TOKYO — A convicted thief was recaptured Monday three weeks after a rare escape from a Japanese prison and an island manhunt he may have eluded by swimming.
Tatsuma Hirao escaped from a low-security prison in Ehime prefecture on April 8 during a work assignment while serving a 5 ½ year sentence for theft. The escape caused anxiety in the region and attracted national attention.
After escaping, he allegedly drove a stolen car along a highway connecting several islands.
Police believe he arrived on the island of Mukaishima, where more than 1,000 police searched for him daily. They said his fingerprints were detected at the scenes of several reported thefts of clothes and food after the jailbreak.
Hirao, 27, was arrested Monday after being spotted walking on a street in Hiroshima after an internet cafe reportedly notified police that a man resembling him visited. In a video of the arrest broadcast on TV Asahi, a man identified as Hirao tried to climb over a concrete wall to escape, but was pulled down, thrown to the ground and seized by several policemen.
The island has abundant places to hide. It has about 1,000 houses made vacant by an aging and shrinking population and is also only 200 meters (yards) from the Hiroshima coast.
Media reports say Hirao told police that he swam from Mukaishima to a city in Hiroshima prefecture to escape the manhunt, then took a train west to Hiroshima city. Hirao said he hid in vacant houses while on the island, but became tired of evading police, public broadcaster NHK reported.
Hirao was arrested in 2013 for a series of robberies in southern Japan.
Japan has a relatively low crime rate, and prison escapes are rare. Its population is declining and the average age is rising quickly.