Koyubi 小指

I’ve always been a sucker for any news story that involves bungling crooks, and this one from last week is a fine example of the genre:

On Monday 7th May at around 5.30pm, a 59-year-old woman arrived back at her apartment complex in Nishi-ku, Sapporo, and was checking her mail just inside the main doors when a man crept up on her from behind. He snatched her handbag – which among other things contained approximately 4000 yen (about £20) in cash – and ran off, a moment that was captured for posterity by security cameras in the residents’ car park.

As any bag snatcher worthy of the job title will tell you, it’s essential to plan your escape route in advance, but being a certified Bungling Crook, our man got on his bicycle and promptly headed towards a dead end at the back of the apartment block. Not only that, but the victim of his crime was hot on his heels, and caught up with him as he was turning around to look for a way out.

While the woman preferred to remain anonymous, she did agree to be interviewed on camera, and appeared on the news filmed from the neck down and with her voice disguised. Here’s how she described what happened next:

I held up my hands and shouted, “Wait!” and then grabbed the shopping basket on the front of the bicycle. I managed to get hold of my bag, and as I was trying to snatch it back, the struggle continued next to the bicycle. I was biting down on the thief’s left hand, and you could see it was hurting him, but even so, he didn’t make a sound. After he escaped I noticed something strange in my mouth. When I realised it was a finger, I felt rather queasy and spat it out.’

Yes, that’s right, in the process of successfully reclaiming her bag, the woman managed to bite off part of her assailant’s little finger – a neighbour interviewed for the same news item described finding it on the ground a few minutes later.

Once the thief had extricated himself from his victim’s vice-like jaws – she bit down so hard that she broke one of her front teeth – he did eventually make his getaway, and at the time of writing is still at large. Aside from the obvious distinguishing feature of being one fingertip short of a handful, he is described as being in his 30s, between 170 and 180cm tall, and solidly built, with a light-coloured jacket and dark-coloured trousers.

The most amusing thing about the story is that cutting off the top of one’s little finger is a common form of penance for members of the yakuza, so while the suspect is almost certainly not a gangster (it’s highly unlikely that a proper yakuza would indulge in such petty thievery), he is destined forever to be mistaken for one.

As one news agency rather dryly concluded, ‘The police have not revealed the whereabouts of the severed finger, nor have they said whether or not they will take a fingerprint from it to help apprehend the suspect.’

(Unfortunately, two news reports on this story have already been removed from YouTube, but if you fancy reading more about missing little fingers – aka koyubi / 小指 – may I recommend Junichi Saga’s fascinating book Confessions Of A Yakuza.)

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