Japan’s Abe Sada (May 21, 1936)

Japan’s Abe Sada (May 21, 1936)
In 1993, the mere mention of the name “Bobbitt” caused American men to cringe. Truly, anyone who learned of the interesting relationship of John and Lorena Bobbitt usually ended up cringing—or cheering, if the person was female. I’m sure there have been countless times a woman has thought of clipping her man—Lorena actually did it.

But, she was not the first, nor, I’m sure, will she be the last. One of the first documented cases was that of Sada Abe, a Japanese prostitute. Her story, however, was a bit more sinister and psychotical.

Early Life

Born in 1905, Sada was the youngest of the four children who survived to adulthood. Her mother doted upon her adoringly and encouraged her to take singing and shamisen lessons—both of which, at the time, were more closely associated with geishas and prostitutes. Sada would skip school to attend the lessons. When she became a teenager, troubles with her other siblings kept her parents uninvolved in her life. She was often sent out of the house on her own. It was during that time she fell in with a group of similarly displaced teens and, at age 15, was raped by one of her acquaintances. Even though she had the love and support of her family, she still became troublesome. When Sada became more than her parents could handle, they sent her to a geisha house as punishment.

Life as a Geisha

Sada had always wanted to be a geisha. The geishas were like celebrities in Japan at that time. So, at the geisha house, Sada believed her dreams would finally come true. Unfortunately, to become a “star among the geishas,” she would have needed to be apprenticed since childhood and spent most of her life studying art and music. She would never become more than a low-ranking geisha and her job duties were little better than that of a call-girl. Once she contracted syphilis, however, she was required to get regular check-ups. Since licensed prostitutes were required to do the same, she chose to leave the geisha house for a licensed brothel where she would make more money.

She started in the licensed brothels in the Tobita district in Osaka, but soon gained the reputation as a trouble maker. Among her list of crimes were theft from the clients and leaving the brothel on several occasions. Wanting to get out of the industry entirely, she became a waitress at a restaurant. Waitressing, however, didn’t pay very well and she soon found herself back on the streets, this time unlicensed.

The Tragic ‘30’s

Everything happened all at once for Sada. In 1932, she returned to unlicensed prostitution. In 1933, her mother died; in 1934, her father died; in 1936, she was arrested for murder. But, how did she get to that point?

In October of 1934, the unlicensed brothel at which Sada was working was raided by the police and Sada was arrested. Kinnosuke Kasahara, a friend of the brothel owner’s, arranged to have all the women released. He met Sada and liked her. In his words, she was powerful. With her consent, he asked her to be his mistress and she agreed. Their relationship started out passionate, but ended very bitterly. When Kasahara testified at Sada’s trial, he was less than kind. She returned his sentiments.

She decided to leave the industry, again, in 1935, and became a maid at a restaurant where she met and fell in love with Goro Omiya. Knowing the restaurant would release her from her duties for her romantic involvement with a customer, Sada left the restaurant in Nagoya and returned to Tokyo. Omiya recommended that she start her own restaurant as a way to become financially independent and suggested apprenticing in such a business.

The Incident

Kichizo Ishida owned Yoshidaya restaurant. In February of 1936, he accepted into apprenticeship Sada Abe. Ishida was known as a womanizer and it didn’t take long for him to make advances on Sada. Their passionate affair began in mid-April of 1936 and lasted until May of the same year. Once the pair separated, Sada became agitated and began drinking heavily. She had fallen in love with Ishida and felt incomplete without him. Knowing that he was going back to his wife made her jealous. The week before Ishida’s death, she began to contemplate murder. She saw a play in which a geisha attacked her lover with a knife. Sada purchased a kitchen knife and requested a meeting with Ishida. She pulled the knife on him and threatened him, which startled Ishida, but also excited him.

She became more aggressive during their second affair. She would threaten castration with the knife, stating that she would make so he never “played around with another woman.” Ishida thought she was joking and laughed. Two nights later, Sada began choking him during an intimate moment and Ishida told her not to stop—that it heightened his pleasure. They continued that type of act for another two hours, at which point Ishida’s face became distorted. He took some sedatives and made the comment that she’d choke him while he slept, but if she did so, not to stop because it had become painful.

In the early morning of May 18, Sada did just that. She took her scarf and wrapped it around Ishida’s neck and strangled him to death. Using his own blood, she wrote “Sada, Kichi together” on his left inner thigh, and carved her name in his left arm. She then took her knife and removed the male organ, wrapped it in a magazine, and put it in her handbag. For three days, she walked the streets of Tokyo while police searched for her. “Abe Sada Panic” struck the streets and false sightings of the woman came pouring into the police stations. When she was finally apprehended, she very calmly and happily told police who she was. When asked why she committed the act, she stated that she loved him so much, but could never have him just to herself. The classic “if I can’t have him, no one will,” motive.


Sada intended to commit suicide. When she was arrested, she hoped for the death penalty. She was sentenced to 6 years, serving 5. She was released on May 17, 1941—exactly five years after the murder. Sada lived during a flux in Japanese culture. Before World War II, her actions were considered the result of unbridled female sexuality and a threat to the male-dominated society.
After World War II, however, she became a beacon for women’s rights. Truly, she killed her lover out of love—he could control her, but she could do nothing to him. The only way she had any power over him was through death. She lived a low-profile life until she disappeared in 1970.

Her story, graphic as it may be, continues to draw people in to read and learn.

For more information on Sada Abe, please see the following:

Sada Abe on Wikipedia
A Woman Called Sada Abe
Book Review for a book by William Johnston

You Should Also Read:
J. Edgar Hoover FBI Director (May 10, 1924)
Hindenburg Disaster (May 6, 1937)
A Woman Named Girly (September 10, 1999)

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