SUO-OSHIMA, Yamaguchi -- A rape and robbery suspect on the run for seven weeks after escaping from an Osaka police station pretended to be on a cross-Japan bicycle tour when visiting a roadside rest and shopping area in this island community in the country's southwest.
Junya Hida, 30, even posed for photos with his face uncovered when asked by Sazan Seto Towa rest area manager Ryuichi Okazaki. He also left a note under a pseudonym addressed to Okazaki. The note reads: "I've made wonderful memories in Suo-Oshima. I've learned a lot from this trip, and would like to use this experience to build my life. I will go through many parts of Japan fueled by your support." Hida also claimed in the note that he had started his trip in the western Japan prefecture of Wakayama.
Osaka Prefectural Police suspect that Hida intended to evade the authorities' detection by masquerading as a bicycle tourist.
The fugitive was arrested on Sept. 29 in the city of Shunan in Yamaguchi Prefecture on suspicion of shoplifting food. He had been on a nationwide wanted list after escaping from the Tondabayashi Police Station in southern Osaka Prefecture -- about 350 kilometers east from where he was arrested -- after an interview with his lawyer.
According to Okazaki, Hida visited the Sazan Seto Towa rest area on the morning of Sept. 18. The fugitive said he had begun a tour of Japan three months before, and camped there until Sept. 26, harvesting oysters at a nearby beach. He was with a 44-year-old man whom he met in the city of Kan-onji in Kagawa Prefecture, about 120 kilometers to the east, in early September.
When Okazaki asked Hida for a photo as a gesture of support for his round-the-nation trip, Hida took off the sunglasses he usually wore and had the manager snap his picture, with a placard saying "I am going across Japan by bicycle."
Meanwhile, Hida is suspected of shoplifting at least four times at another roadside rest and shopping area in the town of Kaminoseki, about 50 kilometers southeast of Suo-Oshima in the same prefecture. A man believed to be Hida visited the Kaminoseki Kaikyo rest area four times and left with seven food items totaling about 1,800 yen hidden under his clothes, including rice with octopus and tempura.
Osaka police suspect that Hida used the roadside rest areas to evade investigators because it is easy to camp at the facilities.
(Japanese original by Takuya Murata, Haruka Ito and Akihiko Tsuchida, Osaka City News Department; Ken Maehira, Shunan Bureau)