Yoshie Shiratori, The Antihero Escape Artist

by Shirley Williams
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Yoshie Shiratori was a Japanese father who was imprisoned four times.

The first time he managed to flee was Aomori Prison in 1933. He had used the wire from a bucket as a pick and then arranged several floorboards to give the appearance of laying in his bed. His absence went undetected until he was caught stealing from a hospital three days later. This earned him life imprisonment within Akita Prison.

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Shiratori’s time within Akita was one of regular torture by the guards, most of whom beat him nearly to death. Shiratori made his second escape attempt in 1942, scaling copper walls and picking at his wooden window frame until one stormy night. A single guard heard noise along the roof and soon after discovered that Shiratori had fled the scene. Shiratori sought to repay the one guard’s kindness and went to visit him. The guard greeted Shiratori and even offered him food. It was while Shiratori was using the bathroom that the police were called, earning Shiratori another arrest. This moment was when Shiratori vowed to never trust authorities again.

Shiratori pleads to be sent to Tokyo’s prison for its warm climate, but this was denied him and he was sent to the “inescapable” Abashiri Prison. Shiratori told the guards that handcuffing him was futile, forcing the government to look into commissioning an expert to fabricate solid cuffs that required 2 hours to don or remove. Shiratori managed to escape this prison through miso soup, a staple of Japanese breakfast notable for its salt content; Shiratori used a tiny portion of this soup to weaken his specialty cuffs for weeks and months until such time that he could slip his limbs out of the cuffs.

Unknown to his guards, Shiratori was able to dislocate his limbs, fleeing through the inspection window and taking his chances in the cold, bear-ridden wilderness. Shiratori had actually learned how to catch crabs from watching bears and made his living in the wilds for two years, heading to Sapporo. After being caught stealing tomatoes from a farm, the accuser started a scuffle with Shiratori that resulted in the criminal stabbing the farmer in self-defense-Shiratori was given the death penalty for this.

When Sapporo Prison realized it had caught Shiratori, a thief known for escaping from the tops of his prisons, their watch routine included watching along the walls. Shiratori used this to his advantage, using a bowl to dig a hole and burrow his way to freedom and holing up in an abandoned mine for two years.

Eventually, Shiratori encountered someone while sitting at a bench. The two had a chat and the man even offered an expensive cigarette. Recognizing the gesture, Shiratori confessed to his past only to learn the man was an officer. Although Shiratori was arrested, his general record of nonviolent crimes resulted in only a 20-year sentence. Shiratori served time, reunited with his daughter, remarried, had a son and died of heart attack a decade into his freedom.

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