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April 18, 2007

Murder In The Mothers Club

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Despite her quirky behavior, Yamada was accepted into a clique and became friends with the boss mom. For a few months, Yamada reveled in the relationship, but then it soured-possibly because the boss mom's daughter, Haruna, 2, passed an exam for the prestigious Otawa kindergarten, while Yamada's daughter did not. The quiet, unassuming Yamada, always dominated by Haruna's wealthy and well-dressed mother, felt as if her former friend was ostracizing her. She'd later describe how her own daughter was not allowed to play in the sandbox or take her turn at the swings, and her 5-year-old son was similarly shut out at kindergarten. Eventually, like Mie Taniguchi, Yamada snapped.

On Monday, November 22, 1999, she took Haruna from the schoolyard to a nearby public toilet, removed the little girl's scarf, and used it to strangle her. Four days later, Yamada turned herself in. In court, she expressed horror at what she'd done: "I took the life of innocent Haruna and brought sorrow to her family. I shouldn't be allowed to live."

Yamada was sentenced to 15 years in jail, but her case sparked an unexpected outpouring of sympathy. One newspaper received more than 1000 letters from mothers expressing similar feelings of loneliness and frustration."In this culture, the major interests are the husband's promotion, the children's school, and the family's overall status," says Tokyo psychiatrist Machizawa Shizuo, who adds that she has treated numerous clients who have suffered nervous breakdowns from being alienated and bullied.Murder may be an unfathomable extreme, but unless Japanese society offers greater support to young mothers, more will end up like Yamada and Taniguchi, warns Toshiko Marks, professor of multicultural understanding at Shumei University. "The stress is intolerable, and the ultimate expression of these women's rage is in the crime of killing their rivals' children. The children will bear the brunt of the pain in the future."

Taniguchi's case has yet to come to court, but she knows she faces years in prison, separated from her beloved daughter. And she is tortured by the knowledge that she has ruined other lives as well. "I want to apologize to the mothers of the two children," she told police. "I regret what I did. I pray the two children will be happy in heaven. I am sorry."

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