Somebody Set Us Up the Bomb

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Bomb threats as hoaxes are, unfortunately, not all that uncommon. In recent weeks, for example, a man called a bomb threat into his own wedding because he forgot to book the chapel and didn’t want to tell his would-be wife. (He’s facing a year in jail.) The New York City-area ABC News affiliate has a webpage devoted to such threats and one doesn’t need to look hard to find others. In general, though, these hoaxes are mostly harmless and done out of stupid desperation or a weakly-grounded sense of humor — not only is there not a bomb, but it’s not like the threat is part of some deeper criminal activity.

Except for that one time in Japan.

In late November or early December of 1968, managers at the Nihon Shintaku Ginko bank in Japan started receiving letters apparently threatening to blow up the bank. Employees were told about these threats, and on December 10, 1968, the threats became immediately credible. An armored car was making its way to deliver bonus payments for factory workers totaling nearly 300 million yen (roughly US$800,000, which accounting for inflation, is over $5 million in today’s dollars) when a policeman rode up on a motorcycle. The officer told the four bank employees on the truck that the manager’s house had just been blown up and that officials had received a warning that there was a bomb planted on the armored car they were driving. The officer then proceeded to look under the vehicle — and then came the smoke and flames.

The officer yelled for them to take cover, and they did, running toward the nearest building, which happened to be a prison. Once the four bank employees were at a safe distance from the apparently-about-to-explode car, the officer removed the threat from the area. He got behind the wheel of the armored car, still carrying all that money, and drove away.

He wasn’t a cop. And the dynamite under the car? Just a warning flare he set to flush the security detail out of the vehicle. The fake police officer had just pulled off the single largest heist in the history of Japan.

The real police didn’t have much to go on. Whoever the thief was knew a lot about police procedure and had taken many steps to cover his tracks. He scattered the crime scene with dozens of every day items to water down the value of any unintentionally-left evidence. He quickly moved the loot from the truck to another car he (or his accomplices) previously stole, abandoning the truck; he shortly thereafter abandoned the stolen car for yet another stolen vehicle, which was abandoned later as well. And the motorcycle was just a generic, easily obtained one, repainted to look like an official police chopper.

To date, the crime, which many Japanese deem the “crime of the century,” remains unsolved. Even though the statutes of limitations (both criminally and civilly) have lapsed, no one has come forward claiming responsibility for the heist.

Bonus Fact: The term “someone set up us the bomb” is grammatically incorrect, which is to a large degree why you may have heard it before. (It’s so bad that my brain corrected part of it in the title above — I guess I couldn’t deal with how incorrect it was!) In 1989, Japanese video game publisher Taito released an arcade game called “Zero Wing” and later ported it to a few at-home gaming consoles. One of those ported versions was translated into English for the European market, but the translation of the game’s opening was done rather poorly. (Watch it here — the weird voiceovers aren’t from the original, though.) Among some vanilla grammatical mistakes came some new phrases, such as “someone set up us the bomb,” “you have no chance to survive make your time”, and most famously, “all your base are belong to us.” In 1999, that last phrase became one of the first major Internet memes, starting with this animated gif and then later, this video. The “all your base are belong to us” or “AYBABTU” meme predates YouTube and reddit — two major distribution points of viral Internet content — by six years.

From the ArchivesStealing Back the Stone of Destiny: A heist for all times.

Related: The image above is a case full of yen — 300 million yen, to be precise. And you can get it for about $75, but not because it’s stolen currency. It’s a really expensive toy.