When Haruna Yukawa was captured in Syria earlier this month, a video apparently released by his captors showed them pressing the Japanese man to answer questions friends say he had struggled with for years: Who are you? Why are you here?
In fact, Yukawa, 42, had first travelled to Aleppo four months earlier on what amounted to a hardship course in self-discovery, according to people who know him and his account.
Changes in Yukawa's life in suburban Tokyo had been fast and disorienting. Over the past decade, he had lost his wife to lung cancer, lost a business and his house to bankruptcy and been forced to live in a public park for almost a month, according to Yukawa's father and an online journal he maintained.
The hard times led to soul searching. By his own account, he had changed his name to the feminine-sounding Haruna, attempted to kill himself by cutting off his genitals and came to believe he was the reincarnation of a cross-dressing Manchu princess who had spied for Japan in World War Two.
By late 2013, Yukawa had also begun a flirtation with Japan's extreme right-wing politics and cultivated a new persona as a self-styled security consultant, according to his Facebook page and blog posts, though he never did any work as a consultant.
He borrowed money to travel to Syria and dreamed of providing security to big Japanese companies in conflict areas like the coast of Somalia. The Syrian civil war was a new start - and his last chance to make a success in life, he told friends and family. Later this year, he planned to head to Somalia "where the danger factor will be amped up".
"He felt his life had reached its limit," said Yukawa's father, Shoichi, 74.
Yukawa's capture by fighters believed to be with Islamic State has pulled Japan into a scramble by various governments to free dozens of foreigners held hostage in Iraq and Syria. The incident marks the first hostage situation for the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since January 2013 when 10 Japanese were killed by Islamist militants at a gas complex in Algeria.
Japan's Foreign Ministry has declined to identify the captured person or to comment on reports. "We are doing our best to gather information," a spokeswoman told Reuters.
The picture of Yukawa that emerges from his writing and the accounts of his father and people who had met him in Japan and