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The Myojo 56 building fire (明星56ビル火災 Myōjō Gojū-Roku Biru Kasai ?) began in the Kabukicho section of Shinjuku, Tokyo at about 01:00 local time on September 1, 2001. The fire, the fifth-deadliest in post-war Japanese history[1], claimed 44 lives and burned for five hours before being extinguished. In the aftermath of the incident, media coverage (which decayed after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks) focused on the arrest and conviction of the property owners for criminal negligence and on the building’s putative ties to organized crime.

The fire burned on the third floor of the building. When the fire broke out, 19 people were on the third floor and 28 people were on the fourth floor.[2] Three employees jumped out of the building from the third floor and survived, suffering injury. Witnesses who saw one of the employees called an ambulance.

Emergency responders arriving to treat the jumpers learned of the building fire and evacuation efforts commenced. Firefighters removed the bodies of 44 people (32 men and 12 women) from inside the building, and rescued those who managed to flee to the roof.[3][4]

Police officials remarked that the lethality of the fire was exacerbated by multiple violations of the fire code, including blocked fire doors and stairwells. The main cause of death among the fire's victims was found to be Carbon monoxide poisoning.[4] An investigation conducted by the Metropolitan Police Department concluded that if the building’s automated fire doors had not been prevented from closing, deadly gases would not have reached the building’s occupied floors for at least 20 minutes. [1]

Six individuals were arrested in conjunction with the blaze, on charges of professional negligence resulting in death. Those charged included two executives of the Myojo Kosan Group, which owned the building, and the commercial tenants of the structure, which housed a video mahjong parlor and a hostess bar.[1] On July 2, 2008, five of the defendants were convicted of negligence in the Tokyo District Court. The sixth defendant was acquitted.[5]

The building was demolished in May 2006.[6]

As of July 3, 2008, Tokyo police had concluded that the fire resulted from arson, but had not made any corresponding arrest. [5]

Japan Today, an English-language online news outlet, quotes Tokyo police as stating that the mahjong parlor located in the building was “an illegal gambling den” with daily revenues of about eight million yen. Japan Today’s report speculates that the Chinese mafia and yakuza could have been linked to the incident, as illegal gambling operations are regularly forced to pay “protection money” to organized crime syndicates. However, there is no material or eyewitness evidence of organized crime involvement in the fire.[7]

One injured man, seen near the burning building, later disappeared.[8]

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