to watch your mouth. A girl has been murdered, a 21-year-old girl, with her whole life ahead of her…”Knowing the Irish well” Do you really? How exactly? If you did, you would never make a comment like this.

  14. Without any doubt it was such tragic news that happened here in Tokyo and I hope that justice will be served. However, I also think that this kind of tragedy could have been avoided. Do not take me wrong. I am not saying anything to blame or offend anyone. I do understand the feeling out there (after the Nicki Minaj concert the atmosphere should have gone crazy), but anyone can simply guess what could be happened when someone stays outside late at night. This can be applied to any cities and Tokyo is not an exception. The importance here is how much we can keep it in our mind. With our own risk management, some additional alert from the government or police would be needed.

  15. Strangulation is an intimate, violent, and often impulsive act, which suggests that there may have been a sexual rebuff on the part of the victim that led to the violence. It doesn’t matter if you are in a high class hotel or in your home for such violence to occur. A murderous act can happen in an instance and it’s doubtful that the person is thinking, “Hey, what am I doing? I’m in a high class hotel. That’s not allowed here.”

    All media reports consistently say that Nicola showed signs of strangulation, not dying from alcohol or drugs.

  16. Today’s Japan Times (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20120605zg.html) shows how Internet chatter has replaced any official police comments. There are so many unanswered questions. There were witnesses who must have seen the Irish women after the Nikki Minaj concert. There must be others who witnessed the women with the two American men. So much silence. We watch and we wait. Nicola was buried in her Irish village this past weekend.

  17. Today’s Japan Times (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20120605zg.html#.T835wSkWXik.twitter) shows how an information vacuum will never remain empty. The Japanese police, nearly two weeks after the mysterious death and likely murder, have said little about this case. Nicola’s family is mostly in the dark about her last few hours alive. Surely there must have been witnesses who spotted the Irish women at the Nicki Minaj concert on Wednesday, May 23. Others may have seen Nicola and her friend with the two American men later that night. We wait and wonder about all the details. This woman’s life deserves a full accounting of the facts and a fervent pursuit of truth in justice. Nicola Furlong was buried this past Sunday in a pink casket.

  18. I do believe that Japan is a very safe country to live in, and I always thought that before I came to Japan five years ago. But these days, there are many incidents concerning car accidents, murder and even missing people. I am really shocked to see these kinds of news because they appear on the television almost every day now. Japan has become an unsafe country compared to the knowledge my mother has of Japan. I am always cautious of going out when on trains and even when I am going out on my own. I also think the Japanese have this admiration of foreign people, and they would want to kidnap them for the sake of themselves.

  19. Like other people have said, I do believe Japan is one of the safest countries but it doesn’t mean there is no crime at all. We have a low crime late but it is increasing and the crimes are becoming more vicious and violent. It’s not the same as some decades ago where people didn’t even lock their front doors when they went outside. Wherever we go, even if it’s known to be a safe country, as long as we know very little about that place we have to be more careful and feel the strain in a way.

  20. Great post. I used to be checking continuously this blog and I am impressed! Very useful info specifically the ultimate section 🙂 I take care of such information a lot. I used to be seeking this particular info for a very long time. Thank you and good luck.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s