'During this time of Lent, as we pray for our dead, we wish to share with you the fate of our friend Okashita, who was condemned to death and executed on April 10, 2008, just 10 years ago.
We got to know a journalist who was really interested in his life. He was in charge of the literary section of a daily newspaper. While Okashita was in prison he had written and published a book of poetry. To mark the 10th anniversary of his death many articles about him appeared in the newspaper.
In this mailing we are including our letter written in 2008 after Okashita’s execution, together with an article by the journalist, written just this year, 10 years after his death.
Our Holy Father Francis has recently felt the need to state clearly that the death penalty can, in no circumstances, be justified. We are still a long way from that mindset here, even among Catholics. Fortunately, a certain number of cases of those who are condemned to death are being reviewed, but this process can take such a long time that it seems that the final decision will be pronounced after they are already dead. Please pray with us.'
Little sisters Clara Choko and Noëlle Helene

Concerning our friend Okashita san, executed in Tokyo on April 10, 2008
We have known him for about 5 years. We visited him regularly and we also wrote to him. Ever since he was on death row, only little sister Clara Choko was allowed to visit him. Little sister Noëlle Helene continued to correspond with him via his wife. He replied to her letters using different tricks. For example, he would address the letter to little sister Clara Choco and affix an extra 1 yen stamp, indicating that it was for the postal tax. Little sister Noëlle Helene would thus understand that the letter was meant for her….

Okashita san was born in 1946, the third child of a poor family from Hiroshima. In 1985, he arrived in Tokyo, and in 1989 he committed a criminal offense. He went on the run with a woman whom he later married in prison. We know her well. In 1995 he was stopped by the police. At first he was sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison. But that did not satisfy the police who appealed the sentence and he was condemned to death.

Okashita san was a warm and honest man. He was gifted communicator, which he expressed little by little in his drawings and especially his poetry. Through a prison magazine, he got to know a pastor, who was also a poetry professor. She lived outside of the city in the country but agreed to guide him and she sent him a Bible. Reading the Bible and composing poetry was really nourishing for him and a true path of purification. We saw him blossom little by little, as he prepared for death. His eldest son used to visit his father whenever he passed through Tokyo. He had previously told his own son that his grandfather was dead. As the son was starting secondary school he thought of telling him the truth and discussed this with Okashita san. He responded by saying it may be preferable not to trouble the child. But his son replied, “I knew how to raise my son, I will know how to share this with him.” Sometime afterwards Okashita received a letter from his grandson: “Grandfather, I believed that you were dead and I am so happy to know that you are alive. I will come to see you.” Okashita san allowed his hair to grow so that he could welcome his grandson in style!

With the help of his poetry professor, Okashita san published a book of poetry in 2006 entitled “The beginning of the end.” This book had a big impact. In it he shared about his day to day life as a prisoner and as a believer. Recently we felt that he was preparing to die. Undoubtedly he was impressed by the increasingly rapid pace of executions. In spite of this, he remained peaceful, because Jesus had become his friend. He hurried to produce a booklet for his children in order to share about his life in his own words and not according to the mass media or the police’s interpretation. His wife helped a lot with this work, in spite of her own heavy work load. Sensing the end was near, he didn’t finish his story but he quickly made some copies. He sent one to little sister Clara Choko, with one condition, “Promise me that after you have read this, you will still be my friend…” Since January he had asked his wife for writing material and he prepared his will. We realized this when we received personal letters of farewell and gratitude just after his death.

And on the morning of April the 10th they came to execute him…. A friend phoned us straight away when she saw it on the TV at midday. Little sister Clara Choko then called his wife but she already knew. She was at work but she couldn’t share her deep distress with any of her co-workers. The next day we, his wife, some of his children, his poetry professor, and a lawyer gathered at the prison to claim his body and his personal possessions. Then we went to a Protestant hall in the Sanya district where we, together with about thirty people, held a short ceremony of farewell around his body. There were lots of flowers. Then the body was taken to the hospital, because, after much effort, he had obtained permission to donate his body to medical science. Some days later we returned to the hospital. There we met the doctor in charge, who showed utmost kindness and understanding. He said that normally a body would be kept for 2 to 3 years, but that he would do what he could to return his remains to his family as soon as was possible. After that interview we spent the rest of the day with his wife and some friends sharing memories and comforting each other.

On April 19th we took part in a gathering against the death penalty. Little sister Clara Choko shared about our journey with our friend. After that meeting we again met up with his wife who told us that she wished to keep some of his ashes and that she counted on our help to prepare a Christian style memorial.

After those days of intense emotions - grief mixed with anger - we began again, little by little to get back on our feet. It is always hard to lose a good friend, but we are certain the Lord welcomed him with great tenderness. We remember the words of Jesus during the Way of the Cross, “Do not weep for me but for your own sins!” And we would like to add: and also for those of our society. Pray with us because the pace of executions does not seem to be slowing down…. Father Nakaya will celebrate mass for our friend on the May 13th. His wife and some friends will be there…

Newspaper Article about M. Okashita - written in 2018
This is the tenth article in a series of 15 articles written by the journalist Mr. Ueno about our friend Okashita who was sentenced to death and executed in Tokyo on April 10, 2008, at the age of 58. These articles appeared in the local edition (Nagano province) of “Mainichi,” a daily newspaper. The series of articles was entitled “Life and Redemption” and the title of the last one was “The human heart found in a prison cell.”

The rejection of the last appeal to the Supreme Court in Tokyo in March 2005 regarding Mr. Kaoru Okashita was sent to him on official paper. Mr. Okashita had been charged with two murders in 2001 and a scam and he was sentenced to death. He had admitted to one of the murders, but he denied having caused the death of the other person, whose death was accidental. That’s why he appealed. But the verdict was just reinstated. (Usually in Japan, the death sentence is given for two murders.) This sentencing paper was a final verdict. He wrote a poem about it.

“It was a very light weight piece of paper but for me it was the heaviest paper of my life.”

When a death sentence is final, only family members and lawyers are allowed to see the accused. They are also the only people with whom the person can correspond. After his criminal act in 1989, Mr. Okashita was on the run for six years with a woman friend before being arrested by the police. This woman did not have the right legally to visit him in prison. So they got married officially in order to have the right. In addition to the family and his lawyer, two others had gotten the permission to see him. One was his poetry teacher who had been guiding him through letters during his time in prison, and the other was little sister Clara Choko, a religious belonging to the congregation of the Little Sisters of Jesus. She is 86 years old and lives in Itabashi, Tokyo. This congregation, which began in France, is consecrated to the poorest and to minorities, to those who are on the margins of society. The Little Sisters have a mission of prayer while living close to them. According to the Little Sister, she never met anyone in prison who appeared to be a monster or dangerous. She imagines that many people who have gotten into trouble were in difficult situations and in order to survive turned in on themselves defensively, and in the end, were led to commit crimes. In speaking of that, the Little Sister said that this corresponds to the impression she had of Mr. Okashita.

She got to know him through another convict she was going to see. The first day they met, lsr Clara Choko was a little tense. To get her to relax, Mr. Okashita said to her, “Your handwriting on the letter you sent me was so beautiful that I felt the need to hang it on the wall in my cell.” She would go to see him about twice a month and was allowed 15 minutes. She spoke to him as if he were family and avoided asking questions that were too serious. Sometimes she took plants along or autumn leaves she found along the way and would show them to him.

In 2003 the prison moved into a larger and more modern facility, but from it you could hardly see outside. This disappointed Mr. Okashita. One day lsr Clara Choko received a small gift from Mr. Okashita. It was a little bag of seeds. He told her to plant them, which she did. They turned into pretty spring flowers and he composed a poem: “These flowers that the Little Sister planted for me have given many flowers both strong and sweet to see.” br />
At present, lsr Clara Choko is living with a French Little Sister (83 years old) and they go to see other persons who have been condemned to death. “I never tell any of them to ‘convert.’ With time those convicted feel safe with us. It could be said that we are waiting for their hearts to become human hearts again,” lsr Clara told me.

People like the poetry teacher, Mrs. Mitsumoto and Sister Clara did not abandon Mr. Okashita, even after his final sentencing. It seemed that, after having committed a crime in 1989 and spent 15 years in prison, Mr. Okashita had found a human heart again and expressed it through poetry “Tonight, too, a warm light abides in me with my thanks and gratitude and I peacefully close my eyes.” “From my life will come flowers!”

Three years after the final decision, when Sister Clara was going to prison as usual, she saw a cherry tree in bloom nearby. When she told him about it, Mr. Okashita replied, “Sister Clara, the cherry trees are beautiful all year long, not only with the flowers but also with the shoots in springtime, the colors of the autumn leaves, the bare branches in winter…” No doubt, Mr. Okashita was remembering the cherry trees of his native province of Hiroshima. On April 10, shortly after this meeting, Mr. Okashita was executed.

(Translation of an article published by Mr. Ueno in the newspaper “Mainichi” after two get-togethers with lsr Clara Choko and lsr Noëlle Helene at our community of Nakaitabashi.)