A prisoner serving 23 years for attempted murder was on the run Thursday after escaping from a penitentiary in Hiroshima clad only in white underwear, Japan's first jailbreak in more than two decades.
Li Guolin was exercising in a prison yard when he stripped off his convict's uniform and used scaffolding erected by builders to climb over a five-metre (16-foot) perimeter fence on Wednesday, Kyodo news agency said, citing officials.
The report quoted a security guard saying Li "fell on his rear and turned over. Then he ran off at a steady trot".
At the time the temperature was around 4 degrees C (39 degrees F).
Prison breakouts are extremely rare in Japan, where the justice system prides itself on its efficiency. The Mainichi Shimbun said it was the country's first escape since 1990, when a youth fled a juvenile detention centre.
Li, 40, was put on Japan's most wanted list and his escape was leading television news bulletins Thursday, one station quoting an elderly Hiroshima resident saying she locked her door early. "I just couldn't sleep," she said.
Police were stationed outside schools in the city amid a security alert.
A Chinese national, Li was sentenced to 23 years in 2005 for breaking into a house and shooting at a police officer.
"We are really sorry," Kyodo quoted a prison official as saying.