Photo/IllutrationReporters gather near the Tomioka Hachimangu shrine early on Dec. 8 after a murder-suicide incident occurred there several hours earlier. (Takayuki Kakuno)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

A bitter sibling rivalry apparently escalated into rampage involving swords that left three people dead and one injured near a renowned shrine in Tokyo on the night of Dec. 7.

One of those killed was Nagako Tomioka, 58, chief priest at Tomioka Hachimangu shrine in Koto Ward.

She was stabbed in the back of her head as well as chest in an ambush perpetrated by her younger brother, Shigenaga, 56, and a woman, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

Police later on Dec. 8 confirmed the woman was Shigenaga’s 49-year-old wife, Mariko.

After the attack on Nagako, Shigenaga fatally stabbed his wife in the chest and abdomen and then committed suicide by turning his sword on himself.

His body was found with wounds to the left chest and abdomen.

Police suspect Shigenaga remained bitter about being fired as chief priest of Tomioka Hachimangu in 2001. His older sister later took over the post.

According to investigative sources, Shigenaga was arrested and indicted in January 2006 on charges of threatening his sister with postcards that said, “I will kill you,” among other things.

According to Tokyo police, Nagako was driven to her home within the shrine grounds after a meeting with local police officers.

Police said Shigenaga and his wife were hiding by a nearby building.

After the car parked and Nagako got out, Shigenaga attacked his sister with a sword with a blade about 80 centimeters long, according to security camera footage. The time of the attack was 8:25 p.m.

The 33-year-old chauffeur, who had also gotten out of the vehicle, fled the scene but was chased for about 100 meters by Mariko. She slashed his right arm with a sword with a blade about 45 cm long.

He was listed in serious condition, but his injuries were not life-threatening.

Shigenaga then stabbed his wife in front of Nagako’s home before killing himself, the video footage showed. A sword broken in half was found near Nagako’s body. A shorter sword and two knives were discovered near Shigenaga’s body.

According to people who knew the siblings, they were close as young children and often played together at the shrine, which hosts one of the three largest festivals in Tokyo.

Their father served as chief priest until Shigenaga took over.

However, he was suddenly fired in 2001, and several sources said his financial problems likely led in part to his dismissal. A classmate of Shigenaga recalled that he enjoyed a flashy lifestyle.

The father resumed as chief priest before eventually giving the post to Nagako.

After Shigenaga was fired, Nagako consulted with police the following year and said there were problems within the family about the chief priest position.

Police are now looking into the possibility that other recent problems may have triggered the attack.

A shrine member in his 50s recalled a phone call from Shigenaga in July. Over about 40 minutes, Shigenaga laid out his complaints about his sister and the shrine.

“He occasionally broke out crying or began shouting, and I felt that he was emotionally unstable,” the man said.

A woman in her 70s who is a member of the shrine and knew the siblings said the two had argued over money even before Shigenaga was dismissed as head priest.

From five to 10 years ago, shrine members received anonymous letters that criticized Nagako.

“I was always worried that something like this might occur someday, but it is still a huge shock,” the woman said.

Tomioka Hachimangu shrine was established in the early Edo Period (1603-1867) and grew in popularity under the sponsorship of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The shrine is closely linked with sumo, and several statues erected on the shrine grounds are related to the sport.