The Greatest Bank Heists across Japanese History

In this article we will be presenting the history of all the bank robberies in Japan from 1948 to 2018 all the famous 300 million yen robbery to 530 million dollar cryptocurrency robbery.

  1. The Fake Cop who Pulled Off 300 Million Yen Robbery.

2. How Did Thieves in Japan Steal $13 Million From Convenience-Store ATMs?

3. Robbers Send Thank You Note.

4. 1948 robbery-mass murder still far from being solved.

5. World’s biggest ever digital currency ‘theft’.

1. 300 Million Yen Robbery

300 yen robbery

Tokyo, December 10, 1968. The Nihon Trust bank manager and the bank’s employees have been threatened for a few months. Four days ago, a letter was sent to his home demanding 300 million yen or his house will be blown up with explosives.

A letter was made by tearing out and gluing together characters from film magazines. Despite being informed by the police, they kept a close eye on the bank and his house; nevertheless, this did not ease the bank manager’s concerns, which he discussed with his employees.

In Japan, work is work, and the show must carry on. To that end, the bank manager dispatched four of his employees to the nearby Toshiba plant for a planned money drop.

robbers bike in japan

A police officer on a motorbike stopped the vehicles to warn them that the branch manager’s house had just been blown up, leaving many injured.

The bank was a target and branch workers were at risk, especially those who had left the bank to perform bank responsibilities and drove clearly marked company cars. Their cars had to be searched.

An employee saw smoke and flames coming from the car when the officer crawled under it to inspect it. The cop desperately attempted to roll out of the path as the vehicle exploded. Behind the prison walls, everyone fled to safety as quickly as possible.

japanese heist

The explosion, however, did not occur. They turned around and saw the company car had disappeared. Had the police officer transferred the vehicle to a secure location after he had left? Puzzled, they contacted Nihon Trust bank to find out what was happening. They were relieved to hear that the bank manager was alive and well.

Everything was OK there. The manager’s house was never bombed. After the adrenaline wore off, they realized what had happened. It was the moment the offender had been planning for months. While disguised as a police officer, he managed to steal the bonus payments of 523 Toshiba employees totaling 300 million yen or 6 million dollars, the exact amount he had demanded.

Things were discovered on the ground, including a warning flare that the officer must have lit while beneath the vehicle to simulate explosives. There were 120 pieces of evidence left at the crime scene, which is a lot and would normally be helpful, but it was intentionally left there to confuse investigators.

It has been more than half a century since the case remained unresolved. According to some, this was the greatest robbery in Japanese history. No lives were lost and no blood was spilled. Nevertheless, there are many ways in which a bank heist can be remarkable and great.

2. How Did Thieves in Japan Steal $13 Million From ATMs?

atm heist in japan

Consider the case of May 15, 2016. Early in the morning at 5:00 a.m. cash was taken from an ATM at a Tokyo 7-Eleven. The cash limit was 100,000 yen or about $880. This may not seem like a lot but imagine doing it 14,000 times throughout Japan in only two hours. Because that is what happened.

Over 1.4 billion yen (about 13 million dollars) were stolen from ATMs alone, and this was not done electronically. The thieves were physically present. Surely there was some kind of organized group involved. Even so, the large number of transactions in two hours made this seem doubtful. In comparison to other noteworthy cases, the largest known group of participants could not have pulled off this heist unless they had superpowers. 

Police discovered their answer after reviewing surveillance videos from each 7-Eleven store. In fact, only 7-Elevens were targeted.

It took 600 people to carry out a well-coordinated robbery using bogus credit cards. This is quite a difference from the previous heist in which a single person was responsible. Many people have naturally assumed there must be connections to a major criminal organization with this many active players. However, as of today no arrests have been made.

3. Bank Robbers Send Thank You Note

Here’s a short one. It was August 7, 1994 in Kobe. Fukutoku Bank was robbed for 540 million yen – a sizeable sum – but what makes this story uncommon is that 10 days after the heist, the bank received a letter from the thieves. Thank you very much for the Money. We can now live on this treasure for the rest of our lives.

The letter of thanks was sincere. Yes, we are all aware of Japan’s reputation for politeness, but this took it to a whole new level. With the last three cases, there were no fatalities due to perfect execution of plans, but this is not the case with the next one.

4.1948 robbery-mass murder still far from being solved

It was January 26, 1948. An Imperial Bank branch in Tokyo was about to close when a guy in his forties walked in. Inside were 16 people, including customers and customers.

Everyone’s attention was caught when he explained that he was a government health inspector dispatched by the US occupying authority. This was postwar Tokyo that was still occupied by the US.

There had been a sudden outbreak of diarrhoea in the area, and the guy was there to provide vaccinations. Because the illness was considered a genuine danger in wartime Tokyo, no one questioned him, especially since he was wearing an official government band.

The 16 individuals each received a tablet and a few drops of liquid, which they drank immediately. Within minutes, they all collapsed in pain. As everyone was paralyzed, the so-called health inspector casually walked away with all the money he could find. Twelve of the sixteen have been confirmed dead, including a small child.

They drank cyanide-containing liquid. The robbery was brutal but what was even more disturbing was that he left his business card behind. According to the card, Shigeru Matsui is presumably from the Department of Disease Prevention, which makes sense, given that he was posing as a health official.

They interviewed several possible suspects before narrowing it down to eight. One of them was a Japanese artist named Sadamichi Hirasawa. Hirasawa was questioned and asked to provide Shigeru Matsui’s card which he should have possessed, but he couldn’t.

It had been stolen from his wallet the day before. It had been stolen by pickpocketing. The cops had a feeling they knew where the card was. When questioned, he did not provide any alibi. Authorities found four previous instances of bank fraud in his background. Hirasawa bizarrely refused to reveal how he obtained the money they found in his possessions that was identical to money taken from the bank.

Lastly, when his face was displayed to eyewitnesses, they immediately recognized him as the poisoner. Hirasawa admitted to the crime after further questioning. In 1950, he was sentenced to death by hanging after being caught for the robbery and murders.

visual of giving liquid to bank employees

Some questioned whether Sadamichi Hirasawa was the real perpetrator after the case was closed. Everything mentioned was based on circumstantial evidence. In reality, his confession was brutally beaten out of him; he was reportedly tortured and just two of the eyewitnesses recognized him as the culprit.

Maybe he was telling the truth. Perhaps he was a victim of pickpocketing, as he said.

There was speculation that the money in his hands came from his side business of painting pornographic images; however, disclosing this information to authorities and the public would have damaged his reputation as an artist.

Additionally, Hirasawa had no practical means of obtaining the ingredients for what turned out to be a military-grade cyanide solution used in the heist. Some have speculated that the real perpetrator was a former member of the infamous Organization 731, a secret biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that conducted deadly human experiments during WWII.

Hirasawa in court

If this is the case, it would explain why the poison was so easily accessible. Because the Minister of Justice questioned Hirasawa’s innocence he refused to sign the execution warrant. This was shared by succeeding Justice Ministers. Thus the death sentence was never carried out. So Hirasawa spent the remaining 32 years of his life in jail, on death row.

One of the longest sentences ever served on death row. He died in a jail hospital on May 10, 1987, after getting pneumonia. Regardless of the judgement the investigation was never really closed. Many people believed that the actual killer all those years ago, would have been within reach if only the focus had been on the proper person.

5. World's biggest digital cryptocurrency 'theft' In Japan

Coincheck bank robbery

January 25, 2018. Cybercrime is on the rise in Japan. An exchange based in Tokyo and one of Asia’s most famous virtual currency exchanges Coincheck was the victim of the largest cryptocurrency theft in history. Hackers disguised as authorized users gained access to the system at 2:57 a.m. via foreign servers.

They remained undetected for eight and a half hours, stealing 58 billion yen (about $530 million) in cryptocurrency. Attempts by the Japanese government to establish Tokyo as a hub for cryptocurrency caused embarrassment. Coincheck admitted not installing the required additional security layer. Even more concerning is that the stolen money was stored online in a hot wallet rather than in a cold wallet. This is a much more secure offline storage facility.

An example would be a convenience store keeping huge sums of money in a cash register rather than a bank vault. Among the strangest aspects of the theft is that the stolen virtual money was traceable online since Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are public. As a result, the $530 million was ultimately traced to 11 distinct locations. However, the names of those who gave and received the money remain unclear. NEM’s creators were able to mark the addresses with warning tags so that everyone could see them, even though no one has been arrested as of yet. Additionally, they set up a tracking tool that automatically rejects transactions containing the stolen money.

The most frustrating part of all of this is that it could have been avoided if Coincheck had just implemented an additional layer of protection. In addition to large corporations, most individuals nowadays are too careless when it comes to internet security, using the same password for all of their accounts. If this describes you, congrats; you have terrible habits like mine.