This Prison Breaker Escaped Jail Four Separate Times

From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, prison escapes were quite common in Japan. As reported by The Japan Times, more than 1,800 prisoners successfully escaped from prison in the year 1881 alone. Perhaps the most famous escapee was a man named Yoshie Shiratori, who was able to break out of his prison cell a total of four times, earning him the monicker Prison Break Magician.

Shiratori worked as part of a Russian fishing crew, and he later worked as a cook. He didn't do well in performing his duties, though. He resorted to going into business, but he failed after several attempts. With no job to support him, he turned to a life of gambling and petty theft, which landed him in Aomori Prison in 1936, as reported by Breaking Asia. Life in prison became intolerable for Shiratori. He was tortured by guards and could no longer handle the conditions, so he planned his escape.

As time passed, Shiratori familiarized himself with the guards' schedules. Through his observations, he learned that he had a 15-minute window to break out. One morning at about 5:30 a.m., he used wire that he got from a bathhouse bucket and picked the lock to his cell. Shiratori left pieces of floorboard under his blanket to make it look like he was asleep. Per Kento Bento, it wasn't until later that day that guards discovered his absence.

Yoshie Shiratori was recaptured within days

Although Yoshie Shiratori successfully broke out of jail, his freedom didn't last long. He was recaptured just three days later at a hospital where he was caught stealing supplies (via Kento Bento). Shiratori was thrown back in jail. When World War II started, Shiratori was transferred to the Akita Prison, where conditions were worse. Prisoners were subjected to manual labor, they slept on concrete floors, and Shiratori was often locked in solitary confinement for long periods.

The solitary confinement cells were specially designed to prevent prisoners from escaping. It had a high ceiling with smooth walls, and prisoners were kept in handcuffs even inside the cell. A skylight was the only source of light. He was treated harshly by prison guards, but there was one person who never tortured him and constantly checked on his well-being — the head guard, Kobayashi, per Pop N Blog.

Once again, Shiratori planned his escape. During a long stint in solitary confinement, he was able to figure out a way to get out of his cell. For days, he climbed up the walls to reach an air vent that he gradually loosened. The escape artist chose a rainy night to escape to prevent guards from hearing noises. A prison guard on duty peered into his cell for a routine check and found that he was gone; all that was left was his handcuffs. Shiratori had escaped for the second time.

He used miso soup to escape a third time

After three months of being a fugitive, Yoshie Shiratori headed to the home of Kobayashi, who he believed would help him. Kobayashi welcomed the escapee inside his home and fed him. Shiratori explained that he escaped from prison not because he was evading his sentence, but because of the torture that he received from prison guards, as reported by Kento Bento. He wanted Kobayashi's help in making a case against the prison system, and in exchange, he would willingly go to the Justice Department. However, Kobayashi didn't agree with the fugitive's proposal, and he called the authorities on him.

Authorities didn't want to risk another prison escape, and Shiratori was sent to Abashiri Prison, which was where the worst criminals were incarcerated. The temperature was freezing, and he only wore thin clothing. According to Global Bizarre, extra precautions were put in place to prevent him from escaping. The openings to his cell were too small to fit his body, and his ankles and wrists were restrained with heavy iron with no keyholes; only a specialist was able to remove the shackles. Despite the conditions, Shiratori was determined to get out of there. Over the course of several months, he poured miso soup on his shackles and the steel frame in his cell, and the salty soup slowly corroded the metals.

During the war, there was a wartime blackout, and Shiratori took this opportunity to escape. He contorted his body by dislocating his shoulders to escape through the slot where his food tray was pushed into his cell. For the third time, Shiratori escaped prison.

The final escape

Yoshie Shiratori spent a couple of years in hiding. He stayed in an abandoned mine and survived on berries, nuts, wild rabbits, and crabs from a nearby river. In August 1945, per Pop N Blog, he trekked to Sapporo where he was confronted by a farmer who mistook him for a well-known thief in the area. The farmer was stabbed to death, and the fugitive was arrested. Authorities identified him as the missing prison escapee, and his trial resulted in a death sentence.

Shiratori was incarcerated at the Sapporo Prison. He was on 24-hour surveillance and was assigned six personal guards. The openings in his cell were made smaller than his head, so there was no chance of him escaping, even if he dislocated his joints. Months went by and to the guards, it looked like Shiratori had given up. One day, however, they checked his cell to find him gone. As reported by Kento Bento, Shiratori used a different approach for his final escape. He unscrewed the floorboards and used a bowl to dig the earth. He did his digging at night and covered the hole with his futon.

Yoshie Shiratori eventually got his freedom

In 1948, a year after his escape from Sapporo Prison, Yoshie Shiratori was resting on a bench when a police officer sat beside him to smoke. The officer wasn't aware that a fugitive was beside him, and he made conversation and offered Shiratori a cigarette, which was expensive at that time, per Kento Bento. The escapee was touched by the kind gesture, that too from a police officer. He told the officer his real identity, and he was again arrested.

This time, however, things were different for Shiratori. His case was heard by the High Court, and several changes had been made in Japan's justice system throughout the years. His plea of self-defense in killing the farmer during his last arrest was heard, and his death sentence was tossed. The court also took into account that Shiratori never harmed prison guards in the four times he escaped, according to Global Bizarre. Shiratori was sentenced to 20 years in prison and was sent to Tokyo's Fuchu Prison, per his request. He accepted his sentence and for the first time, prison guards treated him with respect. Shiratori was a model prisoner and was released on parole in 1961. He lived the last years of his life a truly free man before he died of a heart attack at 71 years old in 1979.