About ten years ago when a “panty thief” was caught red-panty-handed, the police searched the suspect’s home where they found several thousand pairs of women’s undergarments. The article in the paper included, as they often do, an amusing photo of the panties covering the entire floor of a gymnasium.
Looking at the photo, I couldn’t help but be puzzled by a number of things. The first question, of course, was: Why? Why in God’s name would a man go to the trouble, the embarrassment even, of stealing women’s panties?
I often joke that it takes all types—this case will surely add further evidence of that—and any statistician will point to the Gaussian function in mathematics, which describes the normal distribution of a population as bell-shaped with the vast majority falling within a narrow range in the center. When it comes to matters of sex, those who enjoy orthodox heterosexual whoopee make up the greatest portion of that bell, while a very small percentage of the population who get there rocks off through a variety of fetishes would be found on the fringes of the curve. It is not really my place to condemn one man’s fetish over another’s. For one, I don’t think the majority of monogamous, heterosexual vanilla ice cream couples would exist without those on the wild fringes of sexuality also existing. But, panties? It boggles my mind how a man could possibly get excited over a pair of women’s knickers?
The second question I had was the dubious taste of the panty thief. Looking at the picture of the thousands upon thousands of underwear spread out like a silk ocean on that gymnasium floor, I noticed that quite a few pair were clearly granny pants—big, frumpy unfashionable things. You’d think that a panty thief would be more particular about the knickers he nicked, that he would become a connoisseur of lingerie and would collect only the most titillating undergarments, the bloomers that Japanese schoolgirls wear, for example. But, no, quantity seemed to be winning over quality once again.
Wanting to get at the “bottom” of this peculiar aspect of Japanese culture, I did some checking and came across an interesting article in Nikkan Sports—I know, I know. It’s always the sport papers—part of which I have summarized below:
The following was taken from the transcripts of the November 27, 2008 trial of a fifty-one year old man named Hino who was arrested for the crime of theft.
It’s an odd case in which Hino allegedly used a fishing pole to steal women’s undergarments that were hanging out to dry on balconies. The truck driver was arrested a few months earlier in September when he was seen stealing a pair of women’s panties from the second floor balcony of a home in Toyoshima Ward, Tôkyô. The “victim” who was on the second floor at the time saw a fishing pole rise up from below, snag onto the underwear and remove them from the clothes line. She then saw Hino escape on a bicycle. The woman called the police and Hino was arrested shortly thereafter.
When the police searched Hino’s home they found five hundred pairs of women’s panties and a fishing pole that could be extended up to three-meter in length and had a hook attached to the end of it for snatching underwear. In a written statement, Hino admitted to having stole underwear since he was eighteen, most of which were taken from laundromats.
The length of Hino’s career as an underwear thief, the number of panties confiscated, and the method by which they were stolen them all ensured that this case would end up being widely reported in the media. Quite a few people in Japan today will still be familiar with the details.
Hino was charged on three counts of stealing for three different crimes involving a total of seven panties worth about two thousand yen altogether.
According to the prosecutor, the defendant had a previous record stretching from 1990 to 2006. Hino confessed that he first noticed he was more interested in what was covering the genitals of women more than their naked bodies when he was seventeen and had sexual relations with his girlfriend. After high school, he found a job and got married, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1997. It was after the divorce that Hino began stealing panties from coin-operated laundromats. He would liberate women’s drawers at a pace of about once a week.
After Hino married again (to a Filipina), he was inspired one night while watching TV: a comedy program gave him the idea of affixing fishing hooks to the end of a fishing pole with tape. In early 2006, panties were found hidden in the premises of his apartment building. When police investigated, they found the fishing pole and some 281 pairs of panties in his apartment. Another five hundred panties were seized this time.
During the investigation, the defendant is reported to have said, “When I found the woman’s panties, I couldn’t help myself. I had to take them. I returned to my home, got my fishing rod and went back to her home. I don’t think others will be able to understand, but the moment I catch the panties hanging outside is very exciting for me. Doing it at my own home just doesn’t quite do it for me, I have to have the real thing.”
(Note: Hino would often do this “panty fishing” in his own home, too.)
At the time of Hino’s second arrest, his wife and child were living in the Philippines.
Defense Lawyer: You were living in the Philippines, but because you couldn’t earn much there, you returned to Japan. Is that correct?
Lawyer: How much money do you send to your wife?
Hino: Two hundred thousand yen a month.
Lawyer: Is your desire to see your wife and child again strong?
Hino: Yes it is.
Lawyer: Did you do it (steal panties) to get your mind off of that loneliness?
Hino: Hmm. It’s all because I didn’t do enough soul-searching.
It’s not clear whether the defendant had already submitted a written confession or the defense lawyer was merely hoping to avoid asking questions that dealt directly with the crimes involved, but for whatever reason his questioning of the defendant concluded. It was now turn of the prosecution.
Prosecutor: You went so far as to rig a fishing pole, didn’t you? I understand you had a fixation with panties, but you did this after watching a comedy program?
Prosecutor: You weren’t charged, but when you were arrested in 2006 you also used a fishing pole. Did you use the same fishing pole this time?
Prosecutor: Sorry? How many poles do you have?
Hino: I made two. Only one was seized (in 2006).
Prosecutor: So, one rod remained. When did you make them?
Hino: About half a year before I was arrested.
Prosecutor: The summer of 2005, right? When you were arrested the first time, the police seized 281 pairs of panties. This time five hundred. When you were questioned you said that you started stealing pants in 1997. Are those panties from then?
Hino: Yes. All of them were taken from laundromats.
Prosecutor: Why weren’t the five hundred seized when you were arrested before?
Hino: The ones that were seized at that time were the ones I liked and were in my apartment. I meant to throw the other five hundred away and had put them in garbage bags and left them in the building’s storage room. The other fishing rod was also kept there.
Prosecutor: You say you meant to throw them away, but when your apartment was searched this time, three garbage bags full of panties were found in your closet. You kept them for more than a year and a half so it doesn’t stand to reason that you were going to throw them out, does it?
Hino: Um, no . . .
Prosecutor: At the point where you didn’t admit to the police that you had more panties hidden suggests that you intended to go on stealing them, doesn’t it? You aren’t hiding something else, are you?
Hino: I brought the panties and hanger from my home and (after hanging them on the balcony myself) I then caught them with the fishing rod.
Prosecutor: Excuse me? Why would you do such a thing?
Note: putting aside the fact that the defendant had just incriminated himself with the crime of illegally entering a person’s home, he admitted to preparing a pair of women’s panties and a hanger and then went to a stranger’s balcony to try and snatch them with the fishing rod.
Prosecutor: You’re interested in panties, right? But, while it may be the easiest way to steal them, what you’re saying is that you’ve got to do it with a fishing pole?
Hino: It’s a different kind of pleasure . . .
The prosecutor’s questions ended there. Next it was the judge’s turn to question the defendant.
Judge: When you arrested before, why wasn’t the fishing pole seized?
Hino: It was outside at the time.
Judge: And why didn’t you throw it away?
Hino: It’s not that I intended to use it again. I just left it there.
Judge: It doesn’t look as if you had made up your mind to quit.
Hino: I don’t think there’s anything I can do about changing the way people think about me.
Judge: Even when you were arrested in 2006 it was no use, so I don’t think you’ll stop doing it from now on, either.
Hino: I underestimated everything and betrayed a lot of people, and beg the victims for their forgiveness. I would like them to believe that I have turned over a new leaf and won’t commit another crime. I’ve even lost my job (because of this) . . .
Judge: You knew that if you couldn’t send money back to your family in the Philippines, they would suffer.
Hino: Yes. (And then the defendant broke down and cried.)
The prosecutor demanded the judge to sentence the defendant to two and a half years imprisonment, and, with that, the trial came to an end.
Even with panty thieves, there are all kinds of modus operandi.
 At today’s rate of about 80 yen to the dollar that comes to $2,500 a month. In 2008, it was more like $1,800 a month. In 2008, the per capita GDP of the Philippines was $3,300. The man was a chump to be sending back so much money. He couldn’t have been earning a whole lot as a truck driver.