This picture taken on January 26, 2024 in a train station of Chuo district in Tokyo shows a poster of Satoshi Kirishima, who was a member of The East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front, a radical leftist organization responsible for bombing attacks in Japan's capital in the 1970s. Image Credit: AFP

Tokyo: Long hair, youthful smile, thick glasses slightly askew: for decades, the black-and-white photo of one of Japan's most wanted fugitives has been a ubiquitous sight at police stations nationwide.

But after nearly 50 years Satoshi Kirishima - wanted over deadly bombings by leftist extremists in the 1970s - reportedly died Monday, days after local media said he had finally been caught.

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Last week, the 70-year-old revealed his identity after he admitted himself to hospital under a false name for cancer treatment, according to Japanese media.

The reports were a sensation in Japan, where his young face is so widely recognised that it has inspired viral Halloween costumes.

But police were still scrambling to conduct DNA tests when the man believed to be Kirishima passed away on Monday morning.

"Investigators looked into and eliminated past tips, but there is a very high possibility that this individual is actually Kirishima," a police source told the Asahi newspaper.

Plain sight

Details are emerging of how Kirishima may have been hiding in plain sight for decades.

Born in Hiroshima in January 1954, Kirishima attended university in Tokyo, where he was attracted by radical far-left politics.

He joined the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front, one of several militant groups active in the era along with the once-feared Japanese Red Army or the Baader-Meinhof Group in West Germany.

The revolutionary Armed Front carried out bombings at Japanese companies, including one at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries that killed eight people.

It operated in three cells, with fanciful names: "Wolf", "Fangs of the Earth" and "Scorpion" - Kirishima's outfit.

Under the radar

Alongside physical descriptors on Kirishima's wanted posters - 160 cm tall (5 ft 3), full lips, very short-sighted - is a summary of his crime.

In April 1975, the young radical allegedly helped set up a bomb that blasted away parts of a building in Tokyo's upscale Ginza district. No one was killed.

He has been on the run ever since.

TV Asahi and other outlets said he had lived a double life for years, working at a building contractor in the city of Fujisawa in Kanagawa region, under the alias Hiroshi Uchida.

He was paid in cash and went under the radar with no health insurance or driving licence, the reports said.

At the nondescript office where the man reportedly worked, someone who knew him told TV Asahi that the suspect had "lost a lot of weight" compared to the wanted photo.

The man believed to be Kirishima began to receive treatment for stomach cancer under his own expense, the reports said.

It was at a hospital in the city of Kamakura that he finally confessed that he was 70-year-old Kirishima, they added.

Walking free

Nine other members of the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front were arrested, the Asahi newspaper said.

But two 75-year-olds are still on the run after being released in 1977 as part of a deal by the Japanese Red Army, which had hijacked a Japan Airlines plane in Bangladesh.

Fusako Shigenobu, the female founder of the Japanese Red Army, walked free from prison in 2022 after completing a 20-year sentence for a 1974 embassy siege.

Shigenobu's group carried out armed attacks in support of the Palestinian cause during the 1970s and 80s, including a mass shooting at Tel Aviv airport in 1972 that killed 24 people.

Kirishima though escaped justice, or so it seems.

"I want to meet my death with my real name," he told staff at the hospital, according to NHK.